This is Ruger.
He is deeply loved by his family. His life-sized portrait hangs in the bedroom, right over the place where he slept on the floor. It's an homage to his spot.
It's a spot that has been empty since Ruger died.
Ruger was a rule follower. A tattle tale for his Dane sister. He reserved his goofiness for those with whom he was supremely comfortable, and then he'd roll on his back and smile with his entire body. He had zoomies, as Danes do. He was gentle and kind, a bit wry with his humor.
Ruger had depth. He had a smoldering intensity and a connection to his person that defied words. And continues to defy words (hence art). You can see a hint of it here in his portrait.
It's tissue time.
Ruger's person is a kindred human to me and one who appreciates photography. She shared dozens of images of Ruger. When we initially talked about the image to inspire his portrait, she wanted to see him lying on his back with his jowls giving up the fight against gravity in that most undignified and totally joyful pose. She wanted to see that version of Ruger.
I could tell by the way she paused as she scrolled through her photographs that the Ruger you see here was the Ruger she needed. I mentioned that she seemed to have a special connection with this moment and it might be one to honor in a painting.
We both cried when she told me that this photograph is from the day before Ruger died. She asked him to go outside with her for a few photographs because she knew his death was coming, and this is what he gave her. The magnificant, stunning gift of his total attention, admiration, belief in her beauty and worth, and trust.
Honestly, I struggle with this portrait sometimes because it feels so intimate. It's like I shouldn't be privy to this moment. I shouldn't be allowed to see this connection because it is deeply personal and private.
As big as Ruger was in life, he is much bigger in death. Expansive, really. He's not there and yet he is. I can't tell you how Ruger's people feel about that statement - that's just me talking.
When I first met Ruger's family after many virtual exchanges, I was in their home for four hours. Four hours! Just hanging out and talking, looking at photographs, stroking cats and scratching a very large Daneish bottom. I could feel him in the house. I could see him in his person.
I didn't meet Ruger in life, and yet I feel like we are old friends. That may be why he was so comfortable giving me his honest opinion about his portrait as I was working on it.
Ruger's person gave me a budget window to work in and I proposed a watercolor sketch. It would be nice and light with a sketch-style watercolor wash and ink rather than a detailed watercolor portrait. It seemed to suit him. I had done all the ink work and was starting on the watercolor wash (which left areas of white on the paper where Ruger wasn't white).
"No. I don't like this. I don't want white spaces," I heard someone say.
I kept working.
"I AM FULL OF COLOR!" he shouted. "Please fill me in."
And so Ruger cleverly negotiated a full watercolor portrait at a sketch watercolor price. I don't think I'll ever forget that experience.
There is so much to love about Ruger. I love how connected to him his family remains. I adore how much they embrace him in the way he is now, even if it isn't a physical way. When they tell stories about him, he is alive again.
It is equally magical and brutal to realize how quickly he can return and and how quickly parts of him fade. This connection is one they will always keep.
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.