John Dolan has spent a total of 12 years in prison. It was mainly for theft and drug offences. He was living rough in east London in 2010 when he was given a Staffordshire bull terrier called George. Dolan says:
“Just before I got George I was on drugs, it was terrible. The day I got the dog I wasn't sure what to do. I realised I had a big powerful animal on my hands that needed a lot of looking after and there was I, barely able to look after myself... What George has given me over the past three years is a belief in myself and my ability to draw."
Dolan credits George with helping him to transform his life from a homeless criminal into a successful artist. He now sells his drawings to £2000 each. John Dolan knew he had some talent because he used to dabble with art when he was a teenager. While he was sitting on the pavement doing nothing as a homeless person with George he decided to draw the buildings opposite. I suppose it kept him occupied. Up until that time he was simply begging for money it seems receiving the odd coin here and there. Then he started to supplement the donations by selling his drawings for £10 and £20 each.
Gradually John Dolan became known as street artist and a lawyer, Richard Howard-Griffin, got to hear about him and recognised his talent. He organised an exhibition of his work. And now a forthcoming book is about to be published about John Dolan and his dog George - John and George: The Dog Who Changed My Life. It is due to be released next month.
Which brings me nicely to the next topic of this short article which is that John Dolan's story very nicely mirrors the story of James Bowen who adopted an orange tabby cat named Bob. At the time James was a drug-addicted busker. His story has been well publicised and as I recall, two books have been published about him and his relationship with Bob. More than 1,000,000 copies have been sold. James Bowen's life has been transformed and he too credits that transformation, at least substantially, to Bob.
John Dolan says,
“If I had not had George, I would never have picked up a pen. He is my saviour... He's like my child, the one I never had. He's given me a life."
Both the stories of James and John remind us of the power of the friendship of a companion animal. Don't underestimate it.
Photo by Rob Weir