Every once in a while, you come across a very creative person — or two — with the commitment and determination to make a difference for a cause dear to their heart. Marina Dervan and Mark Barone are two such people. Their cause: make the United States the first no-kill nation on earth.
Dog lovers for decades, they are still mourning their 20-year-old dog, Santina, who died last year. Mark and Marina were beside themselves with grief. When they finally decided it was time to adopt a new canine into their lives, they started a search online and contacted shelters and rescue groups.
Through this research, they discovered some facts about homeless pets in the U.S. and were stunned to learn that most shelters have a 60% kill rate — or higher. They decided they had to do something about it.
“We simply asked ourselves…what can we do? We have got to get the truth out there, and stop the outrageous killing,” Marina told me in an email. “How can we combine our talents to change the status quo, wake people up, so collectively we don’t remain silent about things that matter?”
The next day, Mark — a prolific artist — told Marina he decided he will paint portraits of the total number of dogs killed every day in U.S. shelters. The idea started to take shape when Marina began researching websites and shelters to determine the number of dogs killed every year.
She discovered there is no mandatory reporting of kill numbers from shelters in the country. She learned about Asilomar Accords — an attempt to standardize data collection from shelters – through Maddie’s Fund and realized they would have to estimate the conclusions. And so 5,500 U.S. shelter dogs killed per day is the number they calculated. Marina and Mark actually believe the number to be higher but settled on what they estimate as a conservative figure.
An Act of Dog Is Born
With no-kill as their goal, Marina and Mark came up with an idea to help raise funds for the many animal rescuers who are working at the local, hands-on level to save animals. They understand the actual saving of pet’s lives is taking place there and not with the national organizations like HSUS or PETA.
They are attempting to raise $20 million to be spread among the frontline workers. Yes,, $20 million is a lot of money, but they have a unique way to raise it.
Mark will create 5,500 paintings of actual dogs who were killed in shelters and display them to the public. That is, after all, the low-ball number Mark and Marina calculated; that’s how many dogs are killed every day in U.S. shelters.
They will display the paintings on ten foot high panels that will take up the length of two football fields. It will be a stunning statement.
An Act of Dog Evolves
An Act of Dog continues to evolve. At first, the couple thought they would display the portraits at various cities throughout the country and eventually sell the paintings. As they realized the enormous visual impact a display of 5,500 portraits will have on the average person, they understood it would not be enough. A grander idea was conceived.
They now plan on giving the display — the size of two football fields — a permanent home in a theme park-like setting where people can visit with their family, both human and canine, and browse shops and attractions at the same time. Think Disneyland for dogs! They are currently searching for a permanent site and are open to hearing from any area of the country.
An Act of Dog is progressing, but is still in its infancy. Phase One started when Mark and Marina put out a bid to 32 cities to host the creation of the portraits. Ultimately Louisville, Kentucky was chosen and recently Marina and Mark moved there from their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Mellwood Art Center in Louisville has generously donated the space for Mark to create the portraits.
The portraits are just the beginning. In Phase Two, Marina will be working on making a documentary on the no-kill movement in an effort to educate the public about the issues we face in continuing to fund high-kill shelters. “We aspire to become the greatness that our beloved pets already believe us to be, by ensuring with our voices and actions that America becomes a No-kill Nation” is the message on the homepage of An Act of Dog.
Work on the documentary is scheduled to begin in the next couple of months. Marina has already interviewed some shelter workers who are willing to reveal what goes on in the infamous killing rooms and how the animals are disposed of. The purpose, of course, is public education with the goal of no-kill.
Some Disturbing Statistics
Marina told me there are between 8-12 million pets per year who find their way into the shelter system. With the exception of those in privately funded, no-kill shelters, the vast majority of pets will eventually be killed because they were not adopted in time. The typical ordinance, though every municipality differs, mandates that a stray pet must be claimed by an owner within 72 or be euthanized. Some shelters will keep the pet longer if space permits, but not all.
People who are interested in participating in this novel initiative can visit the website to donate toward expenses.
The Work Moves Forward
“No-kill people already get it,” Mark told me in an interview. “Our goal is to show the general public what is happening in high-kill shelters, so things can change.” When asked how emotionally draining the creation of these portraits may be on Mark, he responded, “the mission fuels me.”
“I must pay homage to their spirits and to do that I study their photos.” He went on to say how difficult it is to connect with a spirit of a dog that is now dead, knowing there is no valid reason the pet lost his life. “We are determined to see it through,” both Marina and Mark agreed. “We do not want the dogs to have died in vain.”
Would You Like to Help?
Both Mark and Marina are so committed to the no-kill concept they have dedicated the next two years of their lives to making it a reality. They will be working on this project full time until it is complete, with no personal compensation. Want to join them in their efforts?
Take Action: Sign the petition to support animal shelters.
New Goal for HSUS: Achieving a No-Kill Community
Photo of An Act of Dog logo used with permission of Mark Barone