This is a blog post that I have been meaning to write for a long, long time. Between of all the shooting, editing, designing and ordering for private clients lately – it’s been hard to find a moment to do any personal work. (No complaints whatsoever, I feel so privileged to be doing what I am busy doing everyday, and am so grateful for each individual person that I get to meet along the way! :)) But, that being said, blogging has been put on the back burner – and that really bums me out because I love sharing the adventures that I find myself on on a daily basis with all of you. So, I hope you can lend me your ear, and let me tell you a story about a little boy who changed my life forever..
Just about three months ago – on September 19th, 2012 – my life was affected in the most beautiful way. A humble, grateful and generally squishy little shelter dog wiggled his way right into my life. I knew from the moment I saw his sparkling little eyes peering through the metal bars of his cage that we would be perfect for each other. He had a smile that was selfless, bright and infinite. A smile that was big enough to fill up all of the little holes in my heart – the ones that come as an aside to the general pains that life can sometimes bring. And I had a heart with the door wide open, and with plenty of room for him to come inside. Over the course of the past 90 days, Joshua has done exactly that. He’s wandered into my heart and made himself home here. He adds color to my laughter and purpose to each and every day. If you have been following Dog Breath Photography for the past few months, there’s no doubt that you’ve seen him make an appearance at least once or twice, but I think it’s high time that I formally introduce you to him: Meet Joshua – the wiggliest, gooberiest, happiest little man on four legs…
Don’t get me wrong. Joshua wasn’t always this loved and lucky. Joshua was 1 year and 3 months old on the day that I adopted him. So, I didn’t get to experience Joshua’s puppyhood. Somebody else did. And that somebody else was Joshua’s dark, terrifying past.
Joshua came into the MSPCA at Nevins Farms shelter on an animal abuse case. He spent the first year of his life locked in a dark basement. He lived a life of neglect and abandonment. Joshua was starved for countless months. The only thing that I know for certain about his previous people is that they were (and I quote) ‘going to throw his body in the Merrimack River’ once he finally died of starvation. A good samaritan who knew of Joshua’s severe, tragic situation is the one who ultimately saved his life. As soon as she became aware of Joshua’s condition, she stood up in the face of evil and made contact with animal control. Animal Control’s private records make it impossible for me to know who this guardian angel is – but if I ever got the opportunity to meet her – she might never get free of my grateful embrace. I hope she knows how much brilliance and joy she inadvertently brought into my life when she found it in her heart to save a helpless animal.
When Joshua came into Nevins Farm – his paws were stained yellow from months of living in his own urine and excrement. He had small nicks and scars on his face. And, most glaringly, he was emaciated – just a little pile of bones – ribs and hips poking out every which way.
This is when I fell in love with Joshua.
Since I volunteer at Nevins Farm, I had the opportunity to see Joshua very early on – while he was still a far cry from the adoption floor. He was under extremely close veterinary supervision and on a strict, regimented diet for the first part of his stay at the shelter. I was in one summer afternoon, taking photos of all of the adoptable dogs for their Petfinder profiles when I first saw him. I looked over my list and my eye got caught on the name -‘Joshua’. ‘Well that’s a strange name for a dog’, I thought and wandered over to the very quiet cage where he lay. This moment, the next one that I am about to tell you about, is a major turning point in this story. This is when everything changed.
I peered over the edge of the cage, down through the metal bars to the little mass of skin and bones on the floor. His eyes gleamed like little stars, even despite the rest of his depleted and famished body. He was weak, but he was aware. I could not mistake the sparkle of vitality and joy in his eyes. And just at that moment, after brief consideration of my face peering in on him – he wagged. His little tail slapped against the floor in a rage. Slap! Slap! Slap! All of the strength that he had left in his mangled little body, went straight into that tail.
All of that betrayal. All of that evil, and hate. Locked inside that dark basement, Joshua had experienced the very worst that my species had to offer. And yet, he forgave. He was showing me love despite only knowing terror and betrayal from my kind. I started to cry then. Right there, standing outside of his cage looking in on him. Other volunteers and staff members bustling all around me. Tears were running down my cheeks for him, for his pain. I knew from that very moment that I wanted to make it my personal duty to show him the truth about my kind. I wanted to win him back. I wanted to show him love. The love he deserved all along.
I wasn’t able to take Joshua’s photo that day because he was still too weak, confused and new for volunteers to handle him. He was had a sign on his cage that said ‘Staff Only’ – as is typical for dogs when they are newly admitted to Nevins Farm. So, instead, I just sat outside of his cage -talking to him and telling him stories until I had to go. I knew he liked the company. After all, he had been locked away, mostly alone for a year before that.
When I left the shelter that day – Joshua was the only thing on my mind. I worried about him all night; Would he get back up to weight and become healthy again someday? Would he pass his temperament tests? Was he cold? Did he need extra blankets? Would he make it to the adoption floor? I told everyone I could about him – my mother, my boyfriend, my brother, my best friend. Talking about him was all I could do.
When I was in the next week, I was finally able to take his photo. With the help of a staff member, we got Joshua outside and asked him to sit for his photos. He was such a good boy. This is the first photo I ever took of Joshua:
This would be for when he was ready for adoption. It would be up to me to upload to his Petfinder profile when he finally made it to ‘adoptable’ status. Way deep down inside, I was torn. I knew that of course, I wanted nothing but beautiful things for Joshua. But, I had the hardest time posting this photo up to his Petfinder profile when the time came. Selfishly, I was afraid that when people saw his perfect little face in their search for adoptable dogs online- that he would go home and be ripped from my life as quickly as he came in. (which, of course is the point of taking nice photos of shelter animals! haha) This is when I realized that I wanted Joshua. I had, after all, made a pact that day that I saw him, that I was going to show him the truth about love.
All kinds of different variables played a part in preventing me from adopting Joshua immediately. But, the biggest obstacle was the fact that I was in the process of looking for a new place to live and run my business. The place I was living in at the time didn’t allow for a dog of Joshua’s size, breed or energy level. Over the course of the next months that I spent searching for a new place, I continued my wonderful, weekly interactions with Joshua at the shelter. I would be so excited to go in and see him each week. About a month after the first time I met Joshua – I was asked to photograph a special campaign for the MSPCA’s annual Walk For Animals fundraiser. You can see the end result of my work on that here. The goal of the campaign was to communicate what the animals at Nevins Farm might say about their individual stories, if only they had their own voice to say it. It was about trying to make people understand why they should participate in the walk – and what types of miracles for animals the raised funds from the Walk would go towards. I knew immediately that I wanted to feature Joshua in this campaign. He was, after all, a brave little survivor – and a living embodiment of the miracles that the incredible staff at the MSPCA can work for homeless animals. His sign made direct reference to his condition when he came in:
The Walk for Animals fundraiser was held in September, and ended up being a huge success! I can’t help but think that Joshua’s starring role in the photo campaign had at least a tiny something to do with it. 🙂
Finally, three months after meeting Joshua – I found a perfect new place to live and work. An old renovated textile mill building from 1807 just outside of Providence, Rhode Island. The grounds were gorgeous, green and expansive – and the town was safe and quiet. I knew that it would be the perfect place for Joshua and I to call home. I contacted the shelter director immediately to let him know of my interest in bringing Joshua home with me – and much to my chagrin – he informed me that Joshua had been adopted earlier that same week.
My heart sunk.
Of course, I was so thrilled for Joshua – he had finally found his forever home and no longer had to wait behind cold bars for love. But, I was simultaneously devastated inside – I had taken too long.
My move in date to my new home was Saturday, September 15th. Well, wouldn’t you know – that on Friday, September 14th – I got a call from the shelter saying that Joshua had come back. The people who had adopted him had another dog at home. And while the two had gotten along perfectly outside of the home, when they got back to it – their existing dog became a bit territorial and began aggressively resource guarding. The family knew that the right thing to do would be to return Joshua to the shelter – to give him a home that might be better suited for him.
I’ve honestly never been a big believer in serendipity – but — at that moment, all I could think was ‘it was meant to be.’
Needless to say – I hastily drove up the shelter the next available moment that I had, eyes filled with happy tears, to whisk my fuzzy little man away into his new, loving life. When I got up to the shelter and approached his cage with sweaty palms (it was really happening!!) I found this note attached to it:
My heart just about melted all over the ground.
So, it goes without saying that this story has a happy ending. Joshua fell asleep in my car, head in my lap, on the way home that night. It was like he finally found peace. Like he knew, that he was finally headed off to the place where he would belong for the rest of his life.
The rest of this post is filled up with images from our past 3 months together. It’s such a short time compared to the amount that we have left – and yet we have had so many happy, wonderful adventures.
Here’s to a brilliant future, Mister Joshua. 🙂 … (oh, and a relentless camera in your face for the next 12 years or so. You are the dog of a pet photographer after all.) 🙂
He provides me with comic relief on a daily basis. On an every minute basis, really.
He’s joyful. He’s whimsical. He’s goofy. And, it’s a funny thing, but I can tell that he is grateful.
He exudes it from his smile and his little butt wiggle as he rolls around the room on his back. We call it the ‘happy dance’.
After our adventures at the dog park, we take Joshua to a fancy dog wash for bath time! He doesn’t seem to mind one bit..
He’s picked out his very favorite warm spot on the couch at home.
He loves the dog park! (Covered in mud. Hence the bath time photos above. Check out that filthy bandana! haha)
We like to take walks through the gorgeous forest trails behind the Mill that we live in.
Joshua is a superhero!
Even during sleep, he manages to crack me up. He is typically on his back just like this, snoring away. His human-like qualities make me giggle – he particularly enjoys blankets and pillows.
The second night Joshua was at home with us, he decided to dump all of his new toys out of their basket and eat the basket.
YUM! The basket is better than any boring ol’ squeaky toy, Mom!
We just wrapped up an incredible Christmas season together. Joshua was such a good boy for his Holiday photo shoot in front of the tree!
When I shared Joshua’s Christmas images over on the Dog Breath Facebook page, I had a few things to say about being grateful:
‘The Christmas season has always been a time for me to take a moment, step back and count my blessings. This year, I have so much to be grateful for. But, the brightest beacon of light and luck that shines so brilliantly into my life is this gorgeous, fuzzy little four-legged man. Just six months ago as Joshua sat chained in a cold, dark basement with no friends or food to speak of – I bet he wondered why love skipped over him, why it forgot him to long days of neglect and pain. He was worthy, wasn’t he? Well, the answer, my sweet little boy, is Yes. Yes, you are. And thanks to the team of heroes at the MSPCA who rescued you, I am now here to show you the meaning of love. I will keep you safe from harm, stay close by your side, and love you everyday – just the way you always deserved – for the rest of your existence. 🙂 From abandonment and starvation within four forgotten concrete walls, to this; a warm bed, a full belly and love so endless we could build a castle around you. Our hearts are so filled with gratitude.
Be grateful for something this Christmas.
Happy Holidays everyone.’
And here it is. The culmination of everything this blog post is based upon.
There is a difference between love and neglect. Love is valiant. Love can heal. It has the power to mend broken bones and broken hearts…
A canine’s ability to forgive will never cease to astound me.
And now that Joshua is with me, I will never ever let him forget what love feels like. Every minute of everyday for the rest of his life. Now that we are by each other’s sides, this is where we’ll stay – him with a full belly and a smile that could save the world, and me with a full heart.
I love you my little wagging sunshine. Here’s to second chances.
I am so glad I finally got to introduce you to the happiest thing in my life. I hope you love that smile as much as I do. 🙂