One of the things I am often asked is why I got into photography. Truthfully there are lots of reasons: I have always been drawn to artistic endeavors, I love nature and capturing it, I so enjoy the process of photographing someone or something that I lose myself in the moment, etc. But one of the key motivations was the loss of my dog Oliver. We adopted him from a shelter in 2001 shortly after 9/11. He was supposed to be my daughter’s dog, but that is not how these things work. He decided that I was his special one, his mommy. He was about four months old and cute as could be. We rescued him from a kill shelter, and he knew it and was grateful every day of his life. That dog knew the meaning of grace.
As the years went by, he stayed with me through thick and thin. He was a character: for example, once when my parents were visiting we went shopping and we all bought some clothes. When my dad tried on his new clothes and came out to model for us, Oliver let his opinion be known by either growling or wagging at a particular outfit. He had us in stitches. He moved with us from Texas to Maryland and learned how to negotiate stairs. He discovered the pure joy of barking at squirrels and at the groundhog that lives beneath a neighbor’s deck. He was my comfort when I struggled and cried over problems with my kids. He was he most empathetic dog I have ever had. He felt my mood and gave me just what I needed. He really was my best friend and helped me get through some very difficult years.
When I remarried, Oliver grudgingly accepted another man in my life. He was very jealous at first, but came to love my husband and accept him as family. He had another member in his pack, and though he didn’t love sharing me, it was ok. We would all walk together and play together. Life was good.
As he got older he slowed down a bit. He slept longer and I didn’t feel safe taking him for the miles long hikes we had done when he was younger. His muzzle turned grey, but I still thought he was the handsomest boy. When my daughter gave me a grandson, that was one more member to add to the pack, and he was loved him too. Oliver was always gentle even if he didn’t like sharing me.
One day, when he was about 14.5 years, his aging suddenly became more apparent. He somehow got a scratch on his eye that just didn’t heal the way it should have. Our vet recommended a dog eye doctor and we took him, but we did not like how she treated him at all. He was scared and old and she was too rough. We vowed we would not take him back and his eye slowly healed. He also got kidney disease, and the vet recommended special food. He ate it for a bit, but then would not. Thus started the the search for what he would eat. He refused all dog food, so I started with homemade food. I would cook him dinner with rice and chicken and other things just to get him to eat. Then one day he wouldn’t eat any more. He didn’t really want to play any more, and sometimes he seemed disoriented. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I knew it was time.
I called a vet who would come to our home. We took Oliver for one last walk ( I am crying as I write this) and then the vet came and gave him a shot, and he gently fell asleep and died in my arms. We took it hard, very hard. We took him to West Virginia and buried him on our property there and laid dog wood blossoms on his grave and cried.
After that, I tried to gather all the pictures I had of Oliver. There were snapshots, often done on cell phone, taken while we were out together or when he was being silly at home. I even have a video of him going crazy barking and trying to come to me when I came home while he was outside with my husband and I said hi to him from our deck. These are all precious memories, but what I didn’t have were good shots of him with me or great portraits of him. I regret that with all my heart.
When I got another dog (because life without a dog was too depressing), I knew I had to take lots of photos. My images of Oliver as a pup had gotten lost in technology changes, so I knew I had to print my photos too. So this girl, my Maggie, has tons of photos of her. What I don’t have yet is good photos of her and me, and I am looking for a local photographer that I would trust to take the pictures. I don’t want to miss the opportunities in front of me now.
Because of all this, I joined the Joy Network. It is an association of vets and photographers and groomers, etc. who help families during the final part of a dog’s life. Some people charge for their services, but I offer a free session and a free 8 x 10 if you have been told your pet is near the end. I would encourage you to get good portraits much earlier, when they are full of life, but I want everyone to have a precious memory of their beloved companion. If you find yourself in need of this service, do not wait to call me. I will do my best to try to work you in quickly. Our pets give us so much and they deserve to be remembered forever.