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first attempt at self-portrait with self-timer

Gratefulness Journal of the lessons my dogs taught me

I was reminiscing about the dogs I have owned and how different they were from each other in many ways. They have all impacted my life in many ways and I am grateful they have led me to where I am today.


I got Smokey as a present for my 13th birthday. Actually, a few weeks later than my 13th birthday as my cousins were forced to delay their trip because of a snow storm. I had given up all hope of having a puppy from the litter their dog had, as my cousins told me they were all given away. I was so overjoyed when they arrived with Smokey! I had picked him out of the litter a couple months earlier when he was just born and begged my parents to let me bring him home. I had been begging for a dog as long as I could remember, but my mother was a bit afraid of dogs, so had never allowed one before. This was a big thing for her as much as for me.

As expected, I was told Smokey was my responsibility to take care of and of course, my father ended up doing his own share of dog time as I was learning to become a responsible dog owner. I was a shy, awkward child and we had just moved to a new town. Smokey was my everything! He was my best friend, confidant and sounding board. When I was down, I would take hime for a walk to clear my head while he kept me company. His regular escapes from our backyard forced me to meet new people in order to track him down.

Smokey’s love and companionship was there to help me face challenges of the teenage years and he helped push me out of my shell to meet people.


My first soul dog. (As I believe you can have more than one.) When I learned my co-worker’s lab was having puppies I was overjoyed. I had finally settled in a spot that I knew would be my home for a while and was ready for that added responsibility…I thought. When the pups were just 5 weeks old, my co-worker announced they were ready to go to their new homes. Little did I know at the time that they truly weren’t ready. Midnight cried for five days and nights straight. He wanted mom. Then he was acting like a ….puppy. Between no sleep and ruined furniture, I was beside myself. I found one trainer, and wasn’t happy with all the traditional techniques he used. Then I found a supposedly positive reinforcement trainer who did something that was definitely not positive and unthinkable in my books. I finally found a balanced trainer that I liked. Midnight learned quickly and he was so smart and active, we then went on to agility training.

When I wasn’t working, he was my constant companion. With all the training and attention, he really became my little prince. He was such a cooperative, well mannered smart dog. He was definitely had a more serious nature. He loved learning and he was intent on doing well( Kind of Like his mom). He was always so proud when he did well. He taught me how to evaluate and trust my instincts when I thought something wasn’t right. He brought that camera back into my hands, taking tons of pictures of him. Little did I know at the time, that pictures of him alone was not enough. It was his loss and review of photos that shocked me with the realization that I only had a couple of images of us together. That realization is what triggered my passion to take pictures of pets with their humans.


Oh, my clown, my velcro dog! Shamus could truly make me laugh. After losing my soul dog at such a young age, I wasn’t sure when I would be ready for another. Obtaining Shamus was serendipity. A friends husband had seen a sign in the local town hall that they were trying to find a new home for an unclaimed dog. I had just mentioned the day before that I was thinking about looking again. One look at Shamus and I knew he was mine. From the start he was my velcro. He never wanted to leave my side. When I would come home from work, he would greet me with such excitement and then grab the closest toy to bring to me so that we could play. Shamus brought some levity to my life. He was silly and loved to run, but had no patience for agility. He was more like a bull in a china shop. He was a definite foodie. He minded me for the most part, but if there was food to be found on our walks, he would find it.

As my second soul dog, he became the model for my new business. He was the one that I would take up into the woods and put my camera on a tripod in order to capture images of us together. While he was a willing model at first, he grew tired of it as he grew older.


My challenge, and wild child! After having two dogs that were relatively easy to manage once they were trained, I was unprepared for the challenges I would have with this guy. I was volunteering at shelters at the time and this guy came in and literally latched onto me. It took two people to help pry him off the leg he was attempting to hump. I was told that he had just been neutered, so his hormones would take some time to calm down. He had been through a lot including having heartworm and was otherwise adorable, so I brought him home.

Funny thing is he never barked while he was at the kennel. I got him home and he freaked out at the next door neighbors dog and it seems like he hasn’t stopped barking since. He is my reactive dog and although I thought I was a patient person, he has taught me to be patient on a whole new level. I ended up calling him Declan as it means “full of goodness” and I knew he had that deep inside.

He is scared of everything, which is why he barks. I found a trainer that specialized in behavior issues and we continue to work on his training everyday- seven years later. He is true to his name though. The goodness shines through 95% of the time and the demons that trigger him are less intense when they appear. He has taught me a ton about working with scared and reactive dogs. He has never liked that camera pointed at him and has helped me learn how to handle shelter dogs that have the same distrust of the long black lens that is pointed at them.

I believe that things come to you when you need them. My dogs have been there for me or have come into my life right when I needed to learn something. I am grateful for the time we were able to share together.

What have your dogs brought to your life or taught you? I would love if you shared a story.

It’s an International circle!

Join the fun! This group of International Professional Pet Photographers bring you information on our weekly topics. While we focus on one broad subject, we may each have a different spin on it or provide you with additional information from our world of pet photography. Follow the next link to view how the next amazing photographer tackles this weeks challenge.  Follow each link at the end of each blog until you return to me. Then you have successfully completed our blog circle. Enjoy!

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Canberra Pet Photographer Ina Jalil of Ina J Photography shows her gratitude for another amazing year.

Come and find your Best Friend!

Second Chance has a unique program near Syracuse N.Y. where inmates train the rescued dogs. This program gives both the dogs and the inmates a second chance in life.  Appointments currently required related to Covid-19 protocols.

Meet McKenna. She is friendly, affectionate, gentle and funny. She would love to have a home without cats, but would love another dog to play with.

Please contact Friends of Second Chance.

Friends of Second Chance Canine Adoption Shelter
6660 E. Seneca Turnpike
Jamesville, NY 13078

Capture your journey with your pet. Nancy Kieffer is a pet and nature photographer serving  Central New York, the Adirondacks and Beyond.  Capture how you share your life with your pet! It may be a vacation adventure or curled up on the couch. Travel assignments welcomed.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Terri

    There is so much to love about dogs and so much we can learn from them. Definitely I’ve had more than one soul dog.

  2. Holly

    I think we can have more than one soul dog. (I call them heart dogs). I have had 3 in my lifetime. All of them have helped me through something difficult. Thank you for sharing these stories. Dogs are amazing!

  3. Elaine

    I believe you can have more than one soul dog as well. It was great meeting and reading the stories about the dogs in your life.

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