BY ANGELA CARAWAY-CARLTON | PHOTOS BY CARLOS HIDALGO
A South Florida pet artist paints a portrait of philanthropy.
Like many creative ventures, Allie Sheehan’s business was born by accident. After leaving her new puppy, a French bulldog named Charles, loose in the home while she went to work one day, she returned home to discover that he had trashed the house. “When I walked in and saw the destruction, I fell to the ground and burst into tears,” says Sheehan, “but then he came around the corner and sat right down in my lap and was so happy to see me. How could I stay mad?” The 26-year-old, who dabbled in art throughout high school and college, pulled out her old paint set that sat idle for years and turned that moment into a creative project. She painted a portrait of her naughty puppy, and to match her mood, smeared the bottom of his paws in blue, allowing him to leave his paw prints on the canvas. “Those messy paws left the biggest print on my heart,” says Sheehan, who later posted the portrait online to her social media accounts. Soon, friends and family were asking for similar watercolor portraits of their pets, and finally last November, Sheehan officially launched her business, Messy Dawg Paws (MDP).
While painting the one-of-a-kind keepsakes is a side hustle for Sheehan (her day job is at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts), she’s now filled hundreds of orders from her Etsy shop, which includes creating adorable wedding signage for owners who want to incorporate their pets into their big day. She’s also a commissioned artist for online pet supply retailer Chewy.com, which often surprises loyal customers with Sheehan’s portraits or gifts them to grieving owners who have recently lost a pet. Pet owners usually send Sheehan several photos of their beloved pets, offering tidbits on their personalities, and she uses watercolors to paint a realistic depiction. From start to finish, it usually takes her five to six hours. “It truly is a passion of mine to capture the personality and tell a story through each piece,” says Sheehan. “I think what touches me the most is the heartfelt and excited reactions from the pet owners. You feel the warm-and-fuzzies that someone received so much joy in something that you created.”
Sheehan is most proud of her company’s philanthropic aspect, as she gives 10 percent of each month’s sales to local rescue groups, particularly the Bull Terrier Rescue of the Sunshine State, from which her family has previously adopted dogs, along with the Humane Society of Broward County, Everglades Angels and many more. Originally, the artist had planned to use the money from her side gig for something material, until a defining moment propelled her to give back to the animals. “I was scrolling through The RealReal app to buy a Chanel bag with the money that I had saved from the sales of my paintings, and on the news there was a heartbreaking story of a dog that had been severely abused and needed help,” she recalls. “Right then, I took all the money and donated it to the Bull Terrier Rescue.” Sheehan says that particular donation helped a bull terrier named Harlow receive an emergency surgery—and as fate would have it, Harlow was rescued by a family friend and Sheehan has even painted her portrait. Now, she’s helping her clients take part in the giving process. “I feel strongly that the person who buys the piece should have the chance to choose their charitable group, but if they don’t, I donate where I see it’s needed in the groups that I follow.”
Sheehan is also evolving from the watercolor portraits and moving into painting larger-scale pieces of animals where she can tell a bigger story, and hopefully, even diffuse certain negative reputations behind particular breeds of dogs like pit bulls. “The ultimate dream is to sell these series of paintings at a gallery showing or an auction, and help pet organizations raise more money,” says Sheehan. “I want to save all the dogs. I hope to increase those donations as time goes on to help put dogs in great homes and give them the best lives. To me, if you have the means to give, along with using a talent that you’re given, and it brings joy to people, it’s a win-win.”
For more information, email Sheehan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Instagram and Etsy at Messy Dawg Paws.