Tuesday, July 17, 2012


This is a portrait I did late this spring. The people who own this beautiful dog, asked that he be painted from behind- that it suited his personality. They also sent me a snapshot of Plutarque in this pose and extra pictures of the California Coast. I had difficulty parting with the painting when I finished it, as I had become fascinated with the dog and who he really was. So I asked his family to please write his biography to go with the image on my blog. It is wonderful. The painting is 20" x 24" oil on panel.


After moving to California, I started looking for a new four-legged friend.  First place I looked at was the SPCA website.  The requirements were simple: a male small enough for me to carry if needed.
After entering these criteria on the website I saw his picture.  Because he is black and white, after being captured roaming the streets he was named Domino.  When I called the SPCA I was told that an adoption was in progress.  But a few days later he was still on the website.  I called again and got the same answer.  A week later, same thing, so we decided to make the trip to the SPCA.  It was Labor Day weekend 2000.  There he was, waiting to be adopted with only three days left before being euthanatized.  We were told that he had been rejected because he had kennel cough (easily treated), he was labeled aggressive (true toward men) and finally because of a lack of connection (when you meet a dog in a room where other animals have been brought in before, the dog is of course more interested in sniffing around than in “connecting” with you).  If not adopted that weekend, “Domino” would die the following week.  As I could carry him, he was young (not quite a year old) and healthy, the decision was easy.  We filled out the forms, gave him a new name and took him home.
The tradition in France is that the first letter of the name of a dog is different each year.  He was born in 1999 and that year the letter was P hence Plutarque, famous philosopher.  For a lot of people that name is difficult to pronounce and very quickly it was abbreviated into “Plu”.  When my Mom saw him she immediately called him “Plume” (meaning feather in French because of his tail) and the name stays.
Aside from being abused (we couldn’t touch him, especially the head, cuddle him) and left alone, Plume didn’t know much.  He spent the first few days running in the backyard, finding a way to escape (being very successful and us being very worried, but coming back home after a few hours), barking at himself when facing a mirror, forgetting to eat and literally falling asleep after hours of running, smelling, exploring, listening and hunting gophers.  We spent 3 months taking him to school to teach him some basic commands (the “Come” command never worked and still doesn’t), interact with other dogs and human beings and learn that not everybody wants to hurt him.  It helped him somewhat but it took quite a few more months before we could pet him without him being scared.  As he didn’t have a normal puppy life he had to be taught everything.  A couple of weeks were enough for him to enjoy going for a car ride.  One day I finally drove with him to a somewhat isolated beach.  We were on the bluff when he sat down and just looked.  Mesmerized, fascinated by the space, the smell, the noise, not one muscle moving.  That’s when I took the picture.  What was he thinking?  I will never know.  There was nobody, I let him free and he took off.  Running, on the beach or at the edge of the water, running while looking at the birds flying, running but keeping an eye on me, running until he was exhausted and came back to have a drink and let me put his leash back on.  He was happy.  He was free.  Every chance I had to let him free on the beach I did it.  And every time, I just watched him running free, happy, running until his legs couldn’t carry him and he comes back lying down beside me.
One day, Plutarque went in the guest bedroom.  On the bed there was an old teddy bear given years before by a friend.  It didn’t take him long to “steal”, carried him to the yard and “adopt” it as friend.  From that day on he carried it around, cleaned it, took it hunting with him and slept with it.  I patched the poor thing as many times and as long as I could but after more than 7 years I finally had to put it in the trash.  This teddy bear was the first of many other fluffy friends.  Mr. Plume is well known in the neighborhood for running and barking at passing by bikers or pedestrians with one of his toys in his mouth or having meeting with his toys around a gopher’s hole.
Plutarque adopted me and was very protective (sometimes too much) very quickly.  It took him longer to be the same with Mike, my husband, although he loved playing rough with him.  Months of patience and love were needed for him to trust us. 
Plutarque is different.  Too much abuse when he was a puppy has left indelible marks.  He is independent but needs to have his people around.  He needs space and fresh air and to run in the yard but he is able to spend hours by the door of my office, protecting me and ready to go wherever I go.  If I had to define him I would use words such as freedom, independence and solitude but also trust, protection/possession, need of human contact and unconditional love for his people.