They say every dog has its day, but this canine – a retired military working dog – has her own custom framed shadow box.
“Staff Sergeant Lady,” an 8-year-old black Lab, was a working dog for the U.S. Army, doing tours in Afghanistan with her handler, Sgt. Roque Espinoza. He is currently assigned to the Engineer Canine Company, 5th Engineer Battalion, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, at Fort Leonard Wood. Recently retired, Lady is enjoying life as a pet with Espinoza and his family.
The shadow box contains her Honorable Discharge papers, collar and leash, photos with Espinoza, and her favorite toy, a tennis ball.
“She played with the tennis ball during her overseas tours and when it got in really bad shape, the medics ‘bandaged’ it with surgical tape and anything else that was handy since it couldn’t be easily replaced,” says Espinoza, who had the idea to frame these items long before his canine companion retired. “When Lady was first assigned to me I told myself that I would only use the one tennis ball for as long as I had her and that I would get it framed once I adopted her. I never would have imagined it to have turned out so great.”
While Lady has noticed her ball in the frame a couple of times, she is mainly concerned with her new ball. “Life as a pet has not been a hard transition for her at all, and she now has a new ball that she loves and constantly wants to play fetch with,” Espinoza says. “Even when I’m trying to relax and watch television, she drops the ball on my lap and nudges it with her nose – her way of saying ‘Come on, dad, play with me.’
“She absolutely loves the retired life – she lounges around the house, occasionally getting into some mischief when left unattended. I can never get mad at her though because she’s my girl and she just gives me the saddest ‘I’m sorry’ look that I can’t help but fall for.”
Lady was three years old when she first teamed up with Espinoza, and she’s now been at his side for almost five years. “The love and bond we share is hard to describe,” says Espinoza, who will soon attend a Specialized Search Dog course and team up with another working dog. “I’ve spent more time with Lady than with my own family. She’s been my friend, my companion, my protector, and occasionally the thorn in my side, but I love her. To me, she is a lot more than just a dog, to me she is family.”
Espinoza took Lady’s precious possessions to Joyce Michels, MCPF, owner of Michels Frames & Things in Saint Robert, Mo. “He wanted the tennis ball integrated into the frame design but did not want a deep shadowbox,” says Michels, who used a small acrylic case from Gemini Moulding to hold the ball – creating quite a challenge.
“We had to cut an opening in exactly the right place in a sheet of acrylic, cut it straight and not have any cracks surrounding it – sounds simple enough, but we did a lot of trial and error on scraps before attempting the real thing,” she explains. “We weren’t sure how to keep the cracks from happening until I made some phone calls to a few framer friends and an acrylic company.”
To create support under the acrylic, Michels used a piece of ½-inch plywood with a hole cut out, and clamped the edges together to quiet the vibration from the jigsaw. “Other than that, the project was very straightforward, using clear polyester filmstrips and a heavy polyester thread to mount the collar and leash,” she says. “The customer loved it. We were proud to do this piece and are so happy that Lady has a loving owner and family in her retirement.”
Michels, who does a lot of framing for the Fort Leonard Wood post, is a Master Certified Picture Framer (MCPF), and member of the Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) where she serves on the Board of Directors and the Certification Board. An “Army brat” as a child, she is married to a retired Army NCO, and specializes in preserving and framing military memorabilia.
For more information on custom picture framing and a searchable database of PPFA framers, visit www.findapictureframer.com.