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The Town of Herndon’s newest public mural actually is quite personal.

The 95-by-21-foot “Pets in the park” mural on the side of Dominion Animal Hospital, at 795 Station St. in Herndon, was painstakingly painted over two-and-a-half months by former Herndon High School art teacher and Chantilly High School gymnastics coach Keith Naquin.

Naquin used a textured paint-roller tray as his palette, delicately painting each and every detail of the fantasy-pastoral-scene mural using a spectrum of exterior house paint colors.

“This is what I love to do,” Naquin said. “I also have six kids to support and put through college.”

Commissioned by the Council for the Arts of Herndon, the mural depicts 23 animals — dogs, cats, and at least one gecko — in a Hobbit-like fairy tale setting where trees have eyes and hands, and where staircases, doors and windows are built into them.

But what really personalizes the mural is the pets within the setting.

“All the animals depicted in the mural are real-life pets,” explained former Herndon Mayor Mike O’Reilly, CAH president. “The Council for the Arts accepted donations from Herndon residents who wanted to have their cherished family pets immortalized on the side of the animal hospital building adjacent to a municipal parking lot.”

“If this mural had been painted 50 years ago, it would have shown only cows and bulls,” said Herndon resident Jack Fletcher, who has lived in Herndon since 1958. “That’s all that was out here then.”

According to CAH board member and mural manager Karen Shoemaker, including in-kind donations, CAH raised nearly $30,000 toward the project. “Sherwin Williams donated the paint and sealer, and Dr. James Boone, the owner of Dominion Animal Hospital, also put out about $35,000 himself to stucco the animal hospital walls beforehand so the mural could be possible,” she said.

One of the pets depicted on the mural belongs to Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel.

“That’s my cat — Punkin, the happiest cat in Herndon — swinging on the swing,” Merkel said. “We provided Keith a photo of Punkin laying down, and he turned it into a painting of him swinging in that same position.”

Naquin said he tried his best to accurately portray all the pets he was commissioned to paint onto the mural. “I tried my best to make them look as real as possible,” he said.

For one Herndon family, that effort has made all the difference.

“My family made a donation toward the mural as a birthday present to me,” said Herndon resident Gregg Waters. “They did it so our dog Marcus, a Doberman pinscher, could be depicted on the wall.

“Just days after Keith painted him on there, Marcus died. Every day we used to walk Marcus right by that wall, and now that he’s gone we still walk by it, but now to see him. That painting is the best birthday present I ever got.”

Waters’ wife, Dawn, said the public depiction of her family’s beloved pet has become very personally emotional for her. “I cried the first time I saw it after Marcus passed away,” she said. “He is shown on the mural holding his favorite red Frisbee that he loved to catch. It is so lifelike and it reminds me so much of him. They say that you will have one pet in your life that will become your heart, and for us that was Marcus. He was our heart-dog.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com