Painting pays tribute to service dogs
BY ERIN WALDNER
Published: 19 March 2012 05:13 PM
When Mickey Harris was asked if he would paint a tribute to search-and-rescue, police and military dogs, he hesitated.
“I knew I was going to get emotional about it,” he said.
Harris has a soft spot for dogs, having 16 of them at home. He has lost some of his dogs over the years, including one just three months ago.
But with his wife’s encouragement, he accepted the commission. He is glad he did, despite having shed a few tears in the process.
“I’ve learned a lot, what these dogs do,” Harris said Monday. “The learning experience was well worth the tears.”
Harris, 55, is a internationally-known airbrush artist based in Tennessee. He has been at an auto body repair shop in Banning, since March 11 air-brushing this tribute.
His canvas is a 19-foot-long ambulance that will be taken to various events to build awareness about the important role played by search-and-rescue, police and military dogs.
A nonprofit organization in the San Francisco Bay area, commissioned Harris for the project.
When Harris learned how much it would cost to send the ambulance to Tennessee, he told the folks at the organization that if they could get it to Banning, he knew a place he could do it.
Harris said the owners have practically shut the shop to accommodate him and help with the work. To meet the Friday deadline the guys have been working 16-hour days or longer.
The artwork on the ambulance illustrates what these dogs are capable of doing. One picture shows a dog peering over the side of a boat into a body of water. Harris said dogs are able to smell a drowning victim through water.
The other side of the van shows a military dog lying by a service member’s casket, a scene taken from real life. During a 2011 memorial for a Navy SEAL killed in action, the man’s dog refused to leave the side of the casket.
Harris was disgusted to learn military dogs are classified as equipment. He hopes this tribute vehicle encourages people to lobby for a re-classification.
One of the dogs in the artwork, Dakota, helped look for the remains of the astronauts killed in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003. Dakota is now 15-years-old. (*Update - Dakota passed way in June of 2012)
Harris has incorporated angels into the tribute. He also shows the spirit of his dog, the one who recently died, comforting the military dog lying by the Navy SEAL's casket.
“I’m a believer that dogs have souls,” Harris said.
The tribute vehicle will be on display at Banning City Hall, 99 E. Ramsey St., on Friday afternoon.