Artists utilize many tools for their masterpieces: brushes, stencils, easels, palettes. The talented four-legged artists of Paws for Love go beyond that, and (with some human assistance) employ their paws and tails to create fetching paintings that collectors just lap up.

Now in its 18th year, the Paws for Love Art Sale and Auction Gala, February 11 at the Finley Center, is a celebration of shelter animals, and the highlight of the event is the sale of framed artwork made by rescue dogs and cats.

Paws for Love Foundation President (and artist) Ellyn Jaques Boone said, “The heart of the fundraiser is the art gallery. The pets’ 75 paintings sell out quickly.” No other event is quite like this, according to Boone. “It’s captivating. People come from all over to attend and volunteer.”

Paws for Love began 18 years ago in an empty storefront in Healdsburg as a way to help raise awareness and funds for what was then the Healdsburg Animal Shelter. The idea for paw paintings came after Boone’s own dogs ran across one of her canvases on the floor. The popular event quickly outgrew the spaces available in Healdsburg, and they moved to larger venues, settling on the Finley Center in Santa Rosa five years ago.

Boone personally assists each shelter animal to paint its own creation, using non-toxic children’s paints and scraps of mat board that are donated from Framing Arts in Healdsburg. She spends the time to get to know the animal before beginning the process. Every art piece is as unique as that pet: colorful pink polka-dots, avant-garde green swirls and feathery purple sprays adorn a few of the stunning works. When completed, she frames the art and writes a bio of the dog or cat to go with it. The paintings reflect the different personalities of the animals.

“If we know the history of the pet, we tell that story. If not, the animal will tell us who they are, and how they got to where they are now,” she said.

While the predominant artists represented are dogs and cats, Boone has worked with a veritable menagerie over the years: tortoises, llamas, horses, a lizard, one rescue chicken—and a python! “It wrapped itself around my shoulders and gave me a neck-rub,” she recalled, laughing.

The funds generated by the gala, and from a few other smaller summer and fall events, are dispersed to many rescue organizations and shelters to assist in their worthy efforts. Some local beneficiaries include Forgotten Felines, Sonoma County Animal Services, Green Dog Rescue and Dogma. Boone spends part of the year in Wyoming, so the Animal Adoption Center in Jackson also receives aid; Paws for Love is a non-profit, 501(c)3 in its own right, as well.

One program that is close to her heart is “Silver Paws for Love,” a “senior-to-senior” adoption program. It assists senior citizens in adopting senior shelter pets by paying the full adoption fee for them. The program has saved hundreds of older pets this way, while easing the financial cost of adoption for folks over 55: a tail-wagging win-win for all.

The February 11 Valentine-themed gala promises to be an elegant and fun time. In addition to local wines, event volunteers will also be pouring Korbel California Champagne. Guests can look forward to tarot card readings, passed hors d’oeuvres, and silent and live auctions with vacation getaways, merchandise, pet-related packages and award-winning wines. And, of course, there is the art gallery.

“Maybe people can’t adopt, but they want to do something significant to help,” Boone said of the attendees. The continued support from businesses has also been outstanding. “People in Sonoma County love animals. This is a magical place.”

With so many pets needing homes, the Paws for Love paintings are Boone’s way of helping. “I just wanted to call attention to these special little souls. They deserve to live.”

The gala will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, from 6-10 p.m. at the Finley Community Center, 2060 West College Ave., Santa Rosa. Tickets are a $45 donation in advance or $55 at the door; available online and at various locations throughout the county. Sites are listed on the website. For information, go to pawsforlove.info.   SD