Practically anyone with a dish towel, an empty beer can, a little kibble and whole lot of patience can teach a dog to fetch a beer.
Ivy Kite, though, will go you one better: The 3-year-old Australian Shepherd can happily retrieve the single bottle of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Copper from a fridge otherwise full of Heinekens. (Because even dogs know craft beer is better.)
Now, if the winds were blowing the right way, this stunt alone might launch a pooch to social-media stardom. But the trick that’s liable to turn the most human heads Ivy’s way involves brushes, not brews.
“Somebody said, ‘It would be cool if your dog could paint.’ And I thought, why not? May be a total disaster. But why not try it?” says retired nurse Lisa Kite, as she sits in the living room of her Myers Park home with Ivy at her feet.
It’s been more than 15 months since Lisa introduced the easel, and Ivy’s creations are fetching $60 to $100 apiece from local, regional, national and even international fans. Last fall, Ivy was among dozens of artists (and the only one with four legs, thank you very much) who donated work to ART Unleashed, an annual art sale benefitting Charlotte-area animal welfare charities.
I just think that’s kind of cool that a dog is doing good for other dogs.
And it really did all start with Lisa teaching Ivy how to get a beer out of a mini-fridge in her basement, an attempt to impress her grown son with the party trick when he came home for Christmas a couple of years ago.
“A neighbor said, ‘She wouldn’t know the difference between beer and water,’ ” Lisa says. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m gonna teach her the difference.’ So I taught her to get beer, water, wine or soda, depending on what you ask for. For a time, I had her getting the bottle opener if she got the beer, but she became so fond of the bottle opener she was bring it to me all the time. So I had to start hiding that.”
Seeing this trick performed live is as amusing as you’d imagine.
“Hey, Ives, can you get a bottle of wine?” Lisa asks.
Ivy saunters over to the fridge, bites down on the dish towel knotted to the handle, and pulls. Her head disappears. Clinking. Then – voila – a bottle of white, with Ivy’s chompers wrapped around its neck.
“Oh, perfect. You want to give it to him?” Lisa gestures at a visitor. Ivy delivers.
The party’s just getting started. “You want to get a beer now?” Lisa asks. Next thing you know, the guest is double-fisting.
Ivy also knows dozens of other novel commands: She can do card tricks, clean up spills, flip light switches, open and close cabinets, bring a tissue when you sneeze, shoot hoops on a kiddie basketball goal, put things into (and take things out of) the washer and dryer, and retrieve objects based on a person’s scent.
But it’s her painting prowess that has helped Ivy earn attention in circles beyond Bob and Lisa Kite’s quiet little house on Maryland Avenue.
“I’m not an artist in any way,” Lisa says. “But I did start meeting with some artists, just because I have no idea how to mix watercolors. I bought a color wheel and tried to figure that out.
“At first I would put four colors of paint out, and let her choose her paint. But they were saying, ‘No, no, if you’re doing that, then the paints are mixing and it won’t be as pretty.’ So then I started doing one color, and I just gave her the paintbrush. ... Then they started becoming more beautiful.”
Ivy paints for just 15-20 minutes one day a week, typically on Monday mornings, and works on multiple paintings at a time. She typically finishes one per week. Lisa picks the colors she’ll work with, but every brushstroke is Ivy’s, and the Aussie signs each painting with an orange pawprint.
Lisa documents the making of many of the creations on video, and posts the clips for Ivy’s 8,000-plus Instagram followers to see. In recent months, paintings have sold to fans in Boston, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“I use some of the money to buy supplies, and she’s going to start regularly donating to the Humane Society,” Lisa says. “I just think that’s kind of cool that a dog is doing good for other dogs. And some cats – although she’s afraid of cats.”