Pet Portraits by Pete

July 2, 2018

The subtle transition from tragedy to triumph

by Urie L. Layser

Photos by Kimberlee Miller

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon as we find ourselves sitting on the patio of Even Stevens sandwich shop in downtown Boise. As he begins to recall the events that brought him to this stage in his life, Peter Burns brandishes to me his outstretched left hand and the four and a half fingers that remain. “It was a turning point,” he says. “My life really could have went either way.”

It all began in March 2015 when Pete was coming out of a significantly low-point in his existence. Having just secured a landmark job as an editor for the Dan Patrick Show and about to celebrate 90 days of alcohol sobriety, he was beginning to make strides in both his life and career—the only thing standing in his way were a few hundred hours of community service at a local animal shelter in Chatsworth, California. Upon arriving for his first day at the shelter, Pete was informed by management the first task-at-hand would be to clean out occupied dog kennels using a hose. It was supposed to be a relatively straight forward operation, but fifteen minutes into his first shift, Pete’s hand was attacked by a previously abused and scared dog.

After two days in the hospital and a failed attempt at reattaching his finger, Peter found himself at a crossroad in his attempts to move forward and escape the clutch of alcoholism. The pain of losing part of his finger was amplified by the fact that the dog responsible was sentenced to euthanasia for its aggression. Unable to work, Pete was devastated, frustrated, and was considering going back to the very habit that brought him to this place. Luckily, at that moment in walked his sister, Karin, whom he hadn’t seen in almost a year.

“Things are going up and then all of a sudden you hit a huge bump in the road,” recalls Pete. “You can either continue to go up, or go back to whatever it was you were doing that caused you to go down that path in the first place.” With that thought and the support of his family, Peter decided to relocate to the Treasure Valley where he spent the next few months convalescing at his sister’s house.

While on the mend, Pete channeled his frustration into a forgotten hobby—drawing. He began sketching pet portraits for family and friends while donating the proceeds to the ASPCA, a national organization that works to combat animal cruelty. What began as only a hobby, turned into an outlet. He found that through his art, he could make a positive impact and hopefully prevent more innocent animals from encountering a similar fate.

In January 2016, Pet Portraits by Pete officially launched and it didn’t take long for the artist to attract attention on a national stage. In June of that year, Peter and his sister were invited to share their story on the Today show with Kathie Lee and Hoda. After his appearance, his email began to flood with drawing requests from people all around the US; including many celebrities such as Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, and even the Dog Whisperer himself, Cesar Millan.

His palette of bright neon colors represents the antithesis of the darkness that brought him to this point. It’s full of hope and truly captures the innocence of our favorite friends. Catch Pete at the Saturday market in downtown Boise, or visit his website at www.petportraitsbypete.com.