When Lisa Sadiwnyk decided that she wanted a tattoo of Bambi, her beloved red-nosed Pit Bull, inked permanently on her body, she did what most people do—she turned to Instagram to find an artist. The Pennsylvania resident, who lives in Fairless Hills and refers to her 7-year-old rescue as her “furry first born,” wasn’t willing to settle for a mediocre representation of her dog. So, after months of searching, Sadiwnyk contacted The Séance Tattoo Parlor in Bensalem and booked with tattoo artist Paul Marino.
Throughout his 11-year career, Marino has skillfully executed a variety of tattoos ranging from detailed art nouveau leg sleeves to pop-culture masterpieces including a frighteningly vivid portrayal of Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. But Marino, a Pit Bull rescuer and advocate, has carved out a special niche in the tattoo realm with his lifelike dog portraits.
The 31-year-old artist started working on dog tattoos at the request of some of his clients. “But as I got more involved in dog rescue, it just became something that I wanted to do,” says Marino. “When you’re passionate about something outside of tattooing, and you can bring it into the tattoo world, it just makes it so much better.”
Tattooing to Spread Awareness
Originally from Colorado, where Pit Bulls are banned in many parts of the state, Marino says moving to Philadelphia and rescuing his first dog Lucy was the thing that changed his whole perspective on dog rescue. “Lucy came from a really messed up situation,” he says. “She had a family that moved and just left her. She was in a house for five months and survived by herself. She ate drywall and drank out of the toilet.” Marino and his wife, Michelle, found out about Lucy through friends and decided to open their home and take her in. Lucy became an integral part of the Marino family. She even posed with the couple for a Pinups for Pitbulls calendar in 2015 to spread awareness and raise money for Pit Bull rescue efforts.
Lucy developed cancer and passed away abruptly in early 2016. “We didn’t know how to deal with it because she was so important to us,” says Marino. “But what happens in rescue is that once a dog passes—you take the time you need—but your home becomes open to other dogs.” A short time after Lucy’s death, the Marinos learned about two bonded Pit Bulls—a brother and sister—who were both abused by a backyard breeder and waiting in a high-kill shelter in South Carolina. The dogs were saved and transported north by Lulu’s Rescue just one day before being euthanized. The couple decided to honor Lucy’s memory and adopt both of them, naming the dappled duo Odin and Freya.
Marino describes Odin and Freya as silly and loveable, but he explains that even after nearly two years of positive reinforcement training and a lot of work, both dogs still suffer from bouts of anxiety and fear. “They’re really skittish and it takes them a while to build up trust, so that’s something we’re working on,” he says. “We’re trying to get them comfortable around people and show them as much love as we possibly can.”
Because he is so passionate about rescue, Marino takes every opportunity to talk to clients about his dogs and the rescue groups he works with on a regular basis. “There are so many dogs out there that need homes—and the majority of those dogs are Pit Bulls,” he says. “There’s a saying, ‘Don’t breed or buy while shelter Pits die.’ Rescuing is really the best thing you can do.”
The Art of Dog Tattoos
Although Pit Bulls hold a special place in Marino’s heart, the tattoo artist will happily ink any type of dog on a person’s body. He’s done portraits of Dachshunds, Corgis, Labradors, and more loveable mutts than he can count. In every tattoo, he tries to bring the dog’s unique personality to life. “I love doing dogs with special looks, like Bulldogs who might have funny teeth,” he says. “Any sort of goofiness is my favorite—like big smiles when their mouths are open or their tongues are hanging out.”
Marino says that he also receives a lot of requests to do tattoos of dogs who have passed away. “Getting a memorial tattoo gives someone a good sense of closure,” he says. “I love when people leave and have that feeling that their dog is always going to be with them.” Marino says that getting a portrait of Lucy tattooed on his leg following her death helped him heal.
To prepare for a dog tattoo, Marino needs high-quality photos that are used to sketch out and create a stencil. Each detailed dog portrait tattoo takes the artist between six and eight hours to complete. He usually consults with clients in advance to discuss placement and any other details that need to be added to the dog’s portrait.
Some people like to frame their pups with flowers or objects that have special meaning to them, others like adding fun human-like characteristics to create a completely unique piece of art. One of Marino’s recent clients chose to have her white Pit Bull represented as a 1920s flapper, and Lisa Sadiwnyk plans to incorporate flowers from her wedding bouquet into the tattoo of her dog.
Following her first session—where Bambi’s smiling face was inked on the back of her right calf—Sadiwnyk looks in the mirror leaning against the wall in the parlor and beams. She shares that picking Paul Marino as her artist was undoubtedly the right decision. “I chose Paul not only because of his dog portraits, but because of his advocacy for Pit Bulls,” she says. “Being that we rescued our dog, I wanted to continue to support that movement. This is something that I’ve wanted for so long and it is better than I ever could have expected.”
Although Marino has tattooed dozens of dog portraits in his career, he is always honored when a client trusts him with such a personal and meaningful piece of body art. “It’s nice to see other people love their dogs so much to get them tattooed,” he says. “I want [my clients] to have the same feeling looking at the tattoo as they do when they look at their dogs. I’m blessed to be able to do this. I couldn’t spend my days doing anything else.”
Deidre Grieves is a senior content strategist and digital producer. Wiener dogs are her life.