Van Gogh, a one-eared pit bull, has created the ultimate “masterpiece” for himself: a forever home.
Jaclyn Gartner, founder and president of the foster-based Happily Furever After Rescue in Bethel, Connecticut, found Van Gogh on social media at a rescue shelter in North Carolina — and immediately fell in love with the injured pup.
“I saw him, and I was instantly in love. He just had the biggest smile and I thought, ‘I love this guy. I need him. I need this dog,’” Gartner told Fox News Digital.
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Several years before this, Gartner founded Happily Furever After Rescue.
She did so after first rescuing and adopting her late dog, Tyler, an animal “that nobody wanted,” she said.
She then started volunteering with different rescues and decided she wanted to do more for rescue dogs, specifically animals that are overlooked, unwanted or misunderstood — which is why she loved Van Gogh so much.
The 7-year-old pit bull came from North Carolina.
There, he was a stray in the streets before a dog fighting circuit picked him up, claims a neighbor, as a “bait dog.”
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The dog was then thrown back onto the streets, Gartner presumed, once he was no longer of use.
A North Carolina shelter rescued him after he was found injured and bleeding in a drain pipe and in need of help.
He was in rough shape at first. Van Gogh had to have his left ear surgically removed as a result of injuries he sustained in the dog fighting ring.
“Despite everything he went through, he still loved all the people,” Gartner said.
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“He should not trust people — but he still does,” she said.
Gartner was unable to adopt and foster him herself — but she still wanted to do everything in her power to help find him a home.
‘Just the sweetest’
She posted messages about Van Gogh on her private Facebook page, hoping someone would step in and offer to foster the pit bull.
She finally found a family willing to do so.
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Happily Furever After Rescue acquired Van Gogh in June 2022 thanks to the work of Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit organization that works alongside aviation volunteer pilots who help transport rescue dogs.
“The moment he got off the plane, he was so friendly with everybody. He was rubbing up against everyone, falling into their laps. He was just the sweetest dog,” Gartner said.
Based on her first interaction with the pup, she thought he would be adopted in no time.
Yet nobody seemed to want him.
In an effort to try to find Van Gogh a home, she took him to multiple pet adoption functions — but “he wasn’t presenting well at the events,” Gartner noted.
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She added, “I want to do something [so] that people [could] meet him — but in a place that he’s comfortable.”
She decided it was time to think outside the box — which is how Gartner came up with the idea of putting on an art show featuring the “artwork” of Van Gogh the dog.
Profits would go to the rescue.
Gartner took a canvas and placed different colors on it; then, she put it into a Ziploc bag coated in peanut butter, pumpkin purée or the dog’s favorite new treat, ground-up liverwurst.
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Every time Van Gogh licked the treat-coated top of the bag, he was also smearing the paint underneath to create a unique piece of art.
“For him, it is enrichment and a treat. He enjoys doing it,” Gartner said.
After she spent time and effort to present Van Gogh’s pieces, her try at an art gallery was unsuccessful.
“I felt really disappointed,” she said. “I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t want to post about it online because I felt like a failure.”
Artwork goes viral
She then decided to post the aftermath of the event on Facebook in an effort to sell the rest of Van Gogh’s artwork.
In a matter of minutes, she said, the entire collection sold out.
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Van Gogh’s art had gone viral.
Gartner said people from all over the country reached out asking for his art — it has gone as far as New Zealand, she said.
To date, Van Gogh has completed his 140th painting. The artwork has been shared with people in 25 states.
“It’s a beautiful thing because [people] are not only supporting the rescue, but they are supporting the dog,” Gartner said.
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Van Gogh spent several months with a foster family — which then had to give him back to the rescue because a family member needed major surgery.
Gartner had received interest months before from another rescuer, Jessica Starowitz, who had missed the opportunity to foster Van Gogh back in June when she took in a senior cat from the rescue instead.
Starowitz had previously rescued animals: From 2001 to 2022 she opened up her home to a variety of cats and dogs, including a 17-year-old poodle that she lost last year.
After Gartner reached out to see if Starowitz was interested in fostering Van Gogh — she immediately said yes.
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To Starowitz, Van Gogh is “this big moose of a dog I absolutely fell in love with.”
Once she met him, she fell in love with him, she said.
“You can tell there is no evil or anger in those eyes after what he’s been through,” Starowitz shared.
‘So much love’
Gartner said she jokingly messaged Starowitz: “Would it be too soon for me to ask if you’d consider adopting him?”
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Starowitz calls him her “big foster failure,” because the fostering experience quickly turned into an adoption and a forever home for the dog.
He is currently working on his “manners,” she said, and training every day by taking walks in the morning and developing more comfort around other dogs.
Regarding his art career, Van Gogh has finished his most recent commissions — and will be taking a sabbatical for the time being.
“Give the tongue and creativity a bit of a rest,” Starowitz joked.
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She’s viewed his fame as an opportunity “to promote rescue dogs and the dogs that might not look 100% perfect or have had a past … There is so much love in those animals.”
In the future, Gartner said fans of Van Gogh can expect Valentine’s Day-themed magnets in February, plus another art auction premiering in March.
That’s the birth month of Vincent van Gogh and Van Gogh the pit bull as well.
The “show” will feature 10 of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings newly reimagined by Van Gogh the pit bull.
Gartner and Starowitz encourage others to support rescue shelters in any way by donating food or supplies — or assisting with transport or anything else they may need.
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“If you can do that, you can help any animal get into a safer, stable home,” Starowitz said.