Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Reflections on Windows

"A room with a view," "what light through yonder window breaks," "eyes are the windows to the soul."

Phrases such as these reflect the importance windows play in our lives. And my recent trip to Cornwall, England, provided many lovely and diverse examples of these portals through which we gaze out or peer in.

Some windows, like those in our bedroom and the breakfast conservatory at Trenderway Farm B&B near Polperro and even the bathroom window at the Mill End Hotel near Chagford, served as frames to nature's pastoral beauty.

Some windows, like one in many of the food preparation rooms at stately country home Lanhydrock and one in the pub at the Gurnards Head Hotel, not only illuminated indoor environments but also added to their special charm.

Some windows provided insights into the lives of the residents within...their interests, tastes, attitudes, and opinions.

And still others--including windows at the Ship Inn at Fowey, Saint Materiana's Church near Tintagel, and the cafe at Lanhydrock--were themselves things of beauty in which light, itself, played the starring role.

All were special in their own way. And now that my visit to Cornwall--with its wonderful memories and varied window views--is over, it's time to consider my next expedition. For as Turkish novelist and playwright Mehmet Murat ildan said, "Your every new journey is your new window opening to new ideas!"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Right Name

Dog of the Week: Ghillie

Six years ago this month, my husband and I welcomed an adorable, six-month-old, brindled Plott hound mix pup into our home. Although we knew--given her sweet, playful, happy personality--that she wouldn't be with us long, finding the "right" name was, as always, important to me.

At the time, we had two dogs with dance-related names: Tango, named for one of our favorite ballroom dances, and Ceiligh (pronounced Kaylee), named for an exuberant Celtic dance party. With her four distinctive white paws, our foster pup seemed to call for some sort of footwear-based moniker. But Boots, Slippers, and Socks seemed too ordinary for her exotic good looks. So she remained nameless for several days while I pondered and researched.

Finally, I hit upon the word ghillies, soft shoes worn by women in Irish dance. So Ghillie she became.

Less than a month after her arrival, Ghillie found her forever home, complete with a male golden retriever playmate, who she kept entertained (and in shape) with her fancy footwork.

I don't know if Ghillie kept her name...but I have no doubt that she's still dancing her way joyously through life!


Friday, April 29, 2016

An Angel in Our Midst

Dog of the week: Angel (fka Shirley)
In 2006, my husband and I welcomed a darling fluffy, brindled puppy into our home as a foster for the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County. As with all our fosters, I agonized over what to call her. In her case, the choice was made for us.

Within hours of her arrival, the intrepid little explorer ventured onto an 8-inch-wide, 4-foot tall brick wall bordering our patio, and before I could retrieve her, toppled off...just like my mother-in-law, Shirley, had from her own brick wall while pruning shrubs. Fortunately, unlike my mother-in-law, who broke her wrist, our little pup suffered no harm. Still, given the similarity in their experiences, the name Shirley seemed meant to be. So Shirley it was for the duration of her stay with us.

Which wasn't long. In just two short weeks, Shirley was adopted by a wonderful family with a 12-year-old son who had been longing for a dog. In fact, it was the son who had been checking Petfinder.com for a potential canine companion. And it was he who gave Shirley her new name: Angel (because of the white cross-shaped blaze on her chest).

Angel quickly became a much-loved member of her new family, who shared her story for my book A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet. (To order your copy, just click on "Buy now" below the thumbnail of the cover.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Short of Stature, Large of Heart

Dog of the week: Oscar

Oscar is not what one would call a "dignified" dog. In fact, he's quite the opposite. With a head and coloring reminiscent of a Rhodesian ridgeback and the the build of a Basset hound, he looks a bit like a sculpting assignment gone wrong. But when he scurries excitedly up to you, stubby legs and big paws scrambling, and peers adoringly at you with his mismatched eyes, all you can think is what a wonderful, charming dog he is!

Oscar lives with my friend Sandy, who saw him in the county animal shelter seven years ago and decided to foster him for the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County. Given her love of Basset hounds (her first dog as an adult was a Basset), it came as no surprise to her friends when she decided to make him a permanent part of her family's pack.

It's a decision she's never regretted...despite a couple of orthopedic incidents: surgery to straighten a foot (his) and a broken finger (hers). The first was caused by inherited conformation issues; the second was the direct result of Oscar chasing a squirrel while attached to a leash held by Sandy.

And then there's Oscar's penchant for stealing--and eating--panties and socks. Fortunately, surgical intervention has never been required...although it's been a near thing a couple of times.

But with his big heart and exuberant, happy-go-lucky personality, it's easy to forgive Oscar his few foibles. He has a way of making every day--and every evening--a little brighter.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Best--and Most Expensive--Rescued Dog Ever

During my years as a volunteer with the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County, my husband and I fostered 17 dogs...mostly puppies. They were all adorable and I have fond memories of each and every one of them, but I'll also confess to having a few favorites. Among these extra-special temporary Townsend pack members was Jack, a German shepherd mix pup who came into our care when he was just eight weeks old. Given his adorable looks and joyful, happy-go-lucky personality, it wasn't long before he caught the eye--and captured the heart--of a woman named Brenda.

From our first conversation, it was obvious that Brenda was one of those people who consider their dogs family members and that she would do anything and everything within her power to ensure their health and happiness. After mourning the passing of a previous dog, she was eager to welcome a new canine companion for herself and her Australian shepherd, Josie. And she was convinced Jack was the one.

And she was right. From the very beginning, Jack and Josie were a mutual appreciation society of two! Although they were very different--she a Lady and he more of a Tramp--they brought out the best in each other. He was the Yin to her Yang.

So it wasn't surprising when that when Josie died, Jack became deeply depressed, not wanting to get up in the morning and showing little interest in life. It was only when Brenda adopted a new puppy, Lacey, that Jack's happy, carefree nature blossomed once again. His relationship with Lacey is very different than his relationship with Josie--she's quite a little pistol--but they enjoy each other's company and their life with Brenda, which includes a huge yard to play in and regular trips to the Outer Banks.

But it hasn't been all roses and sunshine. Over the years, Jack has been afflicted with a variety of health issues, including a serious form of irritable bowel disease that requires a special diet, regular medication, and even occasional emergency hospital stays. And he recently underwent surgery to repair a ruptured a canine cruciate ligament (the dog equivalent of an ACL). Can you say "cha-ching"?

Good thing Brenda adores him...as you can see from this lovefest! 

"Best--and most expensive--rescued dog ever!," she says with a laugh.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Good Boy with a Big Heart

Nipper (2000--March 18, 2016)

I had planned on posting a photo of one my favorite former foster dogs this week, but fate, sadly, intervened. My good friend Liz said goodbye to one of her beloved canine companions yesterday and I felt a need to celebrate this special boy and acknowledge his passing.

Nipper joined Liz's pack in December 2010 when his previous human companion could no longer care for him. With his quiet strength and dignified personality, he quickly became the elder statesman, keeping the rambunctious younger hounds in line.

I was fortunate enough to have interacted with Nipper many times over the years. There was something both compelling and endearing about his gentle demeanor. He didn't jump or slobber or push himself on me for attention, but quietly made sure I knew he was there and equally deserving of my attention and affection. Just being around him made me smile.

Godspeed Nipper. I will miss your handsome, happy face.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Y is for Yuki

Dog of the Week: Yuki

Yuki entered the foster program of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County in 2008...at the same time as I was working on my second book, A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet. I was having difficulty finding a canine model with a name beginning with the letter Y and, thankfully, her foster mother came to my aid by naming the puppy Yuki.

With her adorable wrinkled face and endearing personality, Yuki found her forever home in no time, and her new mom, Tracy Long, contributed the following copy to accompany my photo: 

Yuki is the antithesis of the description, “What you see is what you get.” She has taught us that there is so much more—to her and life in general—than meets the eye. Wonder is waiting around every corner. Each smell and sight and sound contains worlds within it. And if you stare into the pools of Yuki's eyes—those windows to treasure houses of mischievous love—I think you'd see, as we have, a small child laughing.

Yuki loves life! For her, its daily routines are events to be anticipated and celebrated. She has taught us the beauty of welcoming every moment as if it were a gift…even the moment in the car when, without warning, she looked right at us…and pooped in the back seat.

There are times we're convinced she’s hoarding stubborn wisdom in the folds of her skin, the kind of wisdom that—like Yuki—may not come easily or quickly, but if asked and sought for will eventually come…the kind of wisdom that says, “Don't be afraid to contain multitudes.” Yuki certainly isn't.

She is Shar-pei, she is shepherd, part terror, part teacher. Her lessons: forgive often, love well, and dig it all! Though she is undoubtedly one of the clumsiest dogs I have ever seen, sometimes when I see her running towards me—those ears floppin' and that skin flappin' as she barrels clumsily into me, licking my face—I think I am witnessing pure grace.

What a gift it is to be given the opportunity, every day, to love Yuki and have her love us back.

To order you copy of A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet for $14 (including shipping within the continental U.S.) please email DigitalDoggyPhotography@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Bringing People Together

Dogs can--and do--bring people together in many different ways.

My husband and I first met friends and neighbors Janet and Mark when he spied them walking their Welsh springer spaniel Stickley past our house and called to me to come see the puppy. I met my friend Sandy, along with many other wonderful women, when we both attended a volunteer orientation for the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County and began fostering rescued shelter dogs. I connected with friend Jen, an author and active supporter of of several Maryland dog rescue organizations when she ordered ten copies of my first book, Black is Beautiful: A Celebration of Dark Dogs. I've made friends with people after attending obedience classes and canine behavior seminars and after photographing their dogs for my books. I've even become friends in cyberspace with people I've never met in person as a result of our mutual love of dogs.

Dog photo of the week: Pickle

This week's Dog of the Week--Pickle--is an example of how a dog can bring people together. I met Pickle when my friend Sandy and I were traveling in Wales. I saw him being walked by his "mom," Shari, in the castle town of Chepstow and couldn't believe how much he looked like one of my husband's and my dogs. It was all I could do not to dash across the street for a closer look.

 Instead, I did the appropriate thing and asked if I could greet him. Advised that he could be wary of unfamiliar people, I sat sideways to him a short distance away and let him approach me at his leisure. Soon, Sandy, Shari, and I were chatting about dogs, and Shari invited us to accompany her and Pickle on a walk through the countryside around Chepstow. That evening we met up for dinner at a local pub.

It's now been more than four years since Sandy and I met Shari but we still keep up via Facebook...and get to admire photos of the handsome Pickle. And who knows? Maybe we'll meet up again someday. But even if we don't, our lives are enriched by our chance encounter brought about by Pickle.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bonnie Brings Joy Back

Dog photo of the week: Bonnie

My mother describes Bonnie as a godsend, which for my parents she is. A young adult yellow Labrador retriever, Bonnie found herself in a southern shelter following the divorce of her people at the same time that my parents were looking for a canine companion to fill a very large hole in their lives.

That hole was created by the death of their beloved yellow Lab Abby, who succumbed to hemangiosarcoma at the age 14 years. An energetic, affectionate, loving dog, Abby was in all the ways that matter my parents' youngest child. And when she died, their grief was beyond measure.

It took many months before they were ready to even consider opening their hearts to another dog, but, eventually, they decided the time was right...that they could not continue to live their lives without a dog.

They knew they wanted another yellow Lab, so I helped them find some breed rescue organizations online and encouraged them to submit applications and inquire about specific dogs whose photos and profiles attracted their attention. After a few "close calls," they learned about Abby and after talking at length with the rescue group representative, decided to adopt her.

When the big day arrived, my parents drove to a designated rest stop, where the transport--full of dogs heading for new homes and new lives in the Northeast--was scheduled to stop. The sense of anticipation and excitement was palpable. When the truck pulled in to the parking lot, the waiting crowd burst into applause.

One by one, Labs of all ages, sizes, and colors were walked or carried off the truck. Finally, a large yellow Lab emerged. My parents were stunned. Having raised two short, compact, English-type Labs, they were unprepared for Bonnie's size. "She looked like a pony," my mother recalls. (In reality, Bonnie is an American field Lab...taller and lankier with a thinner face than the typical English Lab.)

Once they recovered from their surprise and brought their new family member home, the process of healing from the loss of Abby began and a new, beautiful relationship blossomed. Bonnie will never replace Abby (as no new companion can--or should--replace another) but she has brought joy into my parents' lives again. She plays ball in the back yard with my mother, takes walks with my father, explores local parks and woods with them, keeps them company when they're on the computer or reading the paper, and climbs into their bed for morning cuddle sessions.

Bonnie adores my parents and they adore her. It doesn't get much better than that!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

I'm ready for my close-up

Dog photo of the week: Yoda
I shot this photo several years ago when I was working on a book called Brindled Beauties. The canine model was a dog named Yoda, who was waiting for adoption at the Washington Humane Society. I draped a blanket over a sofa in an interaction room and provided a couple of large stuffed toys. Then I sat back to wait.

Like most pit bull terriers and mixes thereof, Yoda was an exuberant dog with unbridled energy. She spent a good 15 or 20 minutes running around the room and tossing the toys around...a blur of motion. But eventually she lay down on the sofa and gave me a direct, slightly over-the-shoulder look that brought to mind the iconic quote uttered by Gloria Swanson in the role of Norma Desmond in the 1950 film Sunset Blvd: "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
To see images of more brindled beauties, go to my website, DigitalDoggy.com.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Welcome to My Neighborhood

As promised in  my last post, here's my first weekly dog photo.

I met this bulldog in Helsinki, Finland. I originally saw him from a distance, hanging out with a bunch of guys sitting on some steps. Suddenly he noticed me too, so I sat on the pavement and waited as he ambled closer. Shortly after I snapped this photo, he came right up to greet--and hump--me. Not sure if he really, really liked me...or just wanted me to understand that he was the boss. In either case, his human companions had a good laugh.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Five Dogs in Five Days

I was recently nominated by a Facebook friend to post five dog photos in five days...a task I was more than willing to to take on. Dogs, as my friends know, are one of my favorite photographic subjects. But deciding which five photos to share turned out to be more challenging than I had anticipated. Out of my hundreds of digital dog images, how would I choose just five?

But choose I did. And although these images aren't necessarily my "best," there was a reason for each selection.

First was a wire-haired Jack Russell terrier I met in Ireland. It seemed the logical place to start since I'd traveled in Ireland with the woman who nominated me for this visual exercise. The little guy (I forget his name) was perched on his front stoop enjoying the sun in the charming seaside town of Kinsale. He had a look of disinterested confidence that said,"This is my neighborhood. I hope you enjoy your walk in it. If you want to take my photo, you may; just don't expect me to smile."

My Day 2 choice was the direct result of Winter Storm Jonas, which had just dumped three feet of snow throughout much of the Washington DC-area. Faced with the reality of shoveling in the bitter cold, I was yearning for summer sunshine. And although the photo--of a friend's Chinese hairless crested, Funny Bones--was taken on a stone patio, the light, the windblown look of his hair, and the bluish color of the background (enhanced through some editing) gave the image a "beachy" feel that warmed my soul.

Working at an animal shelter, I photograph a lot of dogs and cats, so I turned to these files for my Day 3 inspiration. None of the shelter residents were more pitiful or needy than three terrified, essentially feral puppies rescued by the Humane Society of United States from a Korean dog meat farm. These puppies lived for weeks in the shelter's Behavior & Training office, receiving ongoing socialization and behavior modification. All three (there are three puppies in this image; the brown one had burrowed under the other two in an effort to go unnoticed) eventually went home with experienced adopters who had other dogs to serve as canine friends and role models. At last report, they were all doing well.

For Day 4. I chose a more personal image: of Ceiligh, a JRT/pointer/Lab mix my husband and I adopted after seeing her as an eight-week-old puppy up for adoption in a pet supply store that we visited to buy goldfish for our pond. Her adoption was something of an impulse (we already had two dogs) but it's one we've never regretted. At 13 years old, she's now senior canine of a household that once again contains three dogs. I took this picture of Ceiligh (pronounced Kaylee) sitting in one of our Adirondack chairs when she was four months old. It later served as the basis for a gorgeous pastel by my talented artist friend Liz Holm.


I decided to conclude the series with a photo that looks to the future. Yaya is a rescued pit bull terrier rescued by friends of mine. She is one of many dogs who have posed for images that will appear in a book I'm working on called Fetching Art: Murals, Graffiti & Man's Best Friend. If all goes as planned, I'll finish shooting this summer and have the book printed before the end of the year.

And so, my Five Dogs in Five Days collection is complete. But I so enjoyed reviewing my photos--some of which I haven't looked at in years--that I've decided to continue the process in my own way...by posting one dog photo a week here, So, dog lovers, check in once in a while; you might like what you see.