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Published and awarded pet photographer serving the Charleston SC area with seasonal appointments in Northern Virginia.


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Back to July, 2019 Selections

[READ TIME: Approx. 5 minutes]

Once upon a time, I went to see my pals at Southern Paws Animal Rescue (SPAR) to photo a couple of adoptables. When I arrived, we were catching up and they told me about a new intake, a very sad case, and so, of course, I asked if I could meet him. I was cautioned and told he was a big fella, who had just been surrendered the day before by a brokenhearted family after a bite to their child.  I generally won’t photo adoptables who are in that mental state simply because it’s not a representation of who they really are. We all agreed I’d return when he was more comfortable.

But I still wanted to at least say hi. I approached his boarding suite at Ziggy’s Dog Parlor only to find a handsome dog, whose pupils were huge and who was completely terrified and shut down. He wouldn’t move from the cot. His ears were pinned to his head from tension. He wouldn’t eat or drink, and couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact. He shook, with his whole body vibrating – and this continued for a couple of days. It physically hurt me to see him like this, but that would also mean I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about him.  (Side note: Ziggy’s Dog Parlor generously provides boarding space to SPAR dogs as needed when a foster isn’t available.)

After about two or three days of constant coaxing, soft talking and slow movements, he started to trust Kristin, owner of Ziggy’s, founder of SPAR and all-around super-dog-woman. She was able to gently pet him, sit with him, and, thankfully, get him to eat and drink. This was HUGE and the more we learned about him, the more we could make accommodations for his insecurities. A small village of fans started to emerge, comprised of the caring staff at Ziggy’s, this boy’s family of nine years, and me. They sent him packages, checked on him regularly, and donated toward his care. I know his dog-ma ached for him but couldn’t bring herself to visit, knowing it would likely set him back even further. We all rooted for him to have a turnaround so he could be adopted.

Now, the back story.

Chewy was found as a puppy in a dumpster. He was taken in by a woman, who was unable to keep him, so she gave him to her sister, and this petite lady became Chewy’s dog-ma. They adored each other. She cared for him and he protected her. He waited for her through her deployments.  He tolerated hats and outfits for photos. He cheered her on when she got married and was there to usher in a human sibling. He twice shared his home with working K9s as well, as his dad is an officer. His family admits they didn’t work with him much, but they did adore him and clearly provided an abundance of love.

One day, without any known provocation, Chewy bit the child, who was then two years old, seriously enough to require a hospital stay and plastic surgery, and his humans felt they had no choice but to remove him from the home.  They were angry and disappointed, devastated, hurt, worried and probably even guilt-riddled, if I had to guess. But they loved Chewy and still wanted him to have an opportunity to find a family who loved him as much as they did. Many rescues won’t accept a dog like Chewy with that kind of history, but SPAR reviews intakes on a case-by-case basis and they offered Chewy a chance.

SPAR spent time slowly getting to know him. He started to come out of his shell a bit, although he was still a very anxious dog. He bonded with Kristin and became a shop-dog of sorts, spending his days lounging on a couch and watching his favorite movie (Secret Life of Pets). He bonded to Sergio, Kristin’s husband, too. He then became more anxious when they weren’t around – if they walked away, he whined and was visibly worried, completely focused on their return. Chewy is a dog who loves intensely.

Whenever I visited SPAR/Ziggy’s for adoptable photos, I was always excited to see him and sit with him for a bit, give him pets and have a chat. He happily gave me kisses and I never felt threatened or worried about him, although I had been told he was sometimes moody. To me, he was a big marshmallow. And who doesn’t love marshmallows, am I right?

Several months went by and very few people applied for or even met Chewy – because there were specifics – no men, no small children, no other dogs (a trifecta of impediments to adoption!). One adopter looked so very promising, but before the adoption was finalized, there was another bite (on top of a couple of others that had occurred). {sigh} Time to regroup. None of us was ready to give up on Chewy! We even made sure he got to see Santa at Ziggy's during a photo fundraiser, with one of his favorite humans as Santa :).

Then one day, I came across an Instagram post about a dog named Ghost, a white shepherd with a bite history, who had been rehabilitated locally through a program at Canine Revolution Dog Training. If they could turn Ghost around, I thought why not Chewy? So, communications started … emails … conversations across a triangle of concerned parties. Chewy’s former family was all in, ready to donate toward the expense of the board-and-train program to give him the best shot at a forever family.  The good people at CRDT graciously allowed me to come every week and photo his progress for a few minutes and I was able to then share it with Chewy’s village. For me, having known him since his first days in rescue, the change was visible from week to week. Remarkable, really. He was more confident, more relaxed, and more surrendered in the best possible way. My goodness, was this going to be his magic ticket?

As his rehabilitation program was coming to a close, the best scenario presented itself in a series of “What Ifs”. WHAT IF … his former family could commit to ongoing training for both themselves and with Chewy? WHAT IF … they could become confident leaders enough to bring him back into their home after a year’s “sabbatical”? WHAT IF … Chewy could show that he was safe to be around the child, who was now three years old? WHAT IF Chewy came home?

CRDT, confident in their program and in Chewy’s progress, was certainly willing to give it a shot and after some training of the humans, Chewy moved back home this spring! He and his people have continued weekly training with CRDT and, even more importantly, have changed the way they manage Chewy in the home. The child has no fear, no resentment and doesn’t seem to have recollection of the incident, really.

Recently, we finally met up for their family photos. I hadn’t seen Chewy for a couple of months so when he caught sight of me at the park and was excited to come to me, I felt a little special, I won’t lie.

That morning, I walked alongside a healthier, happier, more relaxed version of Chewy than I had ever seen. I spent time with a beautiful family, who loved this dog so immensely they were willing to move mountains to bring him home. I held hands with a smiling, energetic three-year old, who completely adores a dog who hurt her once. This story is a true tale of forgiveness and hope and love, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to witness and document it. As they now prepare to move out of state for work, I’m sad knowing my chances to see him will be limited, but I am also fulfilled knowing he is exactly where he should be, which is wherever they are too.


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