In 2005 I had my first formal introduction to communicating with animals. My first Dane, Vaughn, was ill with chronic active hepatitis. His liver was slowly letting go of its work in his body and I wanted to do everything possible to help him be comfortable in his remaining days. One of his veterinarians suggested an animal communicator she used with her own animals.
I was skeptical, and I called the communicator anyway. Tracy Ann, the communicator, became a friend and much like a member of the family.
I have notebooks of the sentences, thoughts, quotes, pictures, and fragments I jotted while talking with Tracy Ann during Vaughn's illness. With her help, I was able to appreciate his perspective and fulfill his wishes. When he mentioned something was important, I did what I could to emphasize or continue it. "Knowing" what activities, types of touch, resting places, and foods he enjoyed the most helped me to provide the hospice experience he wanted.
I was able to give him 18 months of care based on his wishes, not mine.
My experience with him and Tracy Ann changed my life. Because of those conversations, which included Angus and Conan, Danes 2 and 3, I started listening. My relationships with my animal family members changed because I was willing to listen in ways other than simply looking at body language or behavior.
This kind of communication is one of the things that marks my photography as a little different. I can create photographs that require tissues because I do it with the help of animals - I don't simply follow them around and snap the shutter. There is great intention in the process on both sides of the camera.
"What does your person need to see?" I ask. "How does your person want to feel?"
These are the questions that started my work with interspecies portraits. They have served me well in photography for years. And now I'm asking variations for clients who want a conversation only with no art.
Do you love an animal nearing the end of life and want to know how to provide the most loving hospice care? Does your cat refuse to enter a particular room in your house? Does your dog eat ravenously in the afternoon and nothing at all in the morning?
Where is the best place to scratch? What does it feel like to bound through the tall grass in the meadow? Does the water from the dripping sink really taste better?
Will you let me know when it's time to go? Do you want help?
I'm offering communication sessions for up to 90 minutes for $120. I can come to you in the South Puget Sound; otherwise we'll work together through Skype. These conversations will change your lives and your relationship.
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.