George the Dog, John the Artist: A Rescue Story

By John Dolan ( Overlook Press)
Reviewed by Claudia Kawczynska, June 2015, Updated June 2021

Every day, books about a dog saving a life or teaching a lesson land on our desk. Rarely, however, are points made more poignantly and convincingly than in this new memoir, George the Dog, John the Artist: A Rescue Story.

This inspiring story by former petty thief and once-homeless John Dolan—who today is an internationally respected artist—is really about George, the stray Staffordshire Terrier who started him on his remarkable journey of self-discovery and redemption.

Dolan narrates their story, which is quite unlike others in this genre. In a very down-to-earth, vérité voice, he recalls his early east London life and how years of neglect and poverty led to more than 30 prison incarcerations (some of which were intentional, a way to get inside during the cold winter months).

As a child, Dolan had a knack for drawing, a talent that he resurrected once he became responsible for George’s welfare and keeping himself outside of prison for the dog’s sake. They were living near Shoreditch High Street in London, a district that had become hip and arty. At first, Dolan and George got along by hanging out on the street and begging; the well-trained, friendly dog was a big draw. But as Dolan describes it, “I was always thinking about how I was going to get off the street and make an honest living for myself and George. Seeing all the art around Shoreditch, I began to wonder whether I could make a few quid out of drawing something myself.”

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He started with meticulous renderings of local buildings, some of which he did thousands of times until he got them right. His self-confidence steadily grew, and the man with the pad and pencil and his dog became neighborhood fixtures. His first commission came from a woman who asked him to draw George.

As he readily admits, “George was the reason I could call myself an artist.” That drawing was the first piece that he felt he ever fully completed. The woman was thrilled with it, and after that, he started drawing George regularly. His art sold, opening up a whole new life for the two of them. In September 2013, he had his first solo show, “George the Dog, John the Artist,” which was a sell-out. This entertaining, inspiring story is unique in the annals of dog-saves-man tales and definitely merits your attention. 

Image courtesy of the publisher

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 82: Summer 2015

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.