On dogs, and immortality

Nala the wonder dog.

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull

For as long as I can remember, I have loved dogs. I have had the great good fortune of owning several in my time on earth, and I intend to have a dog by my side when I breathe my last. From the ages of 5-10 my family was sans canine, and I asked my parents for a puppy nearly every day. Alas, we were living in Houston at the time, not a dog-appropriate climate. You can imagine my joy when we moved to the mountains and finally found a sweet Golden puppy to take home.

Of course, George Carlin reminds us that buying a dog is investing in a small tragedy, and the days I said goodbye to each dog were some of the most difficult days of my life. I remember each time clearly—too clearly. The worst part of owning a dog, by far, is saying goodbye.

This is why, several years ago, I began offering photography sessions to friends and family with sick or ailing canines. I wanted to make sure money wouldn’t be an issue for someone who just wanted a nice picture of their family, all together, complete—the way it was.

It started with my friend Devenney, whose dog was undergoing cancer treatment at UC Davis at the same time as my sweet Nala. Ciara and Nala had been diagnosed with lymphoma and melanoma, respectively, just a few weeks apart in 2013 and I knew Dev’s pain as my own. I wanted to give her a gift that would be priceless, and precious to her, and would help her remember her best friend and their time together.

Just a few months after Ciara passed away we found out Nala’s melanoma had metastasized in her lungs. We only had about three more days with her after that, and although it was difficult, we came together as a family on the last day—Mom, Dad, Dave, Jen, Nala, and my six-month-old puppy, Addie—and took a few pictures. Our eyes were puffy and our hearts were breaking, but we did it. The photos were hard to look at immediately afterward, but I am so glad we took them. It really cemented my mission to help others document the love they shared with their dogs.


Sweet Emma, swan diving into the kiddie pool.

This blog post has been a long time in the making; this project is very dear to me. It is bittersweet. It has broken my heart and brought me joy to give my friends these irreplaceable images of their beloved animals. So far I have helped immortalize Tess, Ciara, Nala, Hazel, Keo, Nelly, Marcel, Rowdy. And quite by accident, Emma, sweet Emma, who taught my Nala how to bark while retrieving a teddy bear and whose front-page newspaper photograph I took in 2008, mid-jump into the kiddie pool at Burnt Cedar Beach. She looks like an angel, and just last year she became one.

Dogs are family; in fact, they’re genetic kindred spirits. They evolved alongside us for tens of thousands of years and come with a handful of nifty health benefits for people who own them. More important, they are the physical embodiment of love. (And in Addie’s case, hunger.) We are so lucky to have them.

A few minutes in front of a camera can preserve a moment or a memory ad infinitum. And hopefully somewhere down the line, these photos conjure smiles rather than tears.


“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Nala and Addie, back in the day. And way too cool for school.