Grapefruit Yoga
June 21, 2015
Opting for Art
July 29, 2015
Grapefruit Yoga
June 21, 2015
Opting for Art
July 29, 2015

Service Dogs on the Wall

It Takes a Village To Raise a Service Dog.

From the town crazy lady (and her wacky idea that a Great Dane can help with mobility) to the skilled trainers, dedicated volunteers and supportive neighbors (living nearby or just a camera’s blink away), each plays a role in bringing up a pup.

When I met Thomas, he lived with a community at the Service Dog Project (SDP) that gave him his name (a volunteer, Jackie, I’m told) his socializing (Hillary’s mom had him for many a sleepover), and his training (Colleen, Hillary and Megan). That community welcomed me with open arms and a lead with a monkey fist attached. It was my turn to learn to take care of the service dog that would take care of me.

The idea of telling the story of this village hit me like the side of a barn. Or, more accurately, the front of a barn. When I saw the SDP laundry barn with its fresh coat of paint last fall, I envisioned it with a mural, with the varied colors of dogs represented: mantel, merle, harlequin. Though I’d never painted a mural, when I learned I’d be moving to the west coast before this fall, I envisioned what I might need to create this parting gift in appreciation for the gift of Sir T.

It Takes a Village To Raise a Mural.


From the fellow artist who loaned her oversized studio (which could accommodate six 4-foot-by-4-foot panels) and huge amounts of time to my understanding husband and some dear, dear friends, each contributed to this project. Margaret helped prime boards and offered an artist’s eye when I needed it. Without her, I couldn’t have even started.

With packing still to do, open houses to clean for, a house out west to consider, Andy watched me leave in the afternoon without comment.

I left lists without picking up a pen to mark off any items. I left dust without picking up a cloth. I left for the aforementioned studio and picked up brushes and rollers. Sometimes I’d come home and remember dinner. Sometimes, he’d offer to get ice cream for dinner. (Yep, he’s a keeper.)

The day I mentioned I might be finishing up soon, he had the drill, screws, level and engineering plan for raising the mural. Motivated only in part by my being home to face the packing, his main intention was to help. Since I’m not the climb-a-ladder-with-a-giant-board-in-hand kind of girl, the panels wouldn’t have made it to SDP without him.

The transport and mounting would not have happened without Jon and Andrea. They provided a pickup truck (everyone needs a friend with a pickup truck) and have always provided a heartwarming, compassionate pick-me-up whenever needed (everyone needs friends like that).

Thank you volunteers, and in particular, village photographer Camera Mark who added his skill in documenting the mural-raising. Thank you, Mark. And all of the SDP neighbors – nearby and by camera – none of this story of service dogs could happen for future recipients without your support.

And while I skipped out on packing and dinner and heavy lifting to tell the story of this village, there’s another story. During the process of painting the mural, Tommy hoisted me off the floor, got me unstuck mid-paint stroke, guided me throughout the room when I needed it. I truly couldn’t have completed this gift without the help of my guy, my gift. Such a good boy.

It Takes a Village To Raise Awareness.


My fave Camera Mark photo.


Even with a gorgeous Dane by my side, saying disabled and I in the same sentence did not come easily. The village full of supporters helped. As did a gorgeous soul with a Dane by her side. With Lynne, I found the voice to speak up, to speak out about service dogs, to shout out about friendship, to call out for others to bring service dog awareness to their locales.

I’ve started packing. My “Service Dogs Lead from the Heart” Tshirts are in the same box as a stack of brochures.


I’ll be spreading the word westward. This Dame with Dane may be leaving town but I’m not leaving this community.



  1. Becky Davidson says:

    Renee, I had the great honor of meeting you last year at Dogfest. While the entire experience was incredible, the highlight was meeting you and Thomas and Lynne and Willow and listening to the extremely informative Q&A. I feel certain this project was a labor of love for you and that love shines through in the wonderful mural you created. I live in California so am actually much closer to your new home and if you and Thomas ever find your way to southern California, I know of may supporters in the area who would like very much to connect with you. Best wishes to you and your family and thank you for all you do.

    • Renee says:

      Becky, Thank you. And thanks for all the support for SDP and for these dogs that we need and love so much.

  2. Barbara Hughes Abbott says:

    Renee you & Sir Thomas are amazing. My Daughter & I saw you,Sir Thomas, Lynne & Willow at DogFest last year & you are all amazing representatives for this wonderful orginazation!

  3. Diane Davis says:

    It looks fantastic. What a big job and what a great job you did. I’m sure it will live there for a very long time. What a great way to leave your mark on this part of the world.

  4. Karen Paquet aka Scooter Karen says:

    The mural is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with Sir Thomas with us and for helping to educate the world on these wonderful creatures. My parents and only sister. Over to the northwest decades ago and they love it. Before My accident I visited every year and absolutely loved it. I hope you do too but boy will you be missed.

  5. Nancy Litman-Pulka says:

    How beautiful the mural is and what a wonderful person you are. We, the community of SDP, are very fortunate to be able to see, listen, participate, visit, contact and just plain enjoy all the comings and goings of Crazy Acres. Each of the recipients of one of danes, is so open to helping all of us CPs understand what they go through and how each dane is helping them. We all are growing together and it is one very spectacular ride.
    Thank you, Renee and Sir Thomas, for allowing us to become part of your lives. We will miss you being close but will follow you.

  6. Thank you, Renee, for sharing your story and your gifts with us. The mural is beautiful and your writings are wonderful. You are one very talented lady. Thank you.

  7. bobbity212 says:

    Renee, your gift was a magnificent one. It expresses so eloquently the magic that happens at SDP. I wish you joy in your new life, and many more good years with Sir Thomas by your side. I hope you’ll always be a part of the community that SDP and have helped to build together–you are one of its strongest limbs. Very best of luck to you and your famly. 🙂

  8. Dianeks-MD says:

    Beautiful mural. Thank you. Hope to hear of your new adventures with Sir Thomas on the west coast. Best Wishes, will really miss seeing you.

  9. Angela says:

    Renee, the mural is awesome! What a gift for SDP. Thank you! I wish you all the best as you finish packing and move out to my part of the world (Western Canada though).

  10. Carrie Leljedal says:

    As beautiful as the mural is the story is even more so. Finding SPD a few years ago has reminded me why it is I always tell people we where not put on this earth to take we where put here to give.
    Any time I can buy a brick or find away to help it warms my heart to know those who are being given up a hand up pay it forward every day.

  11. Nancy says:

    Beautiful painting, beautiful story, beautiful spirit.

  12. Pat says:

    The mural is BEAUTIFUL ! Nothing else could have depicted what SDP is about and the evolving of a service dog. Thank you :o) PS Have you seen the new issue of SUNSET mag… articles about Pac NW and Whidbey Isle… Welcome neighbor =o)

  13. Renee Delight-La Torre says:

    Beautiful mural Renee! It looks just perfect on the barn. I will be following your journey here out west as you (hopefully, but no pressure!) write about it. I would love to head up north to paint en plein air with you! Safe travels!

  14. Susan Culver says:

    Renee, you are such an inspiration to me. We only chatted briefly at Dog Fest last September but the talk that you and Lynne did truly moved me. Your mural is a wonderful addition to SDP. You will be missed. If you, Andy and Sir Thomas find yourselves in the wilds of Minnesota, please let us know if we can help you, put you up for the night, give directions or anything. Safe travels and much good luck on your new endeavor.

  15. Ann Marie Salmon says:


    You are one of the most interesting, inspirational women that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. The mural is special just as you are. Ahhh and you know I love Sir Thomas!

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