Artists with the nonprofit Cheddar Paws Dog Art capture the radiant goodness of long-term shelter pets to help them find the love they deserve.

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Man holding a dog painting next to a dog for cheddar paws dog art
Credit: Courtesy of Cheddar Paws Dog Art

The first model was Napster, an adorable American Staffordshire terrier. She was just 5 months old when she was rescued from an animal cruelty situation. Although safe in the shelter environment, she was there for over a year, and developed behavioral issues. No one stepped forward to foster, much less adopt, her.

Natahnee Miller, a certified animal behavior consultant, and Karen Spidle, both of Harrisburg, Penn., signed up to do a "paint your pet" event together, and saw Napster's inner beauty and potential. "I really wanted to help get her out and into a foster home," Miller tells Daily Paws. She used a picture of Napster as inspiration and created her first paint–to–canvas dog portrait. 

Spidle says Napster's story made a light bulb go off, and she and Miller brainstormed about how interesting it would be to help overlooked shelter dogs in Central Pennsylvania get adopted through art. In 2019, they started the nonprofit Cheddar Paws Dog Art (because as Spidle says, all dogs love cheese!) 

Miller and Spidle aren't professional artists, but in addition to their full-time jobs, they're ardent animal advocates. Miller, ACDBC, is president of Harrisburg's Great Dog Program, a nonprofit that provides donation-based training and behavior modification to keep dogs in homes and out of shelters and rescues. Spidle is a board member of a local wildlife rehabilitation center and also volunteers at Speranza Animal Sanctuary, which provides a haven for unadoptable dogs and farm animals.

Knowing doggos with long shelter stays needed all the goodwill advertising they could get, Miller and Spidle persuaded local businesses to hang pooch portraits with shelter information. Other artists stepped forward to donate their time and talent to give each pup the star treatment. The result? Pure magic.

collage of cheddar paws dog art portraits
Credit: Courtesy of Cheddar Paws Dog Art

Just what makes a painting pop? "We have so many amazing artists in our group, all with different styles, but I think we all agree on trying to get the eyes right in order to capture the animal's personality," Miller says. Ten artists contribute to the effort now.

And the word is out! In addition to helping shelters throughout Pennsylvania, Spidle says the organization has fulfilled requests from others in Louisiana, New York, and Wisconsin. "To date, we've painted 197 dogs, and 138 have been adopted," she says. The new pet parent keeps both the huggable pal and the portrait that convinced them to find room in their hearts.

Spidle adds that when a shelter pup passes away before finding a home, Cheddar Paws donates their painting as a memorial piece. Unfortunately, Napster crossed the rainbow bridge shortly after the pair met her. Miller's initial portraits of this sweet pup remind her of the work she and Spidle hope to accomplish with other pets who, through no fault of their own, are unhomed. They celebrate each success on social media. 

"It's so rewarding to be able to post a long-termer with 'Adopted' stamped on their portrait!" Spidle says. We can't wait to see those numbers rack up!

artists and dogs from cheddar paws dog art
Karen J. Spidle, left, and Natahnee S. Miller, right, co-founders of the nonprofit Cheddar Paws Dog Art.
| Credit: Courtesy of Cheddar Paws Dog Art