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Murals put pets on parade

Jane Byers doesn't have children, but treats her dog, Cabot, like family.

She takes the 135-pound Newfoundland on pet-friendly outings and included a photo of him on her business card.

So when she got the chance to put his portrait on a mural in Ybor City, she jumped at it. "If you love your pet, you want to show it off,'' she said.

Tampapets.org started the Pup Art mural program last year to help raise money for the animal rescue groups it serves. It wanted something highly visible that pays tribute to animals and taps into people's devotion to their pet. People donate $75 to $175 to have their dog, cat or other animal painted on a wall.

"Everybody always loves the idea. What's not to like?'' said Tampapets.org president Cory Cooper. "The No. 1 reaction we get is, 'How can we get one near me?' "

The first mural went up last fall at Gaspar's Grotto on Ybor's Seventh Avenue. The pirate-themed bar and restaurant hosts Pets on the Patio the first Saturday of each month and works with animal welfare groups.

Owners Eric and Shere Schiller consider themselves "super animal people'' and have two dogs, three cats and two birds at home, including a rescued greyhound and bloodhound. A fourth cat, Tanker Ray, holds court as the bar's mascot, beloved and admired by regulars for his fearless charm and mouse-repelling ways.

"Toughest 12 pounds on the planet,'' declares Eric Schiller.

Tanker Ray has a prominent spot on the mural painted on a patio wall near the rest rooms. The white and gray cat stands perched on the bow of a pirate ship, leading the charge. The collar tag says "Tank.''

The Schillers would have preferred a more visible location for the mural but knew it would it wouldn't pass rules for the historic district. Still, customers comment on it all the time.

Tampapets.org teamed up with Anna Hamilton to paint the mural, which has four cats and three dogs and plenty of room for more. A pirate pooch has a peg leg and eye patch.

Hamilton started the idea last year in Dunedin, dubbed "Dogedin'' for its many dog-related events, from the annual Dogtoberfest to frequent pup crawls. Her mural outside Skip's Bar and Grill features hundreds of dogs and cats and benefited Dunedin Doggie Rescue.

The mural has pets of all sizes and breeds, from collies to calicos. Most are mixed breeds and about a third serve as a memorial for a pet that has died.

"Every time I ride by there, there's someone taking a picture or stopping in their car to look at it,'' said Hamilton, 38, who starting painting animals as a child growing up around race horses in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Hamilton ran out of space on the Dogedin mural but has started work on a smaller mural at Dunedin's House of Beer as part of her own charity, Murals for Mutts. Another is under way at Love My Dog Resort and Playground in St. Pete.

Tampapets.org, the rescue group coalition, hopes to add murals in Tampa's Hyde Park Village, Oldsmar and St. Pete and is taking reservations for portraits on its website. Because Hamilton paints largely to scale, donation amounts are based on weight. A portrait of a chihuahua run $75. A big Labrador retriever? $175.

Byers, the Newfoundland owner, said having Cabot's portrait in Ybor has proven a great marketing tool for her printing business, Pinch Penny Press.

"I've gained a few clients from people who said, 'I remembered your dog,' '' she said. "They don't remember my name, but they remember my dog's.''

She plans to go to Saturday's Pets on the Patio to mingle with other dog lovers and promote the murals.

Of course, she'll bring Cabot. He's already well-known there.

Picture perfect pets

Tampapets.org will promote its Pup Art mural on Saturday during Pets on the Patio at Gaspar's Grotto, 1805 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. The event is held the first Saturday of every month. For more information on Pup Art murals or to donate money for a portrait, go to tampapets.org.

Murals put pets on parade 03/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:18pm]

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