Missy Johnson’s brush with an abused puppy over a decade ago was a life-changing event not only for the dog but for the Charleston, South Carolina artist as well. After watching a young man repeatedly toss the puppy on the sidewalk and drag him with a telephone cord, Missy insisted the teen give her the puppy. That small mixed-breed puppy grew up to become Wyatt Earp, living his entire life with Missy and inspiring an art project that has drawn international attention to the importance of animal rescue.
“Life changed when I met Wy,” recalls Missy. “I had never seen anyone abuse an animal in public.” Soon. Wyatt was joined by Basset Hounds when Missy, a lifelong artist, began her work with animal rescue, starting with Carolina Basset Hound Rescue. “We started fostering and doing transports and our life was rebirthed with the dogs,” says Missy of the work she and her husband, Jim, began. Creating art and fundraising projects for the rescue, eventually, Missy says, “I felt a need to do something on a larger level.” She began to search for a venue to share the message of rescue with a widespread audience.
The answer came when the artist went with her mother to see Julia & Julia, a movie tracing a blogger’s quest to cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s first book. “I watched the movie and decided to start a blog. I started painting 80 rescue dogs.” The result was Dogs for the PAWS blog (http://dogs4thepaws.com/), an art and education project that celebrates rescue pets.
Launching the project with a portrait of her own Wyatt Earp, Missy Johnson created an individual painting for each rescue dog, accompanying the artwork with the story of the dog’s rescue. “I tried to capture their spirit as best I could. There’s a real need to raise awareness for animals like this.” Missy’s work has ranged from portraits of Chamberlin, a dog tied to a tree and abandoned without food for two months, to Nico, the deaf Dogo Argentino whose sad photo capturing the despair of a shelter dog had first gone viral on Facebook.
Today Dogs for the PAWS is taking a new avenue into philanthropy. “We’re a network of pet lovers posting and sharing about issues and animals,” says Missy. Expanding into Facebook and Twitter, the project now helps draw attention to advocacy issues ranging from fostering and adoption of senior pets to no-chaining initiatives.
Using social media channels, Missy encourages her fans to interact and help spread the word about these issues as well as the dogs they impact. “Awareness is such an important issue. A lot of people don’t realize they can click and share and they’ve made a difference.”
And, as Missy knows, such a transformation can happen in a flash. “From an idea at a movie, a lunch with my mom, and Wy, my whole life changed.”