Interview with Ron Burns and 9/11 Dogs Tribute Video
Dear Friends of Positively Woof around the world,
Together we honor all the people and dogs who worked hard in the aftermath of 9/11, those who in many cases gave their lives or their health. One of the most moving tributes is the collection of paintings of dogs by Ron Burns, the first Artist in Residence of the Humane Society of the United States.
Read our interview with Ron and scroll down to watch a brief video featuring his paintings in a Tribute to the Dogs of 9/11.
PWoof: Over the past 15 years, how has the meaning of your 9/11 Tribute evolved for you?
Ron Burns: What I did back then, painting Sirius the bomb detection dog that lost his life that day in Tower II and giving David Lim, his handler, a reproduction of the painting, I did out of my feelings of loss for David. But I could never have realized how it would affect my life and art career throughout the coming years. From having the original painting of Sirius in the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s permanent collection as well as the images of the dogs I painted on collectibles in their gift shop to shifting my focus on the dogs I would continue to paint. Up until 9/11 I primarily painted shelter dogs looking for homes. After the tragedy of 9/11 and traveling around the country to photograph therapy and search and rescue dogs that I would later paint in the studio, I learned about the deep devotion these dogs give to us humans. It made me look deeper into the roles dogs play in our lives and how I wanted to portray them in my art.
PWoof: Remembering back to when you originally painted these portraits, how were you affected by the creative project?
Ron Burns: It was a very emotional time for me, and the entire country. However, I came to understand what the therapy dogs, in particular, did to help heal our hearts. Debra Burlingame, the sister of Capt. Charles F. Burlingame, III who was the pilot on the American Airlines plane that flew into the pentagon, once told me how valuable the dogs were for the families after being debriefed. That when turning the corner and seeing the dogs standing there, waiting for them, how the families could feel the heavy stress being lifted. I too could feel a sense of comfort when I met the dogs, played with them and then later recalled the experience in the studio when I painted them. However, the real pain did come back when painting some of the search and rescue dogs and hearing their stories. In proof reading the book, we had to have a box of tissues just to get through some of their stories.
PWoof: Why do you paint dogs? I know you’ve answered this question countless times, but I ask if anything is coming up for you that might be fresh, poignant, or creative as we approach the 15-year milestone anniversary of 9/11.
Ron Burns: For me the question has always been “why not?”. For some artist, a sunset touches their heart and they yearn to capture it on canvas. For me, it is looking into the eyes of a dog that gives me that same yearning to capture its personality, its spirit on canvas. I always believe I can find something deeper in myself in the experience of painting dogs and I keep looking. Someday I will capture the true essence and embodiment of the unconditional love our canine companions give to us. Until then I will keep painting dogs.
PWoof: What dog-related charity or cause can we give a shout out to?
Ron Burns: I have just recently been asked to be on the board of Pet Partners, formerly known as The Delta Society. It was some of their dogs that I met that were at ground zero, giving comfort to the families and first responders. I hope that I can be an asset to their organization and help spread the word on what great work they do and the wonderful experience we call the human animal bond.
The Video Tribute to the Dogs of 9/11 by Ron Burns is Below