Friday, April 12, 2013

Paintings of Animal Heroes


By Sue Hains

In the winter of 2009 - 2010, I was commissioned to paint a picture of Freddy, an FBI dog who had been killed in service. In preparation for working on the portrait, I was sent a photo of Freddy but required other pictures of Belgian Malinois, Freddy’s breed, since some details in his photo were unclear. Searching online, I began to learn about service animals and discovered that Belgian Malinois are often chosen to become Military Working Dogs and police dogs. As I painted, I received emails about Freddy’s life, death and memorial service, and thought more and more about the life of this heroic animal.

Freddy was born in 2007, and served with the FBI from September 8, 2008 to October 28, 2009. The FBI had raided a warehouse being used as a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan, looking for several of its members who were wanted for a number of crimes. The Imam, who had a criminal record and refused to surrender, shot the FBI dog, Freddy, before the Imam himself was fatally shot by agents. Freddy was helicoptered to a veterinary hospital in Detroit, and although the doctors did everything they could to save his life, the wounds were fatal.

At his memorial service in Virginia, local police motorcycle officers escorted Freddy’s flag-draped casket to the FBI Academy, where the FBI Chaplain gave a moving invocation and where K-9 Police Officers and their dogs stood at attention behind a large crowd which included the veterinarians who tried to save his life. Other speakers followed and it was said that Freddy not only fit in with his team but also saw the humans as his pack!

The brass plaque added to the portrait I painted of Freddy reads:


February 17, 2007 - October 28, 2009
Then I heard the voice of the Lord
saying, "Whom shall I send?  And
who will go for us?"  And I said,
"Here am I.  Send me!"
Isaiah 6:8

I love all animals and Freddy’s story made me cry, but later it made me take action. I decided to paint the portraits of animals that had saved human lives and to then give the paintings to the animal’s companion for free. I looked online for reports of animal heroism and wrote perhaps a dozen letters or emails to reporters
who had written stories of animal heroism or to people who told of owing their lives to an animal. I got no responses. In time, I read an account of a blind cat who – in the middle of the night – had chased an intruder out of his human’s home! I wrote, stating my mission, my belief that this tiny cat qualified as a hero, and asked for permission to paint its portrait. Gwen Cooper emailed in return, saying she would be delighted to have her cat Homer’s portrait painted. (Read her book “Homer, the Blind Wonder Cat”).

As I worked on Homer’s painting, I continued my online search for hero animals and began to focus on Military Working Dogs, since I was learning about their history in the US. Beginning in 1942, some 10,000 dogs, many donated by their patriotic owners, spent eight to twelve weeks being trained as sentry, scout, messenger or mine detection animals. Several dogs were recognized for their outstanding service and received medals, which were later revoked when it was decided animals should not receive medals.

During the Vietnam War, there were approximately 4000 MWDs, who saved an estimated 10,000 human lives. Estimates of the number of MWDs killed in action range from 232 - 281. When Americans left Vietnam, the war dogs were considered “expendable equipment” and either turned over to the South Vietnamese as war surplus or euthanized, making this war the only one fought by the US in which the surviving MWDs did not come home. Eventually, veteran dog handlers, who shared a strong bond with their working companions, successfully lobbied Congress to approve a bill allowing MWDs to be adopted after service, and President Clinton signed it into law in 2000.

The online searches put me in touch with Kevin Hanrahan, a writer, soldier and dog advocate who blogs about today’s MWDs. Of some 600 dogs who trained for months to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2011, 116 died in service. Kevin introduced me to the handler of one, Anax, who lost a leg during a firefight – but not his life, thanks to his handler, Marc. (Please read Kevin’s blog for the amazing and touching story of Marc and Anax). I asked Marc for permission to paint the dog he has now adopted, and am pleased to show you my portrait of Anax.

I continue to look for hero animals and am presently painting another MWD which will be followed by a portrait of another FBI dog killed in the line of duty.

Self-taught artist Sue Hains began painting at the age of seven, with a gift of paints from her grandfather. Inspired by the surfaces and forms she observes in nature (she received her BA in Natural History), she creates illusions of stone, animals and plant life which range from highly stylized geometric patterns to photo realism.

Sue is currently concentrating on commissioned portraits of pets and other animals and on her mission to paint hero animals. Her work has been featured on KLRU's "Central Texas Gardener," in the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin 2007 "Parade of Homes," as a contributor to the Georgetown, Texas mural on the square, and has won recognition in online art competitions in 2012 and 2013.


  1. Homer's portrait is so beautiful. We are going to hop on over to Kevin's blog now.

  2. Some amazing stories. Very moving. The paintings are awesome. Such talent!

  3. I love all of those heros and I am so happy they are getting additional recognition!

  4. Wow, what amazing stories! I just now even learned about Sgt. Stubby the dog and was so touched!
    Max and Max's Ma


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