AUSTIN (KXAN) – When freelance artist Robert Martin brought his dog Santa home from Texas Humane Heroes in Leander, he knew he wanted to do more.
He thought about volunteering, walking the dogs and playing with them at the sprawling 22-acre animal shelter. Then he decided to offer something no other volunteer could — his talent.
“I thought to myself, how can I help them?” Martin said. “I just wanted to use whatever time I had and my abilities to draw attention to these guys and help them find their forever homes.”
Martin contacted staff at Texas Humane Heroes, and a new partnership was born.
“He reached out to us via Facebook and said he has this talent and he was wondering if that would be beneficial to us,” Daysi Yeates said. She’s the Marketing and Events Manager at Texas Humane Heroes. “We love it. We love the idea, and especially during COVID it’s a different way to kind of market our animals.”
Together, Martin and Yeates work together to choose animals to feature.
“Typically we choose dogs that have been at the shelter longer than 30 days,” Yeates said. “We really want to try to get those dogs that are considered our VIPs out there and out to the virtual world.”
Then, every other Sunday afternoon, Martin streams himself illustrating the adoptable pet on Facebook live. Viewers that follow along have the opportunity to ask questions about the animals and the shelter along the way.
So far Martin has illustrated nearly half a dozen animals using a variety of mediums, including graphite and colored pencil. He said regardless of the medium, his goal is to capture each animal’s unique personality.
“My biggest thing when I’m drawing is to catch their eyes and try to bring out their personality in their eyes,” Martin said. “That’s the first thing people are going to see in a picture or in a shelter. I’ll spend 10 hours just working on eyes just to make sure I get them perfect. Other than that, everything just falls into place.”
Each pet portrait takes between 20 and 40 hours to complete, depending on the medium. When he’s finished, Martin gives the illustration to the family that adopts each featured pet for free.
“I always write a little note on the back of the pictures thanking them ‘from my family to yours,’ thanking them for adopting,” Martin said. “It’s a magical moment.”
Martin’s idea to draw attention to adoptable pets on Facebook Live came at a good time. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced animal shelters to make adjustments. Each video has racked up more than a thousand views.
“I think people really enjoy the Facebook Lives,” Yeates said. “We have so many people commenting, asking more questions about the dogs, asking about the facility. It’s also been bringing people in and asking ‘oh, I saw this dog being drawn on Facebook Live, can you tell me more about them?'”
Martin doesn’t plan to put an end to his artwork anytime soon, even after the COVID-19 pandemic comes under control.
“Unfortunately there’s always going to be dogs in shelters,” Martin said. “That’s just something we can’t get past. So I’ll be here until she says stop. I’m all for doing this until forever.”
He’s working on three new pet portraits to feature in his next Facebook Live video. You can tune in on the Texas Humane Heroes page at 2 p.m., Aug. 9.
The shelter operates two locations in Leander and Killeen. If you’re looking for a pet, each facility has plenty of space for social distancing and adoptions. They’re even taking extra precautions, adding outdoor seating and plexi-glass to separate guests and staff.
More information about the shelter is on their website.