Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Santa Paws

There was a time I would've rolled my eyes at the thought of someone spiffing up Fido and hauling him off to the pet supermarket to have his picture taken with Santa. I know now that it was stupid and short-sighted on my part. In my own defense - I never realized people did it for charity (not to mention fun) or I might have looked on the whole thing differently.

Fortunately, I remember exactly the moment when it all changed. It was a Sunday afternoon and I'd been hired by a local magazine to photograph a dog wedding. You read it right. A dog wedding. The wedding of a dog. To another dog. It was long before I had a dog myself. I had maintained the company of cats throughout my adulthood; in fact, there was no thought of ever having a dog and this particular assignment, I believed, would seal the deal from this point forward.

This is going to sound like I'm making it up but the bride, a Dachshund named Lucy, arrived in a horse drawn carriage. She was dressed as most brides are and her handsome beau Reno, also a Dachshund, stood with a small band of onlookers, sniffing the air as his dearly beloved arrived. Just beyond my own nose, the shutter methodically carved off frame after frame and I found myself not only looking for the perfect angle but cultivating the numerous ways by which I could effectively commit suicide.

After the ceremony, the guests enjoyed wedding cake, their canine companions - their little doggy party favors, the mother of the bride (and groom) approached me in the stable. She found me alone and chatting up her favorite horse. She thanked me for coming and asked if I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. I remember a loud humming noise in my head. I wished for some distraction, a stampede maybe, or a short-lived barn fire, but my wish wasn't granted and ever the diplomat, I drew in a deep breath and lied my ass off. The funny thing though was that when the words left my lips, it didn't feel like a lie at all.

"No, of course not," I said. "People love their animals like children. I totally understand.And, it's actually been fun."

I averted my head then and waited for the lightening bolt that would no doubt solve my suicide dilemma. I would miss my cat Louie, I thought. Louie had spent the last seven months on a death spiral of his own. Diagnosed with kidney disease, the vet had given me ample warning. She said I should enjoy my time with him and be prepared to say goodbye before the end of the year. I had said goodbye to him a number of times already, tearful and heartsick, wishing painfully for the miracle that would reverse his fortune, I told him everyday that if I could give him a kidney, I would. I meant it too. He was the animal love of my life and it was already October.

When the lightening came it wasn't exactly in the form I thought it would be. The mother of the bride spoke again. She said, "That dog [Reno] and that horse there behind you - have been with me through the darkest moments of my life. Nothing makes me happier than spending time with them. I'd do anything for them. Anything."

I got it. It all made sense. The spectacle, the funny costumes, toys, the best pet food, unbridled love and affection, even dogs themselves became symbolic of something bigger something more mature, that prior to this moment seemed quite the opposite. I was ashamed of myself but better for having realized it.

I wrote this nice woman a note after I got Stella. I thanked her and told her that she was part of the reason I decided to get a dog after all these many years. I asked if her dogs were still happily married. She assured me that they were and now each time I see her I'm reminded of that dark time in my own life, the loss of a magnificent cat on New Year's Eve, the marriage of two wiener dogs and the gift of a corn dog. My, how things have changed. Who could've predicted that just two and a half years later, I'd be shooting Santa pictures at PetSmart without thinking even once about driving off a bridge?

(Half of the proceeds went to the Nashville Cat Rescue, my own dog was terrified of Santa, we (the elves and I ) were nearly thrown out of Pet Smart for surrounding Santa with squeak beer bottles while he pretended to be passed out on the pedestal. I've saved that photo for your imagination... Happy New Year!)


Kristine said...

LOL. Too funny.

You know, I used to feel much the same about the whole Santa thing. I still don't think I've quite reached the level of a dog wedding. It's just not me. Heck, I don't even want a wedding for myself!

But now that I have a dog that I've worked with and trained and cried with and loved, I get it. This year I was thrilled to take her for photos with Santa. Not only was it benefiting the rescue from which she was adopted but it mean we had progressed to a level where she was comfortable around strangers. Where she would sit on a stranger's lap while her photo was taken. It was a celebration of her bravery and our hard work. It is a photo commemorating our becomming a true family.

Anyway, I don't mean to be so drippy in your comment box, I just had to say that I used to think the whole thing ridiculously cutesy and now I just thing it's sweet - and kind of fun.

Too bad you don't have photos of that last. It sounds hilarious!

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

I love it! My son-in-law volunteered to be the Santa for an organization in New Jersey..and he loved it. The dogs were darling and he was happy - the perfect combination I'd say!

Give your sweet Stella a Christmas hug for Braxton & Lulu (not married) from Utah!

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

Great story! And the picture is wonderful, too!

I'm not one to go overboard with anthropomorphising animals , and I probably do a lot of eye rolling, too.
Still, I know the connection I have with my dog and hey, if that what rocks your boat, you're entitled.

Two Pitties in the City said...

So well-written; I love hearing how you became a dog person. While we all do things to show how much we love our pets, I'm sure they seem a bit over-the-top to others.

Foley Monster and Pocket said...

My two girls have had their ovaries removed. So hard to find a male who is interested in marriage without sex.

susan said...

Kristine: Congrats on the successful Santa picture. Stella couldn't get past the costume. I do have photos of drunk Santa, I just thought it might be depressing to get fired from a volunteer job. haha!

Colleen: I hope your son-in-law didn't end up on all fours wearing a spike collar (our Santa did) I am still laughing (uncontrollably) about that. Give Braxton & Lulu a hug from us too.

Stumpy & Cyndi: thanks, btw we almost posted Stumpy in her elf costume over here just because it was so awesome and a good picture to boot.

Two P's: it's great to be able to overlook the "others" though isn't it? It's been an awful lot of fun getting over myself, I have to say.. thanks for that nice compliment on the writing - it took two weeks for one sentence and two hours for the rest of it. If I'd had a deadline I would've torn my hair out by now.

Foley M&P: lmao, so true.

Beverly said...

Happy New Year, dear friend. This may be your best post yet. I've laughd right out loud and been moved to near tears as well. R.I.P. Louie. Love you mucho; Stella and Gigi, too. xo