Besides Scarlett Chwatko’s love of reading (see Bookmark Buddies story on page 27), she had a passion for art and animals. In fact, she often said “If I could, I would adopt every animal in the world I would”. Scarlett grew up with rescue animals and most recently had a beloved dog named Ollie and cat named Winnie.
Her love of animals and the SPCA of Westchester was set an early age. In fact, for her fourth birthday, she wanted an animal party and her mother, Robin Chwatko, inquired if the SPCA of Westchester in Briarcliff Manor could help with that request. Sure enough, they did and several rescue puppies and kittens were brought to the party so that her friends could play with them. Instead of gifts, Scarlett asked all guests to make a donation to the SPCA of Westchester.
Scarlett’s relationship with the local SPCA only deepened over time. She often served as a cage captain during adoption events held throughout the year at the shelter. Cage captains accompany the pets in their cages during adoption events and help keep them calm and comforted.
Draw for Paws: Scarlett’s Idea
“Scarlett loved art and drawing and animals more than anything,” explains Robin. Scarlett came up with the idea of Draw for Paws. She was hoping that people would donate $20 to this SPCA of Westchester and in return she would draw their pets or favorite animal with the proceeds going directly to the organization. She created the original sketches, the concept, the Draw for Paws logo and the color scheme. She also wrote the mission statement for the organization at a “business meeting” with her mother at Starbucks.
Turning a Dream into Reality
For the holidays this past winter, Robin bought Scarlett the domain name for the website, drawforpaws.org and hired a graphic designer to help finetune her Draw for Paws logo sketch. “We have tried really hard to keep everything as close to her vision as possible,” said Robin.
Naming the Transport & Adoption Events
The SPCA of Westchester has a special relationship with an organization based in Mississippi called Homeward Bound. The SPCA works with them to transport hundreds of puppies a year from high kill shelters in the South to bring them to the SPCA here in Westchester to find their forever homes. These puppy adoption events held several times a year at the SPCA are hugely popular with many successful adoptions taking place but they are costly-roughly $50,000 a year to rescue, spay/neuter, transport and adopt out 300-400 puppies.
“When we knew Scarlett wasn’t doing well, I knew that people in the community would want to honor her. Although there are wonderful organizations that help kids with cancer, I knew that she would not want that to be her legacy,” explains Robin.
As Scarlett’s condition worsened, Robin reached out to the SPCA. Together they thought that naming the transport/adoption events in her honor would be an ideal way for the community to help an organization that Scarlett loved and was truly passionate about. Scarlett was always thinking about how she could help the animals at the SPCA. “She would donate all the blankets she received during hospital stays to the animals,” Robin recalls.
Brainstorming A Name for the Transports
When Robin and Scarlett first conceptualized Draw for Paws, Scarlett said she wanted to create every picture on her own. Robin suggested that Scarlett “employ” a few of her friends to help with the artwork. So she asked three of her friends, Annabelle Fisher, Grace Frieder and Tate Shalov (all rising fourth graders) to join her on this endeavor. These girls are all founding friends listed on the drawforpaws.org website.
After Scarlett’s passing, her friends came up with the name “Scarlett’s Rainbow Rescue” for the transports and decided to call themselves the Scarly Squad, but their involvement didn’t stop there. The Scarly Squad looked through Scarlett’s artwork and chose pieces that appear on the Draw for Paws website. They, along with Scarlett’s friends, family, and teachers also helped serve as cage captains at the inaugural Draw for Paws/Scarlett’s Rainbow Rescue adoption event held this past June at the SPCA in Briarcliff, which helped to raise more than $25,000 with funds that the community made in her honor at spca914.org/Scarlett and from contributions made on drawforpaws.org since the program launched. At this time, all contributions made on the Draw for Paws website will directly fund Scarlett’s Rainbow Rescue transport/adoption events.
Anyone Can Be an Artist
“We knew Draw for Paws was a way to directly involve Scarlett’s friends and family,” explains Robin. Robin admits that she was a bit hesitant initially and was worried that the people would not like the portraits drawn by the child artists but the response has been overwhelmingly positive from both the artists and the recipients of the artwork.
In order to become a Draw for Paws artist, an artist profile is needed. Artists are required to fill in an outline of a bunny that Scarlett drew named the Scarly Bunny and add a few details about themselves on the website. “Her friends are literally drawing WITH Scarlett- immersing themselves in her art by filling in this sketch. It is such a beautiful and special way to support her, remember her, and connect to her. It is also very therapeutic for so many of these kids who are feeling her loss.”
What’s Next for Draw for Paws
Robin hopes to expand the reach of Draw for Paws. Right now, the majority of the artists are local but they have had requests for portraits from Texas, New Jersey, Florida and California. “While our campaign will continue to fund Scarlett’s Rainbow Rescue, we encourage kids anywhere to start a Draw for Paws Campaign to help animals. For example, if an artist based in Florida wants to protect sea turtles, we will promote their campaign on our site and help them get up and running,” explained Robin.
Beyond Puppy Portraits
“The portraits are really incredible. People love them and want multiple drawings by different artists to collect them.” And the artists aren’t only drawing dogs, they’ve made portraits of cats, chickens, hamsters and dophins.
Currently, the artist is chosen randomly. “You can get a 5-year-old or a teen drawing your portrait,” said Robin but she is working to get celebrities and well-established artists on board in the future. “My favorite day of the week is sending out the orders – I feel Scarlett every time I send a portrait to a recipient. It is amazing to be able to honor her vision and spirit exactly as she wished.”
Draw for Paws at the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival
Draw for Paws will have a special presence at this year’s Chappaqua Childrens Book Festival. Several illustrators will raffle original art as well as hold live “how to draw” demonstrations at the Draw for Paws booth.