He's ready to run to his family. Can you make space in your heart for him?
Winston is a special fellow who is a part of the Kindred Souls Foundation rescue. He's with a loving foster family and wants to find his own place.
You can see he's photogenic and smiley. And while that adds to his charm, what really makes him special is his esophagus. Bet you haven't heard that line before.
Winston lives with a medical condition called canine megaesophagus.
His esophagus is kinda floppy and doesn't work in the same way as a fully functional esophagus. His esophagus is losing muscle tone so it's unable to help his food travel from his mouth to his stomach. That means that he needs a little help a meal times and that he regurgitates more often than the average dog (because food can sometimes hang out in his esophagus for longer than it needs to).
This doesn't slow him down. He's a puppy and does the things puppies do. He loves to run and play, and his foster person thinks he'd be great at sports, specifically flyball. I can confirm he runs like the wind. Those big ears didn't slow him down as much as I thought they would.
Winston is looking for his forever family that will embrace the additional loads of laundry that come from his regurgitation as well as the extra time he requires during meals in his Bailey Chair. He promises to make it up in adventure, love, and smiles.
If you'd like to meet Winston, please contact the wonderful people at Kindred Souls Foundation. In the interim, you can learn more about living with megaesophagus, or ME, and see what life with a Bailey Chair is like.
One year doesn't seem like that much time.
When it is 365 days of waking up without a big nose in your face or 52 Sundays of a solitary sunset walk, it feels like forever. It feels like too long.
The first anniversary is a tough one, and there are so many things that don't come up in conversation about this kind of grief. They don't tell you how heartbreaking it will be to go through holidays or changes of seasons, because your memories of what life was like this time last year - the last time - will flood your brain. They don't tell you how finding a invoice from the last visit will crush you. They don't tell you how much it will hurt to put away a winter coat or a collar and never pull it out again to put on someone who is wiggling so much it's darn near impossible to snap the buckles.
They don't talk about how raw and meaty you can feel a whole 365 days after death. They don't talk about how the mere awareness of this day being an anniversary of one of the hardest days of your life can make everything seem overwhelming.
In my experience, grief doesn't get easier with time. It changes, just as the relationship changes. Most of the rough edges begin to smooth a bit and once in a while, seemingly without warning, one of those rough edges will snag you.
The first anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate your relationship. The white flowers you see grow on a bush that was the favorite napping place of a well-loved Lab named Laney. She would circle beneath the bush on warm, sunny days and slowly blink her eyes until she fell asleep. After 12 years of sleeping under this bush, she now permanently rests there.
According to Laney's person, the bush usually blooms early in May. This year it bloomed one month later, just in time for Laney's anniversary. The photograph of Laney's bush now has a place inside, where it blooms all year, much like Laney's love.
Summit Veterinary Referral Center provides a drop-in, weekly support group for humans grieving beloved companions. Rachel Wright, a licensed clinical social worker, facilitates these sessions with grace and compassion.
I recently visited Summit to attend this group for the first time. I wasn't sure what to expect because I hadn't been to this kind of group before, and the last death in our family was March 2016. Weeks ago I met with Rachel for a gorgeous discussion of all things grief and furry (or hairy), and I knew the group would be a worthy visit.
Grief professionals frequently describe the grief humans feel regarding beloved animals as "disenfranchised." It's like it doesn't belong. The rest of the world says, "I'm sorry your dog died. Dinner on Thursday?" For those who grieve, for us, the mourning and sense of loss is as intense and sometimes more intense than what we feel when human family or friends become ill or die. Sadly, people who have not experienced the kind of relationships we have with these amazingly intuitive, gracious, loving creatures can't relate to this devastation.
The house is eerily quiet.
When you come home, there is no ceremony.
There is no partner to snuggle against you and rest her head in your lap.
What I heard from every member who attended the group on the evening I was there was, "I feel understood here."
In a world that expects me to be "over it," here I can feel, share stories and pictures, laugh, and realize I am not alone. I have a community with people who understand.
I heard incredible stories about the love people have for their companions. I listened to stories of illness and treatment. I cried as others cried. People shared stories of the last day and the first return home to an emptier home - that unbelievable stillness that feels like the surface of an eggshell.
These wholehearted, courageous individuals passed around their phones to share images of their loves. We all ooohed and aahhhed. We commented on eyes and smiles, fluffiness and spirit. We came together to see each other in that moment, with no judgment or pretense. We came to be raw, vulnerable, and accepted.
There were many moments that happened in that room that were worth sharing, and one of the ones that stuck for me was about photography. More than one person mentioned the importance of printing the images on her phone so she could get those photographs in front of her to enjoy every day.
I couldn't agree more. It may take a while for a person to be ready to see that every day. When the time comes, there is nothing like it.
Rachel Wright provides client support at Summit Veterinary Referral Center, including grief counseling; facilitating the weekly drop-in support group; helping with making and processing difficult decisions; acting as a liaison between the family and veterinarian team; being present before during, and after euthanasia; providing referrals to community support services; and providing educational resources, memorial, and ritual ideas.
The Pet Loss Support Group meets each Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Summit Veterinary Referral Center is located at 2505 S 80th St in Tacoma and online at www.summitvet.com. The phone number is (253) 983-1114.
Have you ever tried to photograph a group of people? Even when you take six pictures of the group of four, someone is blinking or transitioning between expressions in every single frame. Argh!
With dogs, it's a lot like that. In a group there are usually different levels of energy, different colors and lengths of hair which reflect light differently, and different personalities. It is not easy to create a portrait of two or more dogs that represents everyone in the right ways, and these kinds of portraits take a little longer.
It's definitely outdoor portrait season, and I'm receiving more and more inquiries and bookings about multi-dog families. Whether you are planning a session with me or another photographer (or you are DIYing it), these are a few things that will help deliver the best experience for you, your dogs, and the photographer. Oh, and when all of these beings are happy you'll see that in the photographs.
Let go of the expectation that the photograph you love will look a certain way.
Truly, this tip applies to everyone, regardless of the number of dogs in the photograph. Being attached to a particular outcome leaves a very, very narrow window of possible happiness. Being open to possibilities can result in some pretty neat stuff happening.
This photograph above of this Lab brother and sister, for example, was an unexpected outcome. Sure, it's not the classic portrait with both are looking at the camera. That would have been lovely. This portrait says more about their relationship - each looks out for the other, as their person explained.
Let them be who they are.
You love them because of who they are. That's what you'll want to see in the photographs. Give them the space to be and express themselves.
"Well, of course I do that," you may be thinking.
Because you have invested your time, effort, and money into this session, you really want it to knock your socks off. You have a place on your wall picked out for your art. You know that you're going to order several photos to display on your mantle at home and your desk at work. That very often means that when it's time for the camera to come out, you might give your dogs lots of directions (which takes us back to the first point). Instead of looking relaxed and in the moment, the way you know them best, they might begin to look super focused or distracted.
Oh, you have a Border collie? Never mind. Then super focused it is!
For other dogs, though, like the pair above, staying out of the way can be really lovely. I was in a meadow with these two following at a distance so they had the space they needed to feel comfortable being themselves. Their people were watching from even farther away, which mean that this dynamic duo turned their energy and attention to each other rather than to me or their people.
Let the action happen.
This is especially true for young dogs. If you can convince them to sit for a short period, chances are they'll look impatient or on just this side of a massive outburst of zoomies. You know that look of intense anticipation, right?
Let 'em go.
When we capture them in play we see their glorious movement and that look of deeply satisfying freedom and joy. That doesn't mean that everyone has to play the same way at the same time. In this case, these two German sisters were in the same space together and very connected. The youngster was thrilled to play with a ball while her elder sister was very happy to supervise. We managed to freeze the personalities of both and a hint of their relationship all while playing with a ball.
How do you want to feel?
Before we do any camera time together, we talk about what you'd like to see in your finished art. This isn't about developing a comprehensive shot list - it's about me understanding how you want to feel when you see your art pieces. I want to learn about each personality in your family and how they interact with each other. I'll listen to stories about how you became a family and the terrifying visits to the ER at 3:37 a.m. on Sunday.
This is the most important part. When I understand what your lives have been like together and what love looks like for you, I then know what I'm looking for from behind the camera.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.