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Pupparazzi on Nat Geo WILD!

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HOLY BANANA SANDWICHES!!! YOU GUYS!!!

Oh goodness, I have something to tell you!!! I have been bursting at the seams with happy dance excitement and honestly, I can’t believe I conquered the impossible feat of keeping this all squashed inside my chest while I waited for the moment to finally let it out and shout it from the rooftops!!! (Run-on sentence, I know.)  

So, clearly, I have some news.

And it’s not just your regular ol’ run of the mill, ‘I’m rolling-around in a pile of puppies on a hillside somewhere’ or ‘Today I photographed a gorgeous dog’ kind of news. (Which are still great pieces of news in and of themselves, to be fair.)

No, this is cuckoo bananas, ‘is-this-actually-real-life?’, ‘I-can’t-believe-I can-even-say-these-words’ kind of news. It’s an announcement that feels too surreal to actually be made, and yet — it’s all about to spring forward from my fingertips despite that because, well…

because nothing is impossible.

I’ll be perfectly honest. I’ve been sitting here for ages staring at this blank computer screen – hands shaking – wondering how I might ever be able to come up with the words to say all the things I want to say in a moment like this one. After many failed attempts, backspace keys, writes and re-writes, I’ve come to accept that no arrangement of nouns or adjectives will ever be perfect enough to articulate the exact feeling in my heart in the wake of this occasion, so I’m just going for it anyway.

Photographing dogs has been the adventure of my lifetime. It’s everything I never knew I was truly meant to do. A lot of you have been here with me, cheering me on and lifting me up since the very beginning of my journey, and to you and your kind and beautiful hearts – I couldn’t be more grateful.

Collectively, dogs are a kind of magic that fills me up and makes me whole – their joy, whimsy and unrelenting happiness inspire me to be a better in every way. From the very first moment that I walked through the doors of the MSPCA and clumsily fumbled my way around my camera to photograph my first shelter dog almost 8 years ago, something shifted in my heart, and I knew I had found my very reason for breathing. Dog photography has been changing my life consistently since the very beginning and now, it dances to a place I never imagined it could go.

In less than 2 weeks, on September 15th at 10/9 Central, my brand new television show Pupparazzi will be premiering on Nat Geo WILD!

Pupparazzi will follow Dog Breath Photography on all our wild, wacky, dog-filled adventures all over the country (and hopefully, eventually the world!), with a highlight on focusing on the one thing that means more to me than anything else on the planet – the powerful stories of the rescue dogs that so desperately need a voice.

We have been traveling all over the country since the beginning of the year with an incredible production crew who have blown our minds with their passion and talent, and we’ve just wrapped filming the first group of episodes. This experience has been completely surreal from the very first moment and the gratitude that I feel for this opportunity and the people who have feverishly supported me along the way is truly indescribable.

For years, I have received messages from wonderful people all over the globe, asking if there might be any way they could come along on my dog photography adventures one day. Well, now, there finally is! I hope you will all join me on my unforgettable adventures and follow me on a mission across the planet to capture the spirit of dog through my lens!

I think it’s worth saying – if something lights you on fire and you believe in it with everything in your heart, get out there and chase it furiously, unapologetically and relentlessly.

The fact is, dreams really do come true.

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At National Geographic’s ‘Further Front’ Upfront Event on the day of announcement in New York City.  2018.
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What Makes You Different Makes You Beautiful.

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There are some things that come into your heart and never leave you. There are some things that show you, that against all odds – love prevails and miracles are real. Kanga and Roo are two of those things.

Kanga and Roo are unique. Unique in their physical appearance, yes – but more importantly: Unique in their happiness. Unique in their enormous personalities. Unique in their unrelenting joy.

Kanga and Roo are biological brother and sister – born to the same litter. Tragically, as a result of imbreeding and overbreeding, these two were born without front legs. After about a year of their breeder attempting to care for these special needs angels, the process proved to be too difficult and eventually, Kanga and Roo were surrendered to a Georgia based rescue called Angels Among Us. For several months, Kanga and Roo sat patiently – quietly waiting for a new family to come and change their fate forever. Someone would surely come, right? But no one was interested. The rescue and their foster parents tried everything, including adoption events, but still, no applications ever came through.

Just when your heart begins to break – two of the kindest, warmest people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet are going to put it back together. Enter Therese and Duc – a pair of once-in-a-lifetime sort of people with hearts bigger than the physical limitations of the human body traditionally tend to hold – who had just recently lost their beloved dogs of 16 years. They discovered Kanga and Roo after finding a post about them online, and saw the sparkle in those sweet, shining eyes. They just knew they had to call them theirs. Therese and Duc had never had special needs dogs before, but they knew they could step up and do whatever it took to give Kanga and Roo the fairytale life that they’d always deserved. After much devoted research on adapting to life with differently abled dogs, they padded all the floors throughout their home so that the two Chihuahuas could wiggle and scoot their way across the soft surfaces to get from place to place. For all of Kanga and Roo’s outdoor adventuring needs, they had special all-terrain wheelchairs custom made. And the coolest part of all? Thanks to a friend of Therese and Duc’s who happened to work with human prosthetics, they had special sweaters made for their bouncy pups out of the same material that amputee patients wear before putting on a prosthetic limb. And remember when I told you that Therese and Duc are some of the most special people I’ve ever met? Well there’s always good reason for a statement of that magnitude: Since then, they’ve begun to offer these special sweaters to dog parents all around the world who might also have two-legged pups with similar needs. They do this completely free of charge.

Therese and Duc traveled up to Boston from Georgia with gorgeous Kanga and Roo for a special Dog Breath photo shoot at the very beginning of Summer. It was almost a year in the planning to organize our schedules and pull it all off, and I had been over the moon with excitement looking forward to our big adventure together. I’ve never felt so honored as I was when that day finally came – to know that I was chosen to capture the enormous legacies of these two incredible little dogs. It was a privilege so absolutely legendary that I find it hard to put into words, but despite that – I will try:
Kanga and Roo showed me their hearts that day. We played and explored through Boston’s gorgeous Public Gardens – treats, peanut butter and laughter flying every which way from our general direction. Kanga and Roo colored the park with joy everywhere they went – brilliant stripes of yellow sunshine being left in their paths as they meandered this way and that in their special wheelchairs. I heard some ‘squees’ to rival my own in volume and expression (which is quite a feat, let me tell you!) as we passed by smiling strangers throughout the afternoon.

Kanga and Roo taught me a lot that day. And in this very moment, as they stood there in that Wonderland of flowers – springing up like technicolor dreams above these two tiny heroes – I realized something:

Love and light know no predetermined shape and size. Happiness doesn’t fit inside a box, andjoy doesn’t discriminate based on physical limitation.
No matter how small. No matter how different. No matter how much extra bravery you feel you need to muster up – Your impact on this world is only measured by the size of your heart.

Because no matter how your journey started, the ending can be anything you dream it to be.

-Kaylee

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Secrets to Capturing Perfect Pup Photos – Part 2

Oh, I am so excited to be bringing you round 2 of some of my very best secrets to taking gorgeous images of your dog!

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If you haven’t gotten the chance to read Part 1, you can find that here.

But just to recap, here are the four tips I’ve already let out of the bag:

1. Make it a Positive Experience

2. Be Prepared and Bring Lots of Goodies!

3. Time of Day

4. Look for Dog-Sized Scenery

Over the past six years of photographing dogs professionally, I’ve uncovered all kinds of little tricks that have come to be part of my ‘secret sauce’ in capturing the perfect dog image. To pick up where I left off in Part 1, here are four more for you to try!

5. Get Low 

We see dogs everyday, right? Unless you live on a remote farm somewhere in the middle of the desolate Canadian Yukon, it’s likely that you have experienced the joy of a dog walking by you at least once or twice per day, every day of your life. (And if you’re in the Yukon, you probably have bears…so…that’s awesome…) Dogs aren’t a terribly uncommon thing. (And thank goodness for that! Am I right?!) So, on those regular days, when we see dogs pass us by on the street, or even look down at our own dogs at our feet – how do we see them? You guessed it. From standing level. Not only do you see dogs from an average height of say, about 5 feet 6 inches, but you actually see pretty much everything in the world around you from that height. Photography is about seeing an ordinary thing in an extraordinary way. Take something commonplace and turn it into something unexpected – something brilliant.

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When you take a photo of your dog from standing height, looking down on him, you are recording an ordinary scene – something your brain has become very used to viewing and processing. But get down on his level, and all of a sudden you have magic. You have impact. You are in his world now. You have immersed yourself in the size of his entire existence, and suddenly you have a power in your images, a connection that truly can’t be made until you are seeing directly into the glittering iris of a canine. And sometimes – sometimes I push it even further than eye to eye, sometimes I get even lower than that. Photography is about telling a story, and for me, that story is all about the dog. It’s about turning my pup models into royalty. They are the Kings and Queens of their dominions. They are the superheroes watching over cities. So much of the impact of my imagery has to do with the angle at which I am shooting it.

And yes, folks, this sure does mean that you’ll spend 90% of your time laying in the dirt on your stomach and rolling around in the grass to get the perfect shot. (And if you’re lucky, a wild puppy might just land right on your bum!)

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6. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Crazy Sounds 

Yup, you heard me. You might just have to throw your humility and pride to the wind and get a little wacky while you’re photographing your pup. Don’t underestimate a dog’s sense of hearing. The average dog can hear at a rate 4 times greater than the average human. Above this, they have 18 unique muscles in their ears which allow them to hear sounds and detect the exact direction of a sound’s source. Ever see your dog cock his ears up and tilt his head just a bit? That’s most likely because he just heard something interesting. So, the thing is, you’re going to want to use your pup’s incredible sense of hearing to your advantage. Sounds will help direct your dog’s gaze in a given direction to attain an image with impactful eye contact. They will also help tremendously with expression while getting nice alert, confident body language. So, if you don’t mind appearing just a little bit like a crazy person, you’ll be amazed at the expression you can get if you look at your dog and give him a little bark. 😛 (As a note, it’s important not to overuse sounds. Use them sparingly and exactly at the right moments! Too many sounds, especially loud ones, can overstimulate your dog and stress him out quickly. So, just be sure to space those babies out and use them when they really count!)

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In addition to using my own vocal chords to make crazy sounds that will keep dogs’ attention on me while I’m photographing them, here are some other tools that I’ve found hugely successful at shoots:

  • Kazoos
  • Duck / Rabbit / Deer Calls
  • Whistles (not too high pitched, use sounds that are comfortable for your dog!)
  • iPhone Apps (I have a great one with farm animal sounds built in)
  • Squeaky Toys

7. Put Dogs Up on Things 

I know, this one sounds a little crazy. But hear me out.
This trick works especially well with smaller dogs, but in the right environment, can work on dogs of all shapes and sizes. When you have your pup model down on the ground, he’s going to do what he does best. He’s going to sniff, dig, bark at the squirrels, bounce about and play. This is not to say that you can’t get great shots of your dog standing just there before you in the grass – but I will say that putting dogs up on things and essentially separating them from a lot of those interesting distractions, proves hugely valuable with it comes to nailing a gorgeous pet portrait. (Now, of course, execute this tip at your next dog photoshoot with caution. Use your best judgement. Be aware of height – don’t put jumpy, clumsy dogs up on high walls or benches in which you think there’s a risk of them defying all laws of gravity and physics while hurling their cute bodies over the edge and hurting themselves.) Putting your dog up on something enables you to step back and gain both distance and time to get your camera into position for the perfect shot. This also helps with putting some space between you and very friendly, velcro sort of dogs who aren’t happy unless they’re essentially on top of you. 🙂 Not only that, but raising your dog up off the ground oftentimes gives you an advantage of a better background and the ability to get right on their eye level without excessive amounts of pretzel-ey yoga gymnastics on your part. 😛

Some great things to put dogs up on are:

  • Logs
  • Benches
  • Rocks
  • Tree Stumps
  • Stairs/Stoops
  • Low, wide walls

After I wrote this tip, I thought, I better go through my Lightroom library in search of some examples of this technique in my work to share. At first, I worried that I’d have to search for a while to find something good, and then I realized… holy moly… I do this all the time. At least two or three times per photo shoot! Quite a bit more than I realized, actually. I did it here, with Knox, Harper and Bear:

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And here, with Pogi, in front of the Boston city skyline:

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And here, with Bailey, on a rock in Lake Tahoe:

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And here, with Zaena, Zander and Zailey:

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(I could go on like this…) 🙂

8. Use a Stake to Keep your Pup Tethered in Place 

A lot of times, when I’m at my shoots and I say to my assistant, ‘Can you get the stake,’ my clients’ eyes will get wide and they say ‘Wait, you brought STEAK? Really?!’ I always have to crack up, because actually, bringing literal steak would probably be a very effective technique. If I gave out a survey to all the dogs that I’ve photographed in the past, I imagine they’d unanimously tick the box: ‘Yes, for steak.’

But, what I’m referencing here is actually the kind of stake you can spin into the ground and tether your dog to. I have a couple of these in my bag and I bring them to every shoot. This stake tip actually has a similar effect to the previous ’Put Dogs Up on Things’ tip, but can be executed in situations where there simply isn’t anything good to put the dog model up on. Spin this baby into the ground and all of a sudden, you have a great anchor to leash your dog to that keeps him in the general area that you need him for his photo. The great thing about working with the stake is that since it’s so low profile, it’s easy to block with the dog’s body, so no one ever has to know that Fido didn’t do anything other than sit like an absolute rock star for his photo shoot. 🙂 Nobody has to know the dirty secret of what’s keeping him in place behind-the-scenes. 😛

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Whew! Well that about covers it! My eight absolute favorite sneaky secrets for capturing incredible photos of your pup! I hope you think of these next time you’re on location in incredible golden light with your best friend and you’re trying to snap an image of that unforgettable smile! If anyone has found anything else that works miracles when it comes to photographing pooches, don’t hesitate to share in the comments! Let us have ‘em!

Now load those pockets with steak and get to shooting! 😛

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(and one more photo because who can resist a puppy in panda bear ears?!)

-Kaylee

 

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Secrets to Capturing Perfect Pup Images – Part 1

Holy moly, I am so excited to bring you a two-part post brimming with eight incredibly helpful tips on how to get better photos of your dog (and no worries! No fancy cameras required! Even if you’re only trying to capture better images with an iPhone or point-and-shoot camera, we can still make magic happen!). Read on to get into the adventure!

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Many of you know that I live with a little sausage-shaped miracle who I was lucky enough to rescue from behind the bars of his cage at the shelter. His name is Joshua and he is the absolute love of my life. He taught me more about goodness, kindness and loyalty than any other creature on the planet ever has. Photography is what brought Joshua and I together. I went on one of my routine trips to the shelter to photograph the adoptable dogs and post their images to their adoption profiles on the shelter’s website. On my list of dogs that day, I saw a peculiar name: Joshua. ‘Huh. That’s a strange name for a dog,’ I thought. I walked into the shelter and began to hunt for him. When I saw his face, that was it. My heart dropped out through my feet and melted right there, down into the soles of my shoes. I took his photo for his adoption profile that day, but, here’s the thing…when I got home to do the editing and get the photos posted up online, I realized – selfishly – that I did not want to share Joshua’s face with the world. I was too afraid someone would come along and sweep him up out of my life just as quickly as he came in. So, I hesitated. It was with that hesitation that I realized what was happening in my heart — I wanted Joshua to be mine.

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Since photography is what brought Joshua and I together, I thought it would be incredibly fitting if I did this post for new pet owners and divulged some of the best tips and tricks for taking better photos of those fleeting, precious moments throughout their lives – from puppyhood all the way until the day they find their first, distinguished gray whisker.

So, over the course of this two-part blog post, I am going to provide you with some of the absolute best, most effective tips for getting better photos of your dog. Because, let’s face it, dogs are probably the most beautiful thing in the world to photograph. (Okay, I’m biased.)

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Tip #1 • Make it a Positive Experience

I truly can’t state the importance of this tip enough. I know it sounds extremely simple and straightforward, but it is often the single most overlooked concept when it comes to taking your dog’s photo. I can’t tell you how many times I hear it: “My dog hates getting his photo taken.” I can promise you from the bottom of my heart – your dog doesn’t ‘hate’ getting his photo taken. If we’re being candid here, your dog technically doesn’t hate anything. (That’s why dogs are the greatest creatures in the world, right? Their unconditional and unbelievable capacity to love literally everything and everyone…) 🙂 People who complain about their dogs disliking the process of getting their photo taken are doing so because they may have inadvertently made the whole thing a very negative and stressful experience for their dog without even realizing it.

Here’s a scenario for you. Dog owner asks her dog to sit for a photo, and pushes his butt down into the flowers. Confused dog doesn’t understand why he has to sit right there in the flowers when all the good smells he really needs to sniff are a few feet in the other direction. Confused and excited, dog gets up from his spot in the flowers to have a sniff and frustrated dog owner yells, “GAHH! FIDO!! SIT!!!!!” and pushes his butt back down. (Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.) Understand that your dog is incredibly sensitive to the environment around him and most especially – to your energy. You need to work with your dog to get great photos of him – not against him.

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So how do you make it a positive experience? Here’s how!

•Keep the stress low.

•Give your dog plenty of time to settle into his environment, especially if you’re taking him outside to a location he’s never been before. Let him sniff. Let him pee. Let him do all those wonderful dog things that he’s got to do.  Let him become comfortable in his environment before you go ahead and try to smash a camera in his face.

•Give him praise and be patient. Do not get frustrated. Frustration will get you nowhere, very, very quickly.

•Do not force him into any given situation, let him ease himself into it on his own accord. This is where patience comes in! Sometimes this takes 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour, depending on the dog! Just enjoy the moment with your dog and roll with it!

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Tip #2 • Be Prepared and Bring Lots of Goodies! 

Treats and peanut butter, guys. I’m telling you. This stuff works miracles. This tip goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Make this a super fun occasion! You know when you head toward your front door and you pick up your dog’s leash and he goes absolutely wild? That’s because he’s associating that leash with all the incredible, exciting things you get to do together once you leave that front door to go on a big adventure! Do the same thing with your camera. Make it a positive experience — a positive association for your dog, so when he sees that camera, he thinks of wonderful things! Treats provide positive reinforcement. There are very few dogs on the planet that will turn down a good, stinky treat.  You ever hear the phrase ‘the best way to a dog’s heart is through his stomach’? Well holy banana sandwiches is that ever true! (For me too, as an FYI, in case you want to know how to win me over!) 😛 Bring treats to your photo shoot, and give your dog a small reward each time you click that shutter button. This process will very quickly create a positive association in your dog’s mind, and the rest is beautiful, wagging history!

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Tip #3 • Time of Day

If you plan to head outdoors, consider the time of day that you are taking your dog’s photos. I very strongly suggest getting your dog out into the natural environment for his close-up! Try to avoid taking photos in the middle of the day – anywhere from 11 a.m. to about 4 p.m. (depending on the time of year) is typically the danger zone when it comes to incredibly challenging, very unflattering midday light.

When the sun is very high in the sky, it casts harsh light from directly overhead causing both bright, blown out highlights in contrast with deep, dark shadows across your image. Instead, get outside with your dog when the sun is lower in the sky, closer to the horizon line. Typically, the two hours after sunrise, or the two hours before sunset are going to be the absolute best time of day to capture a magical outdoor portrait. When the sun is lower in the sky, the light comes in sideways across the horizon and creates a phenomenon known to photographers the world over as ‘the golden hour.’ Early or late light like this is much softer, more even and warmer in color temperature, which can turn any image from flat to magical.

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Tip #4 • Look for Dog-Sized Scenery

What do I mean by dog-sized scenery, you ask? It means you’ve got to start to look at the world from your dog’s point of view — you’ve got to get down on his level. Look for greenery, flowers, stoops, logs, etc., that are about the same height or size as your dog. You may think a location looks gorgeous from standing level, but when you put your dog in front of that view of the city skyline and you’ll realize when you’re only two feet tall there’s actually a big, gnarly fencepost blocking your view. Keep your eyes low as you scout out your location, and look for flowers, short bushes or details on streets that can be incorporated into the images of your dog!

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Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this post coming soon! I’ve got even more sneaky tips and tricks up my sleeve that will help bring your dog photos from ‘blah’ to brilliant!
-Kaylee

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Barkarica: An Out-of-This-World Pet Photography Retreat

Holy banana sandwiches!

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve last posted over here on this little blog of mine! (bad, bad blogger!) Yikes! The long hiatus is mostly due to the fact that I’ve been off on all kinds of wacky, beautiful adventures, hanging out with puppies all over the world and I’ve struggled with finding the time to just take a minute to stop, breathe and reflect on it all. So, I’m grateful to be writing this post, as it’s giving me the opportunity to do just that.

Some of you might know I was just very recently in Costa Rica, exploring through the jungle of Manuel Antonio, photographing shelter dogs, and teaching a pet photography workshop. It was an unbelievable experience. I find it difficult to put it all into words, but if you know anything about me it’s that I’m sure as heck going to try. 🙂

To give you some context as to how this whole thing started, I’m going to go back about a year and a half in time. Two of my favorite people in the pet photography industry (who I am proud to call colleagues and grateful to call friends) and I put our heads together and dreamed a very big dream. We were all teaching in our respective areas – passing on knowledge to other pet photographers and helping them grow both their creative skills and their businesses. So, we put our heads together and we thought – why couldn’t we all come together? Why couldn’t we join forces to team up as one – and teach the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime kind of pet photography retreat. Those two other photographers are Charlotte Reeves of Brisbane, Australia and Nicole Begley of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

So, it was with those intentions that our ‘Out-of-this-World Pet Photography Retreat’ series was brought to life – an experience where the most passionate and driven pet photographers from all across the world could come together in an endlessly beautiful location – always a different place on the canvas of our world –  to learn and shoot alongside each other.

Our first retreat was in Olivella, Spain, just outside of Barcelona at exactly this time last year. We were struggling with what we wanted to name it when I casually ran it by my Mom in a conversation over coffee one afternoon. I said ‘Mom, what would you name a dog photography retreat that takes places in Barcelona, Spain?’. Without skipping a beat, she cracked a sly little smile and said ‘Barkelona’. I giggled until my sides hurt and at that moment, the ‘Barka’ series of pet photography retreats was born. Please note, my Mom is incredibly proud of her clever involvement and reminds me of this each time I see her. (Go Mom!)

Barkelona was more magical than I can describe (I suppose that one is for another post!) and was an enormous success. We came together with our attendees as strangers, but we left as dear friends, all on fire with a common dream. It was such a special experience that we just knew we were onto something brilliant, and had to continue our series.

Cut to this past February, when we headed down to Costa Rica’s breathtaking west coast for Barkarica, our second annual Out-of-this-World Pet Photography Retreat!

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The house we stayed in was like something out of my wildest, most colorful dreams. (and let me tell you guys, my dreams are seriously colorful so this is really saying something!) It was a 12 bedroom, 5 story tree house nestled into the jungle of Manuel Antonio, overlooking the sparkling aquamarine waters of the Pacific Ocean. We had our own private chef who cooked us 3 unbelievable meals per day and 3 different swimming pools to choose from. As soon as we arrived at our jungle home, I could be found running up and down the stairs screaming ‘Is this real life?!?!”

But even better than all of that?? THE MONKEYS!!!!! I kid you not, there were monkeys around every single corner. From my bathroom window every morning, as I would brush my teeth, I’d simply look out the window and watch monkeys play just feet away. Howler Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys, even tiny little Squirrel Monkeys! Entire families of monkeys would just hang out, having little monkey parties, on our house’s rooftop deck every morning, barely blinking as we would walk past them to lounge in the hammock just feet away. And let’s not forget the Toucans, Scarlet Macaws, Iguanas, and Sloths that were in enormous abundance in the trees all around us as well! I think my squeals of delight could be heard all the way back here in Boston. I truly found the most perfect version of paradise there in Central America.

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Oh yeah, and there was also the whole pet photography workshop thing that I mentioned above as well. 😛 That part is also pretty important..

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As I was going through my images from my absolutely magical Barkarica adventures, culling and prepping all the ones I really wanted to share – I realized – holy moly – I’ve got an unreasonable number of photos here.. And then I thought.. oh what the heck! I’m going to show you them all because I can’t possibly pick my favorites and maybe sharing one bajillion photos in this blog post will make up for me not posting anything for the better part of 2 years. 😛

So, basically, what I mean to say is, prepare to go on a great big photo journey, because I’ve got all kinds of fun images – both behind-the-scenes and final finished dog shots – to share with you! These images are a look into what goes on at an ‘Out-of-this-World Pet Photography Retreat’ and all the silliness, fun, and magic that comes with it. These images were captured over the course of 2 weeks, each week with 11 pet photographer attendees from all over the world.

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Paul from The Dog with a Bow Photography photographing our gorgeous Poodle Mix model in front of this colorful stone wall we found at Nahomi Park.
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Final Shot of this golden eyed girl in front of the the colorful stone wall!
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Bethany of Bethany P Photography front and center!
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The best part of the whole retreat!? Snagging kisses from unsuspecting puppies!
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We found these great, organic clay tiles to put sweet Amber on for the perfect shot.
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Final Shot of Amber with lovely afternoon light and some outrageously creamy lens compression. 🙂
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Sam’s camera and muscles together at last, silhouetted into forever in front of an endless sunset.
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Week 1 Attendees – Photoshoot at Matapahlo Beach
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Action shots at Matapahlo Beach with Lucy
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Two of our high-flying, action dog models having the time of their lives!
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Whatever it takes to get the shot!
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A gorgeous girl in some seriously unbelievable golden afternoon light.
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Candice of Candice Daum Photography getting creative with our pup model in our house’s hammock!
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Hey, that’s me! 
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Our chef Marcos with his gorgeous food!
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He also liked to set things on fire. So… that’s fun too.
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Instructor’s excursion – in between workshop weeks, Charlotte, Nicole and I went shooting on Rainmaker Mountain.
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This is me in my natural state. Getting a little too friendly with the dog models. This is also me at 11mm.
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The dog model from above, this time with her tongue decidedly inside of her mouth. (and not in mine.)
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A real life rope suspension bridge in the jungle! Gahh! Must. Shoot. It.
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Yup, I shot it.
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Looking down on this motley crew from my spot on said rope bridge. 10 seconds earlier, Charlotte almost lost her speedlight in the river. You see it there in her hand because she just barely rescued it before it rolled in. Nice Work, Charlotte.
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I said, let’s get our portrait taken at 11mm! It’ll be fun, I said! Charlotte is literally going to kill me or at least give me a swift uppercut when she sees this photo.
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Our classroom spaces weren’t too shabby.
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Wendy of Canines of Chicago and Candice making magic with Sasha the Husky. (at one of our home’s many pools. I figure I’ll say that again, since I might not be able to say that too many times in life.) 😛
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Sam making friends with the talent.
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Bridget of Bridget Davey Photography and Craig of Furtography photographing Hershey at Rafiki Lodge.
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This is truly my tribe. Everyone is as interested in a gravity defying dog in gorgeous light as I am! That never happens at home..
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Mickey under the golden tree canopy at the beach.
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My favorite. model. of. all. time.
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Sharing some of the gems with Romeo’s owner. (Also being unashamedly, disgustingly dirty., because… dog photography! heyo!)
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Creative powwow on the beach!
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Bridget, Craig and Josie of Jellybean Pet Photography hanging out with this comedian.
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Photographers, assemble!
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Holly, our heaven sent gift and director of the local PAWS shelter in Quepos, Costa Rica.
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A sweet, adoptable new Mom!
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Sam (Dog Breath Photography assistant extraordinaire) making more friends.
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Post hugely successful beach photoshoot with Week 2
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Hiking out to our magical river location for the shelter dog shoot! Hi Nicole!
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Me. With a hairstyle so glorious and frizzy I can barely describe it. Hanging out in a river that almost certainly had alligators lurking in it somewhere. Hm. Hindsight is 20/20.
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Unbelievable sunset on our last photo shoot with Week 2. What. a. DAY.
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Trying some continuous lighting with sweet, adoptable Peanut.
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Did I mention there were KITTENS?!?!!
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Yes, Kittens.
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Also, puppies. Listen, I told you it was magical..
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Ready for a quick magical story that is technically way too long for a caption? Miss Coco here, a sweet adoptable girl from the PAWS shelter in Quepos, Costa Rica, ended up going home with one of our very own Barka attendees – an amazing person with an incredible heart – Christine Crosby of Sunlight Inspirations! WAHHHHH! Coco went from street dog in a tiny Costa Rican town, scouring for food from trash cans, to loved family member of a multi-dog family on a gorgeous, spacious property just outside of Portland, Oregon. How’s that for a Cinderella story?!
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Our unbelievable Week 1 ‘Barka’ crew! There is more talent, dedication and compassion in this group of people than I can describe, and I am grateful for every fairytale moment we got to spend together, swapping stories and sharing dreams, there in the jungle.
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Getting wild. Because life is short. 🙂
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Clearly, we couldn’t decide exactly where to get wild, so we tried it again in a different location. Nailed it.
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Our ‘Barka’ crew from Week 2. All alumni from Barkelona, our retreat in Spain the previous year. People who have become more like family than simply fellow photographers. 
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…..annnnnd a wacky one!
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Julie Gould of Bright Eyes Pet Photography putting her iPhone skills to practice. 😛
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The two women who motivate and inspire me beyond words. Women who are strong, brilliant, creative and compassionate. Women who I couldn’t possibly do any of this without. Women who are leading the industry to greatness and who I am indescribably proud to stand, and teach, alongside. Thank you Nicole and Charlotte from the bottom of my heart for believing in dreams and going on brilliant adventures alongside me.
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Timeless. Perfect. Endless. Costa Rica.
Whew! That was a lot of photos. If you made it this far, you get a gold star. But hey, there were puppies, kittens and various monkeys so that’s pretty alright if I do say so myself. 🙂

All in all, Costa Rica was an unforgettable adventure. We laughed. We cried. We ate lots of incredible food. We toured the jungle at night. We Climbed Rocks. We Swam in Waterfalls. We ATVed through a Palm Tree Plantation as macaws flew over our heads. We screamed when we saw a scorpion but couldn’t find it in our hearts to kill it so we caught it in a cup and flung him ‘humanely’ out the window. We rode horses through rivers and across wide open fields. One of us ate a handful of termites. On purpose. (Josie, I’m looking at you.) And most importantly, we met and photographed beautiful canine souls beneath swirling sunset skies while making connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.

So Charlotte, Nicole and I – our dreams really have come true. We built a retreat – an experience – built on a common passion that is truly ‘out of this world’, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the journey we’ve found ourselves on.

This August, we’re doing it again. This time, in the South of France.

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Yup, you heard it right. And of all places, we’ll be staying together in a chateau from 1156, once owned by the King of France himself. We will be in the medieval village of Saint-Maximin, just south of the French Alps, in a valley nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, about an hour outside of Marseille. We’ll be photographing French pups in some of the most magical locations of our retreat series so far – places you truly have to see to believe. And get this – Are you ready for the name? (Mom is going to be so excited about this one!): Barkjour.

Holy moly are we clever. 😛

While Week 1 is fully booked out, two spaces have just opened up in Week 2. This means, if you are reading this and were bummed to have missed your opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime French puppy-filled adventure, it’s your time to shine! (wow, that was a run-on sentence.)

Week 2 is designed for more experienced photographers already operating their own pet photography business, who are keen to receive that final skill and knowledge boost to become extraordinarily successful in their field. If you are interested to apply for one of the last remaining spaces, click on over to www.petphotographyretreats.com to discover everything you need to know!

I hope you to see you in the golden, sunlit valleys of Provence where we’ll eat lots of cheese and a baguette or two, explore through centuries-old cobblestone alleyways, and capture the unmatched spirit of canine together.

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Underwater Adventures in Lake Tahoe

Well, Hello!  : )

I have the lucky privilege of calling some of the most brilliantly talented pet photographers in this industry dear friends. And these wonderful friends / rockstar pet photographers, decided to start a monthly blog ring in which we could challenge ourselves and showcase some of our most recent work.

So, here’s the part where you’ve reached my section of the blog ring! WAHHH! How exciting! (or maybe you’ve started here, in which case, my former statement is invalid – but my previous exclamation of ‘WAHHH!’ still rings true.)

Things over here in Dog Breath land have been so off the charts crazypants busy with shooting and traveling, that I hadn’t had the opportunity to participate in the blog ring as of yet — but finally, this month, I’ve managed to find some time to work on my entry – and I’m super excited to share with you! Our theme this month is ‘water’, and I about jumped out of my skin with happiness when I heard that one — because I have the absolute perfect project that I’ve been working on. GAHH! : )

To start, let me tell you a little bit about my water shots.

I’ve had very special plans that have been in the making for quite some time now.

All those years ago, when I started my adventure into photography, I made a promise to the creative fire inside of me – and that promise was that I was never, ever going to settle – no matter what. It’s important to me to constantly innovate and change. To keep my head and my heart pointed firmly towards the stars – to keep working and pushing my boundaries – to constantly find my way to the precipice, that scary spot that rests quite frighteningly outside of my comfort zone.

Last year, while working abroad – teaching the Zoomies Pet Photography workshop in Australia – I had the life changing opportunity to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef in northern Queensland. From the moment I stuck my head underneath that crystal blue water – I felt something inside me shift. There was MAGIC under that water. A whole world that I had never seen before. Colors and light dancing all around me. Corals and fish and tiny little lifeforms in splashes of brilliant neon swaying in the soft current. I was so overwhelmed with that fairytale landscape that I held my hands out before me to make sure that it was all real, and I felt a tear form in the corner of my eye. At that moment, I realized that a whole world of magic and inspiration had always been beneath me – sharing this beautiful earth — and I had never known of it before. It was in that moment that I fell in love with water – and with the endless landscapes beneath the surface that sit so quietly waiting to be discovered.

It was that moment, and the days followed that I began to dream up ideas of mixing two of some of the most beautiful things that this earth has to offer – dogs and natural bodies of water. I researched and researched and researched underwater photography and underwater landscapes for endless hours. Finally, at the very beginning of this year – standing in that really scary spot that’s located boldly outside of my comfort zone – I had a custom underwater rig made for Dog Breath Photography.

Just a few weeks ago, I made a great big journey out to Lake Tahoe in Nevada to give it all my very first go. (Can you think of anywhere more magical to discover a freshwater, beneath-the-surface landscape? I couldn’t! Thats why I bought a plane ticket there and spent 5.5 hours sitting in a window seat and really having to pee but not being able to get up the guts to wake my sleeping neighbor.) : P

When we first arrived to our location in gorgeous Incline Village, Nevada, I was breathless.  I climbed down from the path and up to the rocks that kissed the water’s edge and I squealed with delight over all that beauty. It was like nothing Id ever seen before. We had 4 1/2 straight hours of shooting scheduled in and I was over the moon with excitement. Laying my eyes upon the scene, I felt like a little kid on Christmas just before the biggest gift. : )  I snapped this shot before we started, in an attempt to remember that moment forever…

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When we started our day, it was a bit overcast – with dramatic clouds swirling and dancing across the sky. Miss Morgan the Bernese Mountain dog was up first and she swam happily through that crystal clear water in search of her favorite ball.

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As the day went on, the clouds started to move and change, letting little glints of sunbeams in here and there, as the sun passed behind the holes between the clouds. The color of the water reminded me of a turquoise stone – glittering, and sparkling underneath all that sunshine. As the afternoon went on – the water started to pick up a bit – small waves forming and crashing here and there against the shiny rocks. I took another snap as I reveled at the color of that crystal water.

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The moving water lent itself quite well to this image of gorgeous Maverick sitting happily atop this rock. I loved watching the rhythm and sway of the lake from this newfound perspective. Maverick was such a fabulously behaved little wiggler! He wanted nothing more than to fling his body off of that rock and splash down into the water. Cause, you know…Labs… 🙂 Luckily for me, as a trained service and crisis response dog – he was meticulously well-behaved and sat patiently like a rockstar while he waited for me to click the perfect shot!

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And while the day did present its own set of challenges (very, VERY cold water, moving waves tossing us about here and there, and eventually, one of the major batteries that powered our rig falling off my assistant’s shoulder and splashing into the lake) .. I am so SO thrilled with the energy and aesthetic of the resulting images, and I absolutely can’t WAIT to do it again! 🙂 (minus the battery part — $400 and a whole boatload of inconvenience later, that was a little devastating. No pity though! We happily survived!)

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Above, is a sneak peek at what it looked like behind-the-scenes, while I was working with gorgeous Morgan. Holy banana sandwiches thank goodness for my ultra thick wet suit!! I’m pretty sure it saved me from Lake Tahoe induced hypothermia. 😛 (forgive the poor quality of the above shot – its a still that was grabbed from a GoPro video that I was lucky enough to have shot as behind the scenes footage of the whole adventure! Many thanks to my best bud Megan for filming this for me! Oh and for being by my side while freezing your cute little bum off!)

I hope you loved hanging out with me here in Dog Breath land! (Come back now, y’hear?!) <– is that super cheesy?? 🙂

Now it’s time to click on over to discover what kind of water-themed magic the incredibly talented Holly Montgomery of Brindleberry Pet Photography has in store for us! Enjoy your trip around the ring!

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Rescue Mission: Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a land of magic.

As the wheels of my plane touched down to the ground and slid over the concrete of the runway at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose this past Summer, I knew that I was in for a great big adventure.

I knew I was entering into a world of untold beauty, a world of wet, lush landscapes and rolling green mountains –  a world of natural life so rich and vibrant that my eyes would blink back tears of overwhelming disbelief. But also – I was entering into a world of heartache, and sometimes, even heartbreak.

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I went to Costa Rica with one mission: to educate myself, first hand, about the situation of homeless and abandoned dogs outside of America – one of my greatest passions and certainly, one of the single most important reasons why I wake up everyday. My intention was to meet and photograph as many dogs as I could possibly find – all while learning each individual personality, and reading the storybooks in their eyes as every pup took a turn telling me their own unique tale. My goal was to bring those stories back here to America, and to create awareness for the devastating situations and heart wrenching tales of forgotten street dogs not only in Costa Rica, but across the world.

Stepping off that plane, I could feel my heart beating so fast behind the hold of my chest. Pit-Pat. Pit-Pat. Pit-Pat. All at once I was both bursting with joy and scared to death of the unknown journey I had ahead of me. I was there to find them. To find the dogs that had been lost through years and time.

I knew that Costa Rica, a land of unrelenting beauty and incredible culture – had a dark secret. Through my research, I learned that the homeless dog epidemic of this otherwise amazing country, was quite astounding. According to a report by the Costa Rica Star – Costa Rica is estimated to have over 1 million stray dogs living on it’s streets. Most of these dogs are skinny and diseased – resorting to tearing through garbage bags and digging through household waste in search of food and nourishment. The National Animal Health Service of Costa Rica (SENASA, in Spanish) has admitted that they truly don’t have enough resources to work on controlling the enormous stray population, and are aware that there’s a real risk of these dogs turning feral, and possibly even violent as their generations continue.

But all of my reading, homework and research could never have prepared me for the emotional impact my heart would take when I found myself experiencing this epidemic firsthand. As soon as we landed in San Jose – we hopped in a rental car and headed to our lodging in the absolutely beautiful little town of Atenas, Costa Rica. Just a few miles into our first drive on Costa Rican soil, I saw my first stray. I remember him clearly. A little black dog – a lab mix maybe – who appeared to be just a young puppy – trotting down a side street all by himself on a relatively busy road weaving in and out of fences. My heart basically jumped out of my chest – a sting of panic ran up my spine – and of course, the first instinct I had was to pull over and try to save him. After that first street dog, we passed many, many more. And as I sat in the backseat with my face pressed against warm glass, peering out into the world moving all around me – I knew there was a lot that I was going to have to learn. And I was going to have to try and brace myself for the impact of what I was about to experience.

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I was lucky enough to be able to make arrangements for our second day in Costa Rica to be spent at a well-known rescue facility located high atop a mountain in Atenas. Lighthouse Animal Rescue is run by Frances Jones – an American expatriate who moved to Costa Rica from Florida with her family. Upon arrival, Frances was touched by the situation in Costa Rica –  and knew that she had to do something to help. A rescuer at heart (rescue is something she’s been doing most of her life – upon meeting her, I could immediately see that this was something that ran deep and true in her blood.) – Frances and her husband custom built a facility to house and care for the animals. Frances and her family were so warm and welcoming to us, that I had a bit of a hard time holding back tears. Immediately upon pulling into the front driveway, we were greeted by a one-eyed cat and a happy, bouncing goat. I said hello to them from my rolled down window before even getting out of the car. I had a feeling that within the next few hours of my experience there at Lighthouse Rescue – that I  might explode from happiness. We entered the facility to more silly, wagging fuzzy faces than I knew what to do with. (For me, this was basically heaven.) Once we made our way through the facility and out into the back yard area (with dozens of cute + noisy little footsteps following our every move) – I think my heart almost kerplunked through my body and exited out of my feet. I stood there taking it all in. Mountains and valleys. Rivers and an ocean. A sky that seemed to go on forever – swirling with color and warmth. And shades of endless green that I never even knew existed. I couldnt quite believe that it was all real. I closed my eyes and breathed it all in – and proceeded to spend the rest of my afternoon in one of the most special, unbelievable places on God’s green earth.

 We spent the afternoon and into the evening at Lighthouse Rescue, touring the facility and meeting and photographing the dogs. We heard each of their stories, gave lots of puppy kisses, clicked until our shutters started to ache, and did a fair amount of playing and throwing for fetch. I left there with a heart so full I thought it could burst. My mission, growing and changing with each rescuer I met.

This sweet adoptable girl is Sprinkles. Sprinkles was dumped in downtown Atenas when she was just a small puppy. Frances and her husband found Sprinkles in a vacant parking lot all alone, and just knew she had to do something to change this little girl’s fate. Once Frances was able to get Sprinkles in her car – she peed on Frances’ husband – quickly earning herself her name. 🙂  It’s hard to say exactly what breed Sprinkles is – as most street dogs in Costa Rica are mixed with the extensive histories of many mutts before them — but whatever she is, in my humble opinion, she’s absolutely perfect:

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It was such a delight to meet and photograph the full cast of adoptable pups at Lighthouse Rescue. There were abundant wags and smiles for my lens every which way that I turned!:

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And of course, we spent some time getting in some squishing and cuddles too. commercial-dog-photography

My dear friend Ken, who was one of the few irreplaceable allies by my side on this incredible adventure, got some good head scratchin’ in with one of the resident dogs.

and some more behind the scenes type shots of what it looked like on the grounds of Lighthouse Rescue. Fuzzy, waggly butts every which way you would look!

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And here she is, the face of Lighthouse Rescue – an earth angel, and a hero in my eyes: Frances Jones.

 I cant describe how amazing and strong this woman is. Her passion on the inside just made her sparkle on the outside. I was attracted to that strength and spirit like a magnet.

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I’m so grateful to live in a world where people as kind and selfless as Frances still exist – no matter how rare.

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Those dogs love her so much. Their eyes would gleam and their tails would whip wildly – back and forth, back and forth, each time she was near.

To have earned the love of a dog is, in my opinion, one of the most telling characteristics of a pure and beautiful soul.

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Frances gave me a tour of her office and a sign taped up on the cabinet caught my eye. This perfectly sums up the battle she fights everyday.

It’s significance is so poignant, that it made my heart skip a beat when I laid eyes on it.

For this is the cause that she’s dedicated her life to.

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Frances was so lovely to allow me to pose for a shot with some of the sweet wiggly dogs at the rescue, to commemorate my time atop of that perfect mountain in Atenas.

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Lot of squishing, kissing and cuddling!

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And it was at just about this time that reality set in and I might have freaked out…..just a little.

WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

KISSING PUPPIES ON TOP OF A MOUNTAIN IN A MAGICAL, FAIRYTALE LAND??!

HOLY BANANAS! MY DREAM COME TRUE!!!!

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(i seriously thought i was going to burst from happiness. i think my squeals of ‘is this real life?!?!’ echoed all the way down that mountain…)

and a last look down at the gorgeous faces that were stuck like glue to our side for the whole afternoon….

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as twilight fell upon us during our last evening hour at Lighthouse Rescue – we said goodnight to the sun with this breathtaking scene.

Then we packed up all of our gear and headed back down the mountain, towards those orange glowing lights that would guide us home.

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Street Dogs

For the next few days, our purpose was to observe and to learn – to immerse ourselves in the untold beauty of Costa Rica, and also to understand the real-world homeless dog situation a little better. Our goal was to find and to document the dogs on the streets, but not to interfere. The strays, the zaguates (free-roaming community dogs cared for by the neighborhood at large), and even the few, well-cared for personal pets were all subjects of interest to us – as we were studying and learning a culture that we were thirsty to know more about.
These are the faces of the street dogs of Costa Rica, encountered on our adventures through anywhere from busy towns to quiet, rural villages.

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and a face of one of the few lucky ones that we encountered  – loved and well-cared for, greeting us with a smiley hello from his fenced in backyard.

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I spotted this sweet, sweet face from the car as we passed by a bar on a busy street.

He was crossing the road in a quiet, tired sort of way and as I watched, I felt my heart physically shattering inside of my body.

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My eyes welled up with the type of tears that I just couldn’t help, and my amazing partner Sam and I exited the car to meet him. He was not afraid to come and say hello to us. And for this, I was wildly grateful. We wanted to meet him – to brush the dirt from his face and to translate the energy of what its really like to feel a bit of love and kindness. If even just for a moment.

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When I got close to this sweet boy, I noticed something remarkable. His body was thin, beaten down and worn from the years of a life of abandonment. His mangy, unkempt fur was falling out in small chunks,  and his body was riddled with ticks and parasites. I looked at Sam, and he looked back, and we both mouthed ‘oh my god’ in each other’s general direction. There must have been two, maybe three hundred ticks covering this sick and tired boy. But despite it all – despite all of that physical devastation and sadness that this dog must carry everyday  – there was a sparkle in his eye. I looked at him and I was blown away. There was something there. A soul. A soul that I could see. A glimpse into the heart of this brave little dog. I looked into those big, wet eyes and I got lost in there – I fell in love over and over and over again. To me, this dog became the face of my mission. The face of my purpose there in Costa Rica. To bring to light the struggle of millions of abandoned animals all around the world. He was the face of the forgotten. He was the face of the ones who have been left behind. I thank my lucky stars every day that our paths crossed – because this dog, single handedly made my mission and my purpose in this life clear. I am here to find the ones like him – to tell their stories. To give a voice to the voiceless. As he scampered away from me, into the brush behind the broken down bar – I felt a stinging in my throat, knowing Id likely never see him again, and knowing that those eyes just changed my whole world forever.

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Frances’ quote – the one adhered to the wall with scotch tape in her office –  stuck with me. And it seemed perfect to describe how I feel about this dog. The everydog. The one who represents all of the rest. The weathered. The worn. The abandoned and lonely. Those are the dogs that keep me awake at night.

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Sunset came just as he scampered away from me forever.

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Our Adventure to Dogland

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Through Frances of Lighthouse Rescue, I learned of another Costa Rican rescue way up in the mountains of San Ramon that might be able to use my help. It was about a 2 hours drive from where we were staying in Atenas. Once I did some research on Dogland – I just knew that I absolutely had to go and meet it’s founder – Helene Wirt. Our drive from Atenas to San Ramon de Alajuela was nothing short of an epic adventure. We wound up and down mountain roads, passed over bridges and by gushing waterfalls and adventured through cloud forests. Our little Toyota Yaris rental car buzzed and hummed and clunked across the terrain – my disbelief that we were actually making it across the unrelenting landscape growing with every mile. Once we arrived in the village that Dogland was supposed to be located in – we realized we were lost. We didnt know which way to go and our barely functional GPS put us at the top of a very steep hill that was made of mostly small boulders and dirt. (As a side note, there are no physical addresses in Costa Rica. Only general directions, villages and landmarks to go by to find a spot on the map. Don’t ask me how they get mail delivered to them – I’m not sure if that’s a thing that happens in Costa Rica.) 😛

We crossed our fingers and tried to forge ahead. Unbelievably, that little Yaris soldiered on – and we found ourselves by a small construction site dappled with a few Ticos (friendly slang for a native Costa Ricans) who smiled and waved at us. We asked the workers if someone might be able to give directions to the center of town – and with a warm, happy smile – one of the men hopped on his moped and motioned for us to follow him. We followed the sound of his whirring little motor, down and around windy mountain roads. At one point, we must have passed this man’s home – because a big fluffy golden retriever darted out from behind the hedges and happily chased the moped along as we all adventured in the cutest caravan you’ve ever seen together to our destination. Once we arrived at the church in the center of town, the man told us (in Spanish) to ask anyone we saw if they might know where the ‘dog lady’ lived. I was puzzled by this, and giggled at the thought of just asking strangers (in my subpar Spanish nonetheless) where the ‘dog lady’ lived. haha. But just a few moments later – we found a kind old man walking along the street and we did just that. (or I should say – my cousin Emily did just that – as the best Spanish speaker among us by far!) As soon as Emily mentioned ‘perros’ (dogs) the old man’s face lit up in a smile and he said ‘Si!!! Helene!’. ‘Everyone knows Helene’, he said, with a kind and silly grin. I giggled at the storybook-ness of it all. He knew exactly where we wanted to go.
Once being pointed up the mountain – we drove ahead. After just a few miles, we all saw it at once – Dogland!!

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We turned into the big, long driveway that wound up towards the shelter – and Helene’s smiling face appeared promptly. She greeted us with such warmth – a big smile and hugs for everyone. I knew immediately that we were in the right place. We were in my paradise. Dogs everywhere. Big dogs. Little dogs. Fat dogs. Happy dogs. barking dogs. Wagging dogs. Playing dogs. Running dogs. Over 200 of them, all in big beautiful enclosures with endless amounts of room for running and exercise. I was beside myself. Looking around at this facility – I couldnt believe that it was run by this one woman. This one miracle woman who put everything else in her life aside to save these dogs. She feeds, bathes, loves and cares for over 200 homeless dogs that wait so patiently for their new families to one day come and find them. I couldn’t imagine anything more selfless.

At once, Helene began to show us around the property on an excited tour!:

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(you see, this was the best kind of tour because it included lots of unsolicited puppy kisses for all of us.)

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  Here’s a glimpse at part of the beautiful facility at Dogland where pups are kept, snuggled into the mountainside.

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This was quite an emotional journey for me – as, again – I felt my heart so full that I could barely breathe. I was incredibly whole and both so broken at the very same time. I looked around me and saw so many beautiful hearts – so many beautiful souls waiting for families that might never come, and I was in such pain for them. But at the same time, I saw so much love. The love of one woman and her devoted employees and volunteers – a tiny group of people who had come together to be the heroes in the lives of the innocent.
I cant begin to tell you how beautiful the dogs at Dogland were. Big, warm, eyes and happy, wagging smiles. I think lots of times, people have a misconception that these shelter dogs are broken. That they’re missing some piece that will always keep them from being whole, from being a perfect dog. I cant tell you how wrong that is. These dogs have a spirit like no other – a sense of gratitude and joy that I have a hard time putting into words. These are the faces of the ones who have to sit and wonder why they’ve spent their whole lives being passed over — why they were forgotten and left behind.
Weren’t they good enough, too?

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At this point – Helene gave me the incredible privilege of choosing as many dogs as I wanted to meet one on one and photograph:

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I was lucky enough to get a good cuddle in with this sweet, sweet old girl. Her grey face had my heart in a puddle.

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Eyes like these ones stay with me forever. It’s the little images that I can never let go of. the dogs that wait so patiently. so quietly.

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and some behind-the-scenes shots from my friend Ken (thanks Ken!) 🙂

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below: the realities of shooting while surrounded by a gaggle of enthusiastic puppies. 🙂

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sweet baby Phinneaus. (Helene let me name him!) A brand new little Miniature Pinscher puppy with his Mom watching from close behind.

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And here is the lovely Helene – a woman so full of love, passion and fire, it’s hard to believe she’s real. Helene is the heart and soul behind Dogland. A woman who made the journey across oceans from a very successful life that she built for herself in native Austria, to make a new one in Costa Rica – and to selflessly devote that life, and everything she ever worked for, to the innocent and abandoned. She speaks three languages and has a heart made of pure gold. I’ve never met anyone quite like her – and she is certainly someone who I will never forget. Her spirit, energy and joy is infectious – and the love that she has for those less fortunate than her is a gift of a magnitude that humbled me beyond words. Her laugh is big, bold and completely contagious. It’s impossible not to smile when she is around – impossible not to feel like everything in this world might just end up being okay. Helene has more passion and purpose in her little finger than I’ve seen before in entire societies of people.

She’s a real life superhero.

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Women like Helene and Frances are pure inspiration to me. These are my idols. You can have your Kim Kardashians, your Lady Gagas and your Miley Cyruses all day long.

THESE are the women who I believe in.

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They are the champions of animal rescue – unbreakable souls that fight endlessly for a cause they believe in. Their passion inspires me to be a better person – to always fight for a better tomorrow. To never give up, ever – not even when things get tougher than you imagine. These women are heroes. Pure and Simple. And I am more blessed that I can say to have had the absolute privilege of meeting them both and having them touch my life.

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And I can’t forget to introduce you to Juan Carlos – Helene’s trusty assistant and right hand man when it comes to caring for all 200+ dogs on her property at Dogland. Juan Carlos has a great big heart, and a great big smile! (even if I couldn’t effectively communicate that to him in person. You know, what with the language barrier and all.) 🙂

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Next, we decided to find a location for some extra special portraits. Here we are carrying precious cargo while adventuring across a dirt road that cut through the mountains of the village, on our way to make some photo magic! I’m lucky that my friends understand and support that there are no lengths to which I would not go to communicate a message effectively.

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As we slowly proceeded down the rocky road, I glanced to my left, and this is what I saw. I blinked my eyes once, then twice. ‘yup, it’s real.’

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The gorgeous boy that you see in this photo below is Colin. Colin resides at Dogland and waits patiently among the 200+ other dogs for a new forever home — somewhere he can be loved, somewhere he can grow, somewhere he can proudly be the dog he was always meant to be. Colin stands in this image as the perfect representation of all Costa Rican shelter dogs just like him. He is the face of the masses – of the ones who have been left behind. And while Colin has no family of his own to love him, despite it all – I look at his eyes, and all I can see is hope. Hope for a new day. Hope for a brighter tomorrow. Hope that someday, us humans will get it right and find all of the love that we’ve misplaced. The love that we need to give back, to pour upon all these sweet abandoned dogs that we forgot about so long ago.

Maybe, if we see enough pairs of golden, dreaming eyes just like the ones on Colin – maybe then we’ll stand up together and make a difference.

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After our time in the road, we climbed up to a high point on the mountainside to find the perfect spot for Camilo to shine.

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Beautiful, adoptable Camilo – showing off those sparkling golden eyes.

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and a little sneaky, silliness in the grass. 🙂

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Baby Phinnaeus was ready for his close up too! We found a safe, flat rock on the steep mountainside for him to climb onto and the photoshoot commenced!

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a tiny little rawwwwr!

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And here I am. Standing on a Costa Rican mountainside with this precious little pup – chasing down a dream. In the moment, we were scurrying to get down off the steep mountainside and I was carrying baby Phinnaeus in my arms, trying to keep him as safe as possible  – I didnt think to stop for a photo – but I felt very lucky that Sam took a split second to snap this shot. Looking back on it – I cant begin to describe the gratitude that I feel. It’s moments like that one right there that I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s all real. Ever since I was a tiny, tiny little girl – I knew that I was put here to bend down to help the ones who can’t otherwise help themselves. And having that journey bring me to a place as beautiful as Costa Rica is nothing short of a real life dream come true.

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To say that my trip to Costa Rica was life-changing would be an understatement. The country was absolutely everything I dreamed it would be – it’s beauty so enchanting and endless that it knocked the breath right out of my chest. Every corner I turned threatened to leave me stuck in place, weak in the knees with awe, amazement and an unprecedented sense of gratitude.The land was vibrant and rich – the mountains rolled on and on around us until they touched the Pacific. Waterfalls danced down to rushing rivers, as we passed through cloud forests and by volcanoes on every drive. The soil was warm and wet, plants bursting forward from each crack with a brilliance and vitality beyond compare. The scent of sweet honeysuckle and guaria morada orchids danced around our heads on the warm breeze. Hummingbirds fluttered across every scene – tiny and pulsing with color and life.

The tiny towns and mountain villages with rocky dirt roads cutting through them were like scenes out of a movie — fences were built with large branches, sourced naturally from the rainforests all around. Cows and horses grazed on mountainsides and I stood still amidst it all, pinching my skin to check if it were all a perfect dream.

By the end of my trip, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds and hundreds of dogs. Dogs of all shapes, sizes, breeds, ages, colors and stories. Some dogs with owners and families. Some dogs in shelters. Some dogs wandering the streets, but most dogs – lost and forgotten.It’s hard to describe the feeling of what its like to be immersed in Costa Rica’s dream-like natural beauty all around me — a land that looks like a fairytale come to life – starkly juxtaposed with the state of the homeless and street dog epidemic. There is so much beauty, and yet somehow, within the beauty, there’s also so much pain. Standing there in that mountaintop village, dirt under my feet and the most perfect shade of sky blue above my head, it was hard to make sense of it all.

On this unforgettable journey, I was met with more beauty, inspiration and hope than I ever thought possible. I met incredible people, amazing dogs, and made more beautiful memories than I ever thought possible. I crossed paths with soldiers of rescue – kindred spirits, with hearts full of fire for saving the lives of the innocent and abandoned. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my time in Costa Rica. That experience and those dogs changed me. Deep down in my core. And with that, I feel better and braver than ever before. There are no words to describe my gratitude for the amazing, amazing journey.

If, way down deep in your heart, you feel you might like to help fight alongside the two incredibly brave and fearless women featured in this blog post, I ask you from the bottom of my heart, to please consider making a donation to their endless efforts. While their reserves of love are never ending, I saw firsthand how costly it can be to step up and singlehandedly care for hundreds of dogs that everyone else chose to leave behind. Food, medicine, veterinary care, space, leashes, collars, fences, toys, shady refuge from the hot sun, etc all cost Helene and Frances in a big, big way. Below are the links to make PayPal donations to each of these two heroes:

Helene Wirt – Dogland (200+ dogs – Also known in Spanish as Asociación Elena)

Frances Jones – Lighthouse Rescue (link to PayPal donation in the upper left corner)

Should you be interested in making a trip to the lush mountainscapes of Costa Rica to provide some first hand help, don’t hesitate to reach out to Helene – as she is always grateful for help from anyone interested in volunteering at Dogland.

Please keep in mind that both Helene and Frances do consider international adoptions – so know that they would be happy to chat with you, might you consider rescuing a dog from Costa Rica.

‘Saving one dog may not change the world.

But surely, for that one dog, the world will change forever.’

 

 

 

**Special thanks to my absolutely amazing friends who support me to the end of the world. I couldn’t have done any of this without you. Emily, Sam, Ken and Doug – without your love and support, I would be nothing. You climbed mountains with me, traversed clackety old wooden bridges, kissed puppies, and followed the light across impossible terrain. You are my team, my heart, my family. You are gift to which there is no end. I am wildly grateful to have had you all by my side on this adventure. Your love will lift me up until my very last breath. I’ll never forget the sacrifices you made for me and the kindness that you endlessly doled out to each and every dog along the way. Love isnt a strong enough word to communicate how I feel about you all. Thank you for the perfect memories. Thank you for being on my side of this battle. 363C3208-Edit-Edit