I remember making a phone call once in the early 90s to my dad. I was attending the University of Georgia, a Biology major, trying to get into Veterinary School.
I remember the day perfectly, it was a Friday, and had been raining. My windshield wipers needed replacing and I had been putting it off. I could barely see driving down the country highway.
I desperately wanted to talk to someone, and that someone was my dad. And this was pre-cell phone days, so I had to wait the 30-minute car drive to get to my landline to call him.
By the time he picked up the phone, despite my plan on holding my composure, I was sobbing. And I don’t mean the sniffling kind, I mean ugly-face, can’t-get-the-words-out sobbing.
My poor dad thought the worst. I remember him pleading “…was there an accident?…are you ok?…please say something I can understand…”
What came out of my mouth was probably not what he expected.
Why Valentails is important to me
I had spent the week volunteering at our local animal shelter. The first day, I had to help with the free clinic the shelter offered. No problems there, it was usually owners who came in for regular check-ups, vaccinations, ticks, etc.
The second day, I assisted a technician in surgery. This is where things started getting bad for me. They messed up and gave a cat too much anesthesia during a neuter procedure. He didn’t make it.
According to the tech, it was ‘no big deal’, because he had just been adopted and she was certain the new owners would adopt another one. They’d just tell her he had a bad reaction to the anesthesia.
No one in the surgery room disagreed.
I. Was. Horrified.
That night I didn’t sleep. I just kept hearing the sobs of the new owner in the lobby of when they told her the news. “We have other cats you can adopt…” said the tech to her. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
The third day, a man brought in his puppy who clearly had a broken leg. He wanted to surrender it. The puppy cried and yelped and screamed when the man left him. I stayed and tried to console the pup, and I’ll never forget looking into those deep pools of brown eyes as I told him his life would get better from now on.
The next morning, I found out the pup had been euthanized due to overcrowding and under-funding at the shelter. I honestly don’t remember that whole day as I tried to reconcile what had happened.
By the fifth day, I was a zombie. I remember a woman coming in with eight kittens who were so sick they couldn’t hold their heads up. She said she had thought about throwing them in the river, but didn’t have a bag.
I didn’t know what to say to her and after vomiting in the employee bathroom, I walked out. And one hour later, here I was trying to get all this out of my mouth to my poor father who, at this point, wasn’t sure if I was safe or not.
By the time I did regurgitate my story to my dad, all I heard was silence. “Dad…are you there…” I pleaded.
“I’m here.” he said. And then I heard him sigh. Dad had a softer heart than he ever wanted to admit. And, he knew mine was even more tender, and I know he was trying to find the words to help me.
Dad was usually a one-liner, cliche, kind of advise man. But, on this day, he really changed my life with some of the best advice, to this day, I’ve ever received.
“The world has problems Melissa. But, the good news is that you can do something about it.”
“But what Dad…what could I possibly do??” I fell onto my couch and felt so defeated.
“I’ll tell you…. And don’t ever forget this…
Do WHAT you can, HOW you can and WHEN you can”Thomas Grimes, Jr.
Fundraising for my furry friends speaks to my heart
Dad had once again stopped me from feeling hopeless and distraught. He had given me hope and a ray of light when I needed it most.
I couldn’t save the world that day. But maybe, I could do small things over the course of my life that could change the lives of a few animals. Or maybe a hundred, or a thousand. I have dreams…stay tuned for them.
So, in following my dad’s words of advice, over the years I’ve been photographing animals in rescue groups and shelters who need homes.
There really is nothing more rewarding than seeing homeless animals find their beloved home via one of my photos.
When that happens, my heart doubles in size.
I started doing photo fundraisers for Paw Placement six years ago, and each year, they’ve grown and become one of my favorite events of the year.
When Paw Placement won the bid to become Coconino County’s Animal Shelter, I was ecstatic to be able to raise money for this new and beautiful shelter. I’ve always thought a city shelter should be a place where pets could come to find their own forever home, not a place that I witnessed in rural Georgia.
I named the event “Valentails” in honor of my favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day. I think our pets offer us the most unconditional love we’ll ever receive and think a celebration of that love is perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Thank you for being my Valentails!
I’m so happy to announce that we were able to raise $3,505! As my sweet husband would say, “That’s a lot of kibble.”
I was so humbled by all the people who came to support this organization and to share their sweet furry family members with me so I could create some memorable images that I know they’ll always cherish.
Thanks to everyone who supported this event.
It truly was a community effort to pull this event off and I’m honored to have these wonderful businesses support this great cause.
Meet Rio. Rio is an energetic, lovable and mild-tempered Portuguese water dog. Rio’s mom teaches at NAU and loves coming home to her best friend every day.
People who know me often say that I appear more comfortable with animals than I am with people. They are not entirely wrong. Documenting the love between humans and their furry friends through pet photography may just be my favorite thing – ever.
Because Rio has so much personality, I created this little slide show. It’s something I offer as part of pet photography sessions.
About Portuguese Water Dogs
Portuguese Water Dogs come from Algarve – a coastal region in the south of Portugal. Cão de água as the Portuguese Water Dog is known as in Portugal literally translates to “dog of water.”
The dogs are like shepherd dogs. But instead of herding farm animals, they herd fish. The dogs were trained to drive fish into the fishermen’s nets, retrieve broken nets, and act as a courier between ships.
Portuguese Water Dogs rode in fishing trawlers as they worked their way from the Atlantic waters of Portugal to the waters off the coast of Iceland where the fleets caught cod.
Portuguese Water Dogs are known for their non-shedding quality and became famous when President and Mrs. Obama adopted two of the breed – Bo and Sunny.
Why Portuguese Water Dog Makes Good Pets
Did you know dogs can have a sense of humor? I did. And this breed has a very good one. During their fish-herding days, Portuguese Water Dogs were part of the crew. They ate with the crew, were often paid for their services and spent their free time hanging out with their work families. They are prone to acting silly and will repeat behaviors when their audience laughs.
Of course, Rio embodied these traits which is why his pet photography session was so much fun. It’s also why he was captured so beautifully on the images.
Portuguese Water Dogs are fairly easy to train. Some can have an independent streak, so training early (like with any dog) is the best way to ensure success. They respond to praise and treats. Harsh discipline and voices should be kept to a minimum. Personally, I believe that is true for every animal.
This breed has a desire to please. Use that desire to train this well-tempered, well-behaved beauty.
Behavioral traits of the Portuguese Water Dog
Portuguese Water dogs are chewers, and while trainable curbing this behavior can be a challenge. They also get very excited when their owner comes home or visitors come to the house. This excitement often turns into jumping or presenting the visitor with a toy or some other object as a gift.
The breed is also known for its separation anxiety. The anxiety is easily addressed with a plethora of chew toys and plenty of exercise before being left alone. The chew toys may just save your furniture or favorite pair of shoes because chewing is how they express anxiety.
I’ve always felt very strongly that the best way to change the world is by volunteering.
My father had a saying that has stayed with me my whole life….”Contribute what you can, when you can and how you can, whether it be money, time or service…YOU can ALWAYS make a DIFFERENCE. Even the smallest gestures can change someone’s world.” Dad was very wise and I miss him so much. (but that’s another blog post)
A few weekends ago, I held my sixth annual Valen-Tails Photo Fundraiser for Paw Placement of Northern Arizona! I got to meet over 40 sweet and cuddly new furry friends and some of the most amazing pet owners in the world.
Even though the fundraiser just ended, I’m already missing my new friends. Nothing makes me happier than spending the day with animals.
I’m happy to announce that we raised $1,855.00 for this organization to help them continue their important work in the Northern Arizona region.
Currently, Paw Placement of Northern Arizona is working towards bringing a 21st Century Shelter to our area. If you live in Flagstaff, you know we need it! Please read about their vision on their website.
Pet Photography Tips
I have been called a “pet whisperer” by some very kind friends. But I will admit, I do have a special relationship with animals.
When photographing people’s pets, I’m always asked, “How do you do it?”
Here are some of my favorite pet photography tips and some of my favorite photos from the very special weekend.
Use these five pet photography tips when you are trying to capture a special moment with your furry loved one.
1. Focus on the Eyes
You know what they say, “Eyes are the Window to the Soul.” Well, that is especially true for our animal friends.
It’s the eyes that make any portrait memorable. And that is even more true for your pets. Pet eyes are full of wonderful expression and successful pet portrait focuses the attention there.
2. Let Their Personality Shine Through
You know your pet and you should trust what you know. The very best photos showcase the true character and personality of the subject and this holds true for your pet.
Let your animal play, yawn, or even dress up. Get the perfect image out of your head and let the favorite furry subject redefine purrrfect.
3. Surprise Them
You can’t expect your pet to wait for you to be ready to take the shot. Instead, let them continue to play, while you get ready.
Once your camera is focused and your animal is in the frame, call his name, or make a strange sound he’s never heard before and click. The surprise will catch him off guard and give you a few seconds to capture something special.
4. Go to Them
The best photos will come when your pet feels comfortable. Instead of calling him to you, try going to him.
Get down on his level, look him in the eyes and show him your love. That is probably the most important tip I have.
5. Be Patient
When your pet is excited by a new toy or some other excitement, it is often difficult to get the perfect photo.
But when your patient and you let your furball settle down, he will relax and you will end up with a much better shot.
In the end, if you want to capture great photos of your pet, remember they are your people. Let them be themselves and focus on them, not necessarily trying to capture the photo.
In closing, I just want to say Valen-tales is my absolute favorite event of the year. The fact that I can help raise money for a worthy organization while having fun with friends and their tribe is a privilege and pure joy.
Jennifer got the news that all of us with furry family members dread to hear…her beloved Oswald only has a few weeks to live. Oswald has been with Jennifer all over the world, and even enjoyed living in Germany for a while with she and her husband. He was there when they found his doggie siblings, Macy and Panda Bear, and there when they adopted their adorable little human child, Ava. For a soul that has shared so much, it’s hard to even think of saying goodbye. But therein lies the only fault with our animal friends, they have such short lives. But their time with us brings us so much happiness, so much unconditional love, so it’s the price we pay to have them by our side, if only briefly.
I was so happy that Jennifer reached out to get these photos of Oswald. I know that in the future, these images will provide some tears and loving memories of the spirit who first captured her heart.
I hope your final days are filled with love, belly rubs and all the bacon you can eat sweet boy. After spending only a couple of hours with you, I can see why your family adores you so much. Truly, when you do go to heaven, you will add one of the brightest stars in the sky. Much love ~ Melissa
We’ve all had animal friends in our life that fill up our heart and bring us so much joy that we feel like we want to burst. This sweet girl, Stella, is one of those dogs. Now that Stella’s face is turning grey, her family wanted to capture this amazing soul, so when the time comes, they’ll always have these precious images to remember her and her smile. We loved spending the afternoon with her, her mom and dad, and siblings, Grayfus and Vespa. Modeling is hard work Stella! We hope you got extra belly rubs and bacon snacks after!
The Red Rocks and landscape in Sedona are always beautiful but especially in the fall. We met the Sekhon-Bal Family at Los Abrigados for a few photos then finished our session at scenic Schnebly Hill. The day could not have been prettier and the Riehl Family could not have been more fun to work with!