I’m not sure when I first learned of Grayton Beach or the Dogs of Grayton mural, but I wouldn’t be a very good travel blogger writing about dog friendly travel if I wasn’t aware of a a town whose unofficial motto is “Nice dogs, strange people.”
We first made our way to Grayton Beach in 2018 on mission to find the Dogs of Grayton Beach mural. I thought it was downtown, near Hotz Ave and the Red Bar (RIP Red Bar), and though I found a sign that said “Nice dogs, friendly folks,” that wasn’t what I wanted. Thankfully, we were pointed in the right direction by a guy named Billy, whose dog, Tip, is on the mural. Recently gone, Tip wasn’t sporting his halo yet, but Billy explained that the dogs with halos had crossed over the Bridge.
The mural is located on the back wall of the parking lot at The Shops of Grayton. Eight bungalow shops, four on each side of the parking lot, make up the area. I regret that I didn’t poke my head into a few of those shops on that first visit. If I had, I’d have learned the story of this mural sooner.
Due to it’s laid back vibe and less than touristy feel, Grayton Beach has easily become one of my favorite dog friendly places to visit on 30A. On THIS trip, we lucked into the right place at the right time. It was one of those days where the energy flows and the Universe is squarely on your side.
Serendipity. I was about to get the story of this famed dog mural.
That morning, I had been invited to the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Hibiscus Coffee and Guesthouse– a charming, dog-friendly bed and breakfast that I’ll tell you more about in an upcoming post- and now I found myself standing in the Studio Gallery snapping a photo of a children’s book entitled “Hey, God! Hurry!” I was taking the photo to send to a girlfriend who sings a bluesy version of “You Can’t Hurry God.” It’s my favorite song she does and I smiled at the reminder.
Nice Dogs, Strange People
The Studio Gallery is owned by Bill and Sarah Sullivan, and Sarah adds the halos to the dogs. Bill and Sarah met their first year of college in a freshman English class. Bill asked her out but she said “No.” Coming to University from an all-girls school, she was raised not to date gentleman she didn’t know. By the end of the semester, she decided she knew him well enough for a date. Another reminder that you can’t hurry God.
Sarah is also the one who was finally able to tell me the story of this mural and some of the dogs on it. As she told the story, she asked me to please not use the name of the artist who originally created the mural. She has since passed away but Grayton is small town and it’s not nice to talk about the deceased. You can find the artist’s name if you dig, but I’m honoring Sarah’s request.
The original “Dogs of Grayton Beach” was created sometime during the 90s by a local artist with a shop next to where Red Bar used to be. Back then, it was a leash-free world and the local dogs, known to everyone by name, roamed the streets. They played with one another, they napped, and they went to the beach at leisure. Like kids on bikes, they were a pack of fast friends, and I wonder if they had sleepovers or knew to go home at dark.
The dogs were part of the community’s character and the shop owner decided to commission a mural that would honor them. The pups were painted by local artists and the piece was displayed at her shop. The artwork soon became a well-known icon in the little beach town.
The saying, “Nice dogs, strange people” was born.
The artist eventually moved her shop, leaving the mural of dogs laying in an alley. Jim and Peggy Poteet, the developers of The Shops of Grayton, noticed it one day and asked the owners of the Red Bar if they could have it. Thinking it had been abandoned, they picked it up and moved it to The Shops. When the original artist caught wind of it, she went to reclaim it, but no one knows what she did with it. Hence, the unofficial motto, “Nice dogs, strange people.” When you say it, you should probably drag the “a” a little so it sounds like “straaange.”
The New Dogs of Grayton
Jim and Peggy were disappointed to have lost this little piece of Grayton history, but artists and friends, Gary Petterson and Marion Barnes had a suggestion. Create their own wall on the back fence of The Shops and call it “The New Dogs of Grayton.” They made a big ol’ party of it right there in the parking lot, and local dog owners were invited to come paint their pre-sketched pups- courtesy of Patterson and Barnes– on the new wall. The Shops have hosted at least four official paint parties since that time, with the most recent held in 2014 and proceeds benefiting Alaqua Animal Refuge.
My memory of this trip will be forever preserved in the Patterson/ Barnes “Dog Daze of Grayton” event poster from 2004 that Sarah gave to me that day. I can’t wait to see it framed and hanging on my wall.
Without an exact date, it’s hard to know how long this tradition has been in place, but The Shops of Grayton were built in ’98. Since the original mural was designed before that, we can guess that local dogs have been honored here for at least 21 years. There are a lot of halos.
When I first saw the mural a year ago, I counted 174 dogs. I now know that not all of the dogs featured are locals. Carl Rove’s dogs, Daisy and Gracie, are there, and though he may own a home in the area, that’s not exactly what I consider “local.”
Gone are the days when dogs could roam the streets of a quiet little beach town, and gone, too, are the days when just any ol’ dog was welcome on the beach. In 2019, dogs must have a leash and a beach licence. Maybe someday that’ll be us, but I sure I wish we could go back in time. I think Henri would have loved life as Grayton street dog.