Hempfield Manor graced with South Greensburg’s woman’s pet therapy portraits | TribLIVE.com
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Mary Pickels
Nicole Montell of South Greensburg and her therapy dog, Rylee, take a break outside Hempfield Manor where they sometimes volunteer.

Nicole Montell and Rylee, her English Springer Spaniel therapy dog, are regulars at Hempfield Manor .

A self-taught artist, Montell paints portraits of dogs as they complete therapy certification at Youngwood Top Dog Services . The portraits then go up on the Manor walls.

Rylee is among those immortalized with a painting bearing her name.

Youngwood Top Dog Services owner Rodney Little discovered Montell’s painting skills when she hired him to help with Rylee’s separation anxiety.

Montell, 24, of South Greensburg and her husband, Cody, adopted Rylee as their first dog together.

“My mom had dogs trained by (Little). He suggested she could be a therapy dog. We thought why not? She seems to have a good personality for it. She’s very mellow and sociable, and likes attention,” Montell said.

She tries to bring Rylee to Hempfield Manor when other therapy dogs are scheduled to visit the residents.

A rural carrier with the U. S. Postal Service, Montell’s work schedule determines how often she can participate.

Hobby with a mission

Montell has no professional painting training, she said.

She took as many elective art classes as she could while a Hempfield Area High School student attending Central Westmoreland Career & Technology Center.

“It’s what got me through high school. A good many of my friends did the same thing,” she said.

When Little visited her home to meet Rylee, he noticed paintings she had done of her dogs on metal canisters.

Little hired her to paint his dogs on wine glasses as a Christmas present for his wife, he said.

He then had her paint a portrait of his own dog, Sarge, which is on a Hempfield Manor wall.

He liked it so much, he said, he had her paint a second one for him to hang at his home.

“She does wonderful work and really captures the likeness of the dog,” Little said.

The painting option is made available to clients’ dogs as they near therapy certification, he said.

Montell, who paints the dogs from photos, gives those clients a break on costs, which the owners and his business split, Little said.

Finding her niche

As she and Rylee sat in the Manor lobby one recent evening, nearly everyone who passed by asked to pet the dog.

Painting portraits of people, Montell said, is not her favorite.

“I can do that. It takes me so much longer,” she said.

“I’ve been painting animals for a long time. I have two dogs, a cat, three rabbits, a ferret and 10 chinchillas. I paint all of them,” she said.

“I work for my animals, my husband tells me,” Montell said, laughing.

She donated a commissioned painting as a prize for a recent Manor Easter egg hunt, she said.

“I do commissions if people ask. I do people, I’ve done a farm. It’s mostly animals, though,” she said.

Many clients find her through her posts on social media.

“One portrait will take me maybe three or four hours. I mainly do it for fun. (Payment) helps with the materials. Painting is relaxing for me,” Montell said.

Residents’ reactions

Little takes the finished portraits to Hempfield Manor, where staff members mat and frame them.

“I have two more on my desk ready to be mounted,” said Kristy Mathews, site activity director.

Following a building remodel, a decision was made to replace some of the wall art, which tended toward “gardening” and “Victorian ladies” paintings, Mathews said, along with other pictures of dogs and cats.

“(Little) suggested using the therapy dogs. … As soon as we hung the portraits up, (residents) were coming out of their rooms saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, those are our dogs,’ ” she recalls.

“They all have their favorite therapy dogs and look for their names (on the paintings),” Mathews said.

Staff members, who also enjoy the therapy dogs’ visits, find the portraits also brighten the mood, she adds.

Montell sometimes memorializes a dog in a painting for someone who has lost a beloved pet.

The paintings at the Manor are special because of the joy they bring to people who are are away from or who have had to give up their pets, she says.

Montell, too, gets a kick out of residents recognizing her portraits’ subjects.

“Someone will say, ‘Hey, I know that dog,’ ” she said, grinning.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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