Pups, Paintings And Perspective: Coping With The Loss Of A Four-Legged Best Friend

The following appears in the February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

Artist C.D. Clarke painted his grouse hunting friend’s dog Bosco. “I really enjoy doing that because I love dogs so much,” he says of pup portraits. (C.D. CLARKE)

When I was looking through the pages of artist/sportsman C.D. Clarke’s book chronicling his sporting artwork, I knew we’d hit it off, given the number of dog oil and watercolor paintings he’s crafted.

Indeed, during our lengthy conversation for our profile of Clarke, I was moved by his lifelong passion for raising gun dogs.

“I’ve had hunting dogs since I was 16, so they’ve always been a big part of my life. Because my whole career has been kind of painting what I know, dogs were kind of a natural part of that,” Clarke told me. “I haven’t really professionally done much other than little paintings of my own dogs; the dog portrait part of my career really didn’t take off until the last 10 or 15 years.”

This has been an emotional time for me dog-wise, as in November I said goodbye to my precious Emma; she was diagnosed with a tumor in July as she approached 11 years old. I grudgingly decided against an operation and amputation of her left front leg. It was an agonizing decision, but I think it was the correct one. Emma bravely fought until finally struggling enough to warrant a peaceful crossing of the rainbow bridge the day before Thanksgiving. I was sad but at peace when I held her paw for the last time.

The editor’s German shepherd mix Emma passed away in November after battling cancer. “I was sad but at peace when I held her paw for the last time,” he writes. (CHRIS COCOLES)

Now almost 65, C.D. Clarke too has seen many cherished pets/hunting partners come and go over the years. It’s what we all sign up for when a new four-legged family member enters our weird worlds.

“Most of the time when I travel, unless I’m flying, I’ve got my dogs with me. Honestly, I haven’t painted enough of them; I’m probably three dogs behind,” says Clarke, who’s named all of his Brittany breeds after shotguns (his beloved Winchester, whose portrait adorns the front hallway of Clark and wife Tracey’s home, Remington and current dog A.H. Fox).

He really enjoys his newfound niche of painting pup portraits, whether they’re his own or friends’ dogs. And in terms of traveling with his dogs, he shared a crazy story of an outdoor adventure with them.

Clarke was at a remote Canadian salmon camp painting various pools along the river for the camp’s owner. In his canoe were his painting tools and canvas, plus two dogs as passengers. Clarke was standing on a rock after just finishing a painting and stepped back into the canoe.

“I don’t know whether the two dogs kind of shifted the canoe or what happened. But the next thing I know is the canoe kind of flipped out from under me,” he told me. “And I’m doing the (plunge) and lifting up trying to save the watercolor. I should have been thinking about the big rocks that I could have hit my head on, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I landed in the water but managed to hold the watercolor up over my head like the Statue of Liberty.”

With one crisis averted and his painting saved, he then noticed one dog safely swimming back to the other end of the bank. But where was his English pointer? She wasn’t a very good swimmer.

“The canoe is upside down and floating down the river,” said Clarke, who managed to get downstream and reach the capsized canoe. “When it flipped over it formed an air bubble; she locked her paws over a thwart and was underneath there, with a crazed Scooby Doo look on her face.”

As a dog owner, I can relate to the insanity these goofballs can put us through. I’m getting closer to rescuing another dog and can’t wait for the next round of chaos.

“There’s a dog in every day of my life,” Clarke told me, and I am excited for another one to brighten my life soon too. –Chris Cocoles