In April we had our oldest dog Cooper put to sleep. My husband went to pick up his ashes last week. They came in a beautiful cedar box with “Cooper” elegantly engraved on the lid, the whole thing nestled in a velvet bag, embroidered with the words “Until we meet at the Rainbow Bridge*”. Still, the thought of everything that he was being contained inside a box, especially one I can easily hold in one hand, is wrong. He was always a little wild. Nine years scraping for everything you can get will do that to anyone. Still, he was also very sweet and open to love in a way I think only a dog can be, especially after the trauma of a life unloved.
And then there was this. This is a beautiful series of portraits done of black dogs on black backgrounds. Often black dogs go unadopted while their light-furred cell-mates find homes quickly and easily. Cooper was at the shelter for almost two months before we adopted him; I’m sure some of that was his initial demeanor and some of it was the fact that he just looked like a really dirty mop. There are a lot of theories about why black dogs get skipped over ranging from people’s mistrust in black animals stemming from myths about black cats and their ties to dark magic to the idea they just don’t stand out against the background of the kennel as well as say, a tan dog. My theory is that black dogs are notoriously difficult to photograph. The range of highlight and shadows on a black dogs face is considerably less than a lighter colored dog. Their eyes often blend into the surrounding fur instead of standing out against it. Getting a good photograph requires the right light and angles to direct the light in a way that add highlights around the muzzle and catch-lights to the eyes. With the age of the internet in full swing it’s not uncommon for people to pick out a dog before they ever see it in person or even step foot into the shelter. That photograph on the shelter website may very well be worth more than 1000 words, it might be worth an adoption.
Which brings me to yet another one of my many shortcomings. I should have taken more pictures, especially before Cooper got really old. I’m a photographer; sometimes that means I get disenchanted with my craft and take less photos of my own family than I should. He was a pretty spry little guy when we got him. Over time he started to lose some of his bounce, then what little was left of his sight. He took everything is stride, still I wish I would have taken more photographs of him when he was how I like to remember him best. Harper doesn’t remember him like that. She remembers him as a sleepy old man, with one eye that was worse than the other. She doesn’t remember his playful nature or the speed at which he tore through dog toys like they were made of tissue paper. She doesn’t know there was a time he used to be able to scale any obstacle with ease. Sure, I’ll be able to tell her, but I won’t be able to show her. In fact, I’ll never be able to take a single photo of him ever again.
So if you have an animal that you love, take pictures, more than just snapshots. Take pictures of your pets with you in them. If you can afford a photographer, include your pets in your family portraits. And if you can’t fit it into the budget right now, get your camera out. Dedicate some time to capturing them as they grow and change, not just when you’ve run out of time. Don’t set yourself up to make my mistakes and live with my regrets. Oh what I would give to go back to the start.
*If you don’t know, the Rainbow Bridge is where dog’s and other companion animals are said to go when they die and live in peace and comfort while they wait for a reunion with their person or people. Pets are said to be restored to the point in their lives when they were the more physically and mentally viable. It’s kind of like a waiting room full of everything you could ever want or need. A heaven precursor.