Standing next to the mural he painted on the Humane Society of Central Arizona’s Resale Store, Tom Arndt points out the story he imagined behind each cat and dog, and why some look happy or sad.

The animals in the Adopt Us cart are all dogs except for a ginger cat with large, sad eyes waiting to be adopted.

Arndt explained the golden retriever laying underneath the cart is the mother of the three puppies to the right of the cart.

Arndt painted rocks and wooden fence posts and signage showing the way to the store’s receiving area.

Several dogs and three cats scamper along the wall.

“I’d love to see them do more artwork along Main Street,” Arndt said. “Some of the buildings would be hard because they don’t have much wall space.”

Arndt worked as a mechanical design engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company (now Raytheon) in California and Tucson for many years before retiring and focusing on his art.

“I was in the advanced development area. Our job was to build state-of-the-art missiles, better than the ones currently used. When our group finished our work, it would be five years before the designs would be built. It was all classified then. I couldn’t let my wife or kids know what I was doing.”

The classification has since been lifted.

Arndt and his wife Pat, who was a real estate agent, moved to Payson in 2011.

Arndt started drawing in the mid 1970s. He developed an interest in oil painting and other mediums including charcoal, pastels and ink.

He taught sketching at the junior college level in 1990 and then taught a private group at a retirement home in Green Valley for five years.

“I’ve had several one-man shows and been successful,” said Arndt. “I’ve probably painted over 1,000 paintings, mostly Southwest scenes. I like people and landscapes.

Arndt just recently started painting animals, including elk and the rodeo scene.

The past couple of years he branched out to murals and painted the walls of the cat rooms at the Humane Society of Central Arizona and the HSCAZ Thrift Store.

Arndt’s granddaughter is married to DJ Palmer, co-executive director of the HSCAZ with Annie Benedict. Arndt and Pat are the reason DJ and Jessica Palmer moved to Payson.

“They’re the reason we found Payson,” said DJ Palmer. “Jessica and I came up here on our honeymoon, then quit our jobs and moved here.”

Arndt first met DJ when he was in high school, working at the nursery his mother owned.

“I bought a desert willow,” Arndt said. “It was a 24-inch box-cubed multi-trunk tree, exactly what I wanted.”

Neither knew at the time the important role each would play in the other’s life.

DJ and Jessica met some years later when they both worked at a veterinary clinic in Green Valley. They married in 2013 and have two children.

Arndt volunteered to paint the murals in the cat rooms. Each has a different theme, with dedication plaques on the glass doors.

The Pine Room was inspired by Arndt’s visit to third crossing along the East Verde River.

The Birch Room was inspired by a birch forest Arndt saw in the fall in Colorado. It is dedicated to Benedict’s mother, Diane Bamber.

The Underwater Room was painted according to Benedict’s idea of being inside a fish tank. Arndt painted crappies, trout and sharks on the walls. He added a sunken ship at the bottom to give the impression of being inside the fish tank.

“Those three rooms, my wife Pat probably painted as much as I did,” said Arndt. “She’s got a great eye.”

Arndt then moved on to the mural at HSCAZ’s Resale Store. He said some of the painting was a challenge due to the uneven surface of the bricks and navigating a ledge.

Arndt has painted a Bible stories mural geared to children in the children’s area at Mountain Bible Church.

He says his days of standing atop tall ladders are over.

“When I paint I’m focusing on painting, not on the fact I’m standing on a ladder,” he said, adding he is concerned about falling.

Arndt was a member of the Payson Art League for several years and participated in their Studio Tour. He also took a clay class at Gila Community College a few years ago. “I had a lot of fun with that,” he said.

For more information, visit or call 928-474-5590.

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Digital Media Mgr/Staff Reporter/Photographer

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