I photograph a lot of older dogs, sick dogs; dogs whose photo session is one of the last really awesome experiences they can share with their person. I mean, we’ve cut it close before, but never so close as we did with Buddy. Just the day after he bounced around my studio, acting like a brand new pup and hammin’ for the camera, he passed away, leaving behind a very big hole in Maggie’s heart, and a slew of really sad new & old friends he’d made during short years as One of the Best Small Dogs Ever.
Knowing that he didn’t have a whole lot of time left, Maggie’s bestie Louise surprised the two of them with a session here at the studio. But when she, Louise & Buddy arrived, you’d never have guessed that he wasn’t in top shape. First, he sniffed everything. EVERYTHING. Because of my job, my house is a candy store of smells. Dogs are allowed everywhere, you see. The couch, the floor, the chairs and cushions. There are toys, chewies, stuff from the yard that the Vatos have snuck in behind my back. It’s doggy heaven. Well, except my dead dogs aren’t here; if they were, that would truly be doggy heaven.
Anyway, the experience of photographing a dog in my space as opposed to his/her space is very different. I’ve talked before about entering a dog’s space and respecting that. But in my space, it’s a whole different dynamic. I usher the dog and people in, and I almost immediately sit on the floor so the dog(s) can sniff me and check me out. I’ll sit there and hold my fingers out, and sometimes it takes quite a while for a dog to feel okay about it all. Sometimes, like with Buddy, it happens immediately. Buddy and I connected on a level that’s between mine and his; even though he came injured I knew instinctively how to hold him. He left me pick him up and give him snorgles, and he looked at me when I wanted him to and he smiled for me too. He was into it. That’s the best way I can say it: He was into it.
You know, before I was a photographer, I had my portrait taken with the OG smalls: Buzz, Gracie & Lola. Our session was with Amanda Jones, and it had tremendous influence on me wanting to be a photographer again. A friend went with me that day (like Louise & Maggs) and I left the shoot feeling like I had just shared a unique and very personal experience with my dogs. And I felt so strongly that they felt it too. It was different; it was special. We were all giddy and aglow for the whole rest of the day and we had an understanding that I’d never felt before. It was just the most divine feeling.
I know, to the “non-dog” people that sounds ridiculous.You either feel it, believe it, or not. I know Maggie does. I know she knows that Buddy did too. They shared an amazing experience in front of my camera, and I was honored to be there, to see it and be part of it and I’ll never forget it. I made three new friends that day, and just because one of them left this world the day after doesn’t diminish my experience. In fact, it makes it even more meaningful.
When Maggs (I don’t know if this is her nickname or if she hates it, but I immediately started calling her that and I’ve never called anyone that) emailed me to tell me about Buddy’s passing, I just sat there in front of my computer, thinking, “wow! And I was just talking to him yesterday.”
Godspeed, little man. I’ll see you on the other side, and in the meantime, give my dogs a kiss for me.
This batch of photos are for Maggie, so that she can look at them and relive the day, that last great day she had with Buddy. I’ve included a bunch of outtakes, because, well, outtakes are part of life too, aren’t they?
(ps: you might want to turn the sound on right about now.)