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Pet portrait class brings healing to cancer patients and survivors 

Jamie Dietze, Expressive Pet Portraits, The Cancer Support Community

Several participants discovered their inner artist during an Expressive Pet Portraits class held at The Cancer Support Community. Pictured from left to right are: Terry Reid, Theresa Fullbright, Instructor and Program Coordinator Jamie Dietze, and Mary Pat George. Photo by Meagan Friberg

For many people, pets provide a certain level of therapeutic and calming energy. For a large number of cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers, their pets are their constant companions and, oftentimes, even their confidant. Perhaps that is what led a group of participants to join Jamie Dietze, program coordinator at The Cancer Support Community – California Central Coast in Paso Robles, as she offered her Expressive Pet Portraits. As they discovered their “inner artist,” they gained a new sense of accomplishment and pride.

“Art gets your mind off of cancer and focuses it on something that is important to you – in this class, it was about our pets,” said Theresa Fullbright of Atascadero. Currently battling cancer, she has been involved with The Cancer Support Community for several years. “Art gives you the chance to pour yourself into something outside of yourself. Taking part in classes is also important for those of us dealing with cancer or for those who have survived it. It’s about the camaraderie and being with people who are dealing with things that you can relate to.”

Theresa Fullbright, Jamie Dietze, Expressive Pet Portraits, The Cancer Support Community

Theresa Fullbright of Atascadero chose her Tabby cat, Bootsie, as the subject of her pet portrait.

Self-expression through art

Dietze earned her degree in Studio Art from Cal Poly, has taught art children’s classes, and has been an art volunteer in schools throughout SLO County. A two-time cancer survivor, Dietze has been creating her own pet portraits for many years. After friends suggested that she teach a class for others so they, too, could learn the craft, she knew The Cancer Support Community would be the perfect fit.

“Being a cancer survivor is what led me here to The Cancer Support Community,” she said. “I have battled cancer, I have survived it, and now I am giving back. Art is really important to me and I have always used it as a form of self-expression. Art is a cathartic tool, so working with this community of people is just the perfect marriage for me to take that tool and share it with other people.”

Why pet portraits? For Dietze, it was about the connection she has with her own pets and animals in general, and she knew how important pets are to other people as well. Bringing their pets into the mix was a good way to introduce art to the class participants.

“What I wanted was for people not only to learn about art but to express how they felt about something,” Dietze said. “That is how the Expressive Pet Portraits class evolved — all of the participants really expressed how they felt about their pets and that really is key. Secondly, they learned about art and that it is not something that is unattainable, that everyone can do it, and that everyone has their own style and interpretation of what they see.”

Mary Pat George, Jamie Dietze, Expressive Pet Portraits, The Cancer Support Community

Atascadero resident Mary Pat George is pictured with her finished portrait of her dogs, Kit and Gracie.

Bringing out the inner artist

Fullbright chose to draw her Tabby cat, Bootsie, 15. In doing so, she said she discovered “this artist inside of me that I didn’t know about.” For Reid, her 18-year-old long-haired domestic Tabby cat, Morgana, was the obvious choice. She said the thought of drawing her cat was very appealing, though she was a bit nervous about the venture thinking she had “no talent whatsoever.”

“Jamie is such a great teacher and this class was so much fun,” Reid said. “It was an amazing feeling to complete the portrait; it gave me such a feeling of accomplishment.”

George teaches Tai Chi Chih at The Cancer Support Community, is a cancer survivor and former caregiver. The idea of pet portraits and working with pastels was appealing. She transformed a photo of two of her dogs, Kit and Gracie, into a portrait that holds a great deal of meaning.

“I lost my momma dog, Kit, last year and the portrait is of momma and her baby, Gracie,” she said. “It’s been a real healing process for me and it helped me work through my loss.

Offering support, hope & encouragement

Terry Reid, Jamie Dietze, Expressive Pet Portraits, The Cancer Support Community

Terry Reid of Paso Robles proudly shows off her recently-completed portrait of Morgana, her 18-year-old long-haired domestic Tabby cat.

After the Expressive Pet Portrait class, Dietze led another group in a photo magnet class. Currently, she is offering a self-portrait class, in the pastel medium. Those interested in learning more about the therapeutic qualities of art and the range of programs offered through The Cancer Support Community are encouraged to call 238-4411, stop by 614 13th St. in Paso Robles, or go to All programs are free of cost.

“Whatever capacity you are in at the moment – whether you are dealing with illness, you have survived cancer, or you are caring for someone – you will find hope, love, understanding and energy here at The Cancer Support Community,” Ried said.

George agreed, saying, “One of the concepts that I have learned and that I really like is that there is life beyond cancer; we are not cancer. We come here to our classes and do something positive together, we share our stories, and we offer something to one another in a caring and supportive way.”


About the author: Reporter Meagan Friberg

Meagan Friberg is a reporter for the Paso Robles Daily News and A-Town Daily News.