Dog Lovers and Wine Enthusiasts Raise Money for Pet Rescue

Landmark Graduates Michel and Daniel Belknap bring together multiple passions to raise money for animal rescue in a project called “Puttin on the Dog”

Here is the story from the The Newtown Bee

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Michel and Daniel Belknap are fairly new to Newtown, but they became involved with Canine Advocates of Newtown almost as soon as they arrived. They are definitely “dog people.”

“We love Canine Advocates. We love dogs, and we just love this great group of fun people who are dedicated to helping dogs,” said Michel. A professional artist, Michel has donated an original painting to Canine Advocates for its second annual Puttin’ on the Dog, a fund raiser that will be held at The Taunton Press on Saturday, October 13. The event will run from 4 to 8 pm.

Tickets are $50 per person, with all proceeds to benefit Canine Advocates of Newtown’s New Pound for Newtown Fund.

Puttin’ on the Dog will include “a wonderful evening of superb wines, bountiful, savory hors d’oeuvres, and scrumptious desserts,” promises Virginia Jess of Canine Advocates. “Sit by the fireplace, lounge on a couch, chat with friends, bid on fantastic silent auction items, all the while enjoying the taste of numerous fine wines and the music of classical guitarist Peter Obre.” For those who want fresh air, Taunton Press also offers a terrace and beautiful grounds. There will also be fire pits set up outdoors, for that autumnal campfire feel.

“It’s going to be a lovely evening,” Ms Jess said this week. “We had such a wonderful time last year, and this year we’re moving to a larger facility so we hope even more people will come out to join us.”

The inaugural Puttin’ on the Dog was held at McLaughlin Vineyards in Sandy Hook. Ms Jess is hoping that by moving into the center of town, into a facility that can host even more than the 75 people who attended last year’s fundraiser, the CAN event will raise more money this year than it did last year.

More than 30 wines will be offered for tasting, including some that must have been chosen for the evening because of their name.

Organizers have arranged for varieties from Chateau Ksara, Castel Mont, Robert Mondavi, Roederer Estate, Primo Estate, and Lolonis. There will also be tastings of Warre’s Otima 10-Year Tawny Port.

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There will also be Dog House Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet; Mutt Lynch “Unleashed” Chardonnay, “Portrait of a Mutt” Zinfandel/Carignane and “Merlot Over & Play Dead”; and Red Rover Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. The wines will be available for purchase or ordering by the case. The wine is being supplied by Stop & Save Liquors and Yankee Discount Wine & Liquors.

Proceeds from Puttin’ on the Dog will also be earned through a silent auction. Among the 63 items available for bidding on are gift certificates from 100 Church Hill, Bentley Cleaners, Newtown Color Center, Nina’s Nail Salon, our green house, and Super Stop & Shop.

For the dog lovers, bidding can focus on a basic Invisible Fence system, a dog gift basket and pet sitting certificates from Safe-At-Home, a circa 1996 McDonald’s 101 Dalmatians set with display and a circa 2000 McDonald’s 102 Dalmatians set with display, a case of Nature’s Variety and Evanger Gourmet Dog Food, a handcrafted wooden dog wine rack, or a grooming session from Grooming Finalist.

Items also include a Guess watch, Yankees and Red Sox memorabilia, jewelry, Panera bread for one year (one loaf per month), a round of golf including use of a cart and a new box of balls from Newtown Country Club, tennis lessons and a new EW Wilson racket, framed photography, and even a Longaberger basket.
Michel Belknap created this painting Tulullah specifically for the silent auction at Canine Advocates of Newtowns Puttin on the Dog fundraiser on October 13.

Michel and husband Daniel, along with their dog Bella, moved to Newtown after Hurricane Katrina. It was the second time in their marriage that the Belknaps felt the need to move following tragedy. Her parents and 97-year-old grandmother are still in The Big Easy, but her siblings have moved away so, like many families following Katrina, the family is living further apart now than ever before.

Michel was born and raised in New Orleans. She attended Louise McGehee High School and Tulane University, where she received a bachelor of fine arts. She moved to New York City to study illustration at Parsons School of Design. Upon completing her associate degree in illustration she began working for Adam Scott Limited as a designer and producer of home and decorative accessories for a variety of clients, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel, Bloomingdale’s, TJ Maxx, and Victoria’s Secret. Michel also opened a test market retail store for the company in Manhattan that continues to be successful today.

In 1997 she and Daniel, a commercial photographer, moved to Prague where she began working as a makeup artist specializing in theatrical and special effects makeup. Daniel and Michel worked together with many clients both in Europe and in New York, including Pepsi, Delta Airlines, Clinique, Estee Lauder, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

In 1999, after studying with Landmark Education Corporation, Michel began to work with Landmark as a manager to market and produce educational seminars for children and families. These seminars focused on getting the most out of life and developing positive, powerful family relationships. The Landmark Education offices were located in the World Trade Center.

Following the attacks of 9/11, Michel and Daniel moved home to New Orleans to be nearer to her family and continued to work for the company from a home office.

Michel began to paint and draw again after arriving home in New Orleans. She was asked by family and friends to paint pictures of their wedding flowers. Within a year she was a featured artist in New Orleans painting local flowers in a European, feminine style that became popular since it matched the style of French antique décor popular in New Orleans. For the next five years Michel had an average of four gallery shows each year and continues to paint today.

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her studio and home, however, Michel and her husband decided to relocate back to the New York area. Daniel and Michel both fell in love with the peacefulness and the community feel in Newtown.

“We moved here because we wanted to be commutable but near sane people,” she said this week.

It turns out the Belknaps have found themselves within walking distance of at least four artists, two of whom are Betty Christensen and Pat Barkman.

Michel recently began the MFA program at Western Connecticut State University. She will complete her master’s this year and hopes to pursue a career in teaching art.

“That’s one of the main reasons we moved to this area. I researched schools there were not going to cost a kidney – I like my kidneys – and WestConn has a really incredible art program,” said Michel. “That, and there was such a draw to this town artistically. Fairfield Hills, Ram Pasture… there are so many places to illustrate.”

Meanwhile, the Belknaps continue to get acclimated to their new hometown and its weather patterns.

“Our dog completely loves it here,” Michel said. “She’s in heaven. The snow, everything about it… she’s completely at home in the country. She’s a border collie-Lab mix and she’s about 5 – but she still thinks she’s a puppy – and she has about 15 balls scattered around the backyard. It looks like a ball cemetery.”

The Belknaps are equally pleased with their new home.

“This is utter heaven for us,” she said. “We just completely love it. We can’t get over how warm and hospitable people are up here. I can’t even begin to explain it. Daniel and I have definitely found a new home in Newtown. We love it so much.

“I know I sound like a Newtown postcard, but we do, we really adore it.”

Michel has been involved with CAN almost from the moment she and her husband arrived in town. Coming from her New Orleans background, “the whole idea of Puttin’ on The Dog’ represents for me a little slice of New Orleans in Newtown for an evening,” she said this week. “It’ll be drinks, and refreshments, and fun. I can’t wait.”

For tickets to Puttin on the Dog call Virginia Jess at 426-5327. Tickets will also be available at the door on October 13.

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