5I have seen this breed of dogs a few times in the past but at this years Wine Country Circuit Dog Show at Sampson State Park I totally fell in love with these Finnish Lapphunds.
5I have seen this breed of dogs a few times in the past but at this years Wine Country Circuit Dog Show at Sampson State Park I totally fell in love with these Finnish Lapphunds.
About two years ago my wife and I did something I never dreamt we would do. Our affinity for shelter and rescue dogs grew over the years. We volunteered at the local shelter. We fostered dogs and cats. We began adopting dogs from our local shelter and volunteering there. We enjoyed helping our local animals. We also fell deeper and deeper in love with Bernese Mountain Dogs. Then our love of shelter dogs and our love of Bernese Mountain Dogs collided when we discovered a bonded pair of Bernese Mountain dogs looking for their furrever home and we fell in love. The only hiccup was these dogs were all the way out in Ohio. What is a person to do?
You do what your heart tells you to do. We drove at least 12 hours round trip to adopt a bonded pair of Bernese Mountain Dogs. I don’t know if it was fate or meant to be or what, but when the rescue tells you that these two dogs are very shy and probably will take time to warm up to you so be prepared for that and then you get there and these two adorable dogs run right up to you and want nothing more than to snuggle then if nothing else it is a good sign that you made the right decision. This is how Little Kira came into our lives.
When we take her places and she meets new people they of course want to know her name. When we tell people her name is Little Kira they always look a little in disbelief as if to say “You call this little”. But she became Little Kira because we had previously adopted and adult dog whose name was Kira and our new dog was also well into her adult years and her name was also Kira. We did not want to change either of their names as I’m sure they had become accustomed to responding to those names and the last thing I would want was to create something else for our newest family member to adjust to. So we devised a way to distinguish them from each other and our first and larger Kira became Big Kira and our newest addition became Little Kira despite not being so little herself, but she was little in comparison to big Kira. As Little Kira became more adjust to us and us to her she eventually became affectionately known just as Little and she responded to that as well. I think when you have an 80 to 90 pound dog and her name is little that just endears you to her even more.
I think Little Kira was one of the most affectionate and loving dogs we have had, other than our other Bernese Mountain Dog, Buck. She simply adored people. She loved attention. She wanted nothing more than a hand on her back to pet her. She would do whatever it took to get some time with a human. Anywhere we took her she tried to sidle up to strangers to solicit a few strokes on the head or back. She would lean in and just stay there as long as the person was willing to stay in contact with her. She didn’t care if it was me or my wife or a complete stranger. She wanted to make that human connection. There was no stronger an instinct for her than to seek out some human companionship. I don’t know if that comes from being a rescue dog who unfortunately spent too long with very little human contact or if it was just her natural affinity regardless, but it is one of the qualities that made her unforgettable.
Did a mention that she also had the most adorable eyes. The skin around Little Kira’s eyes was so droopy that her eys almost looked diamond shaped. I would never contend that Little would win any beauty pageants but she had the sweetest most soulful eyes. Her eyes looked like the eyes of a wise elder that had so much knowledge to impart. I’d like to believe that I was able to absorb some of that wisdom she had to share. I hope I currently embody the lessons she had to pass on to us.
When you adopt an older dog you know you inevitably will not have a long time with that dog. This is especially true with a breed like Bernese Mountain Dogs which do not have a long lifespan on average. Little Kira was around 6 years old when we adopted her. When you adopt an older dog you do it because they deserve to have the last few years they have left be happy and full of joy. One thing is for sure when you adopt a senior dog they give you their best. They know that you came for them. They know that you were their last best hope for the golden years to be bright and for them to have the life they deserve and they will shower you with so much love. You will never regret adopting a senior dog.
We were fortunate enough to have her for almost 2 years. Little spent the last few months of her life struggling through cancer. We did everything we thought we could to help her be comfortable. There is no manual for this. You navigate this minefield with your heart and your gut. You do what you feel is right and you do what you think your dog would want for themselves. You try to make decisions without regret and without too much second guessing. Nothing ever feels right but you do your best and in the end you make what you believe to be the most compassionate decision you can. When that life you cherish so much, the life of your faithful companion begins to dip more into suffering than joy, when there is more time spent in pain than in fun, when there is not enough energy to enjoy a day out getting petted by all the humans then you know you have made the decision that must be made. You say goodbye. You spill all the tears. You kiss the nose and say your goodbyes. You promise to never forget.
I’ll miss you sweet Kira but I will never forget you.
I’ve spent today editing and sorting some old photographs. I was working on a series of photographs from from lure coursing events I photographed.
I really like this series I captured of this medium sized wired haired white dogs enjoying some lure coursing. Check it out. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
I love photographing dogs doing things they love. One of my favorite things to photograph dogs doing is agility. There are so many different angles and changes of direction when a dog is running an agility course that it can be difficult to follow and get good photos throughout the whole course. I am always really happy when I can capture a whole sequence of photos that show a dog moving through an obstacle or series of obstacles.
When most people think of agility dogs they think of smaller dogs that are known more for their nimbleness and speed. What I really like is to see non-stereotypical dogs running agility. I love seeing a big dog not normally associated with agility moving through a course with grace and speed that you would never imagine.
This Rottweiler was so much fun to watch. Clearing hurdles with ease. Running through tunnels that it seems are too small to even fit through. Turning and banking and moving across the course in team with its handler. It is always amazing to watch dogs do what they do.
Kira came to be part of our family in a funny way. I had been volunteering my time at the Chemung County SPCA to photograph the dogs and cats there that are available for adoption. I love just about all the dogs that I have worked with there. But when I photographed Kira there was just a connection. I went home and posted her photos online and I half-jokingly commented with the photos that someone better go adopt her before I do. We were not looking for a dog at the time and despite the connection I felt with her I was not seriously thinking about adopting her. At this time my wife, Debby, was working at the Chemung County SPCA and shortly after I photographed Kira she said she thought she really liked Kira and maybe we should adopt her. And that was all it took. I was fully on board and Kira went home with us.
Kira might have been the perfect adoption for our family. She was just the right dog for us. We have always had multiple dogs in our home and adding another dog to the mix can be complicated. Kira was the perfect fit. She got along fine with all our other dogs. She didn’t need to be crated. She didn’t cause any problems when left alone in the house. She might have even been too well behaved for us. We love to sit with our dogs all snuggled up on the couch and we had to teach Kira that it was OK to get on the furniture at our house. One thing I did learn quickly is that Kira was not a dog to let off leash. One day shortly after she came home I unhooked her from her leash thinking we’d just walk the few steps to the door and into the house. Wrong. She bolted across the yard and down the road. Luckily she was a big dog and I caught her pretty quickly. And that is how our lives together began.
It’s really tough when you adopt an older dog. There is this ever present feeling of uncertainty. You never know what to expect. While nothing in life is certain, when you commit to an older dog you know that there is a god chance that their best days may be behind them and the life you experience with them might be short and limited. It is something that you try not to focus on but it is a consideration. We tried to make the best of things with Kira and for the most part she was healthy and loved to do all the things that any other dog would love to do and we tried to get her out there doing as much as possible.
She enjoyed walks, and hikes, and going to events with us. She loved us and loved being with us. We tried to give her the best life we could and she ave us everything she had until her last day. It’s hard not to feel like it was unfair that we had such a short time to spend with her. She was such a loving and comforting dog. She didn’t want to do anything but sit with you. The only thing on Kira’s agenda was sit with my humans. Be with my humans.
It’s funny now thinking back on our time with her, that there aren’t many crazy stories to tell about her because she was just that kind of dog that didn’t require much. She didn’t do crazy things. She was just mellow and melted into the background of the home. She was the calm one. The one that waited her turn and when all the other dogs were done she would approach to get her turn with you and be petted and loved on. When you lose a dog like that you have lost something special. A dog that didn’t require any extra work. A dog that was just there for you and accepted whatever you had to give. I think that my favorite memory of her is after finishing my first half marathon Debby and Kira were waiting for me at the finish line. She was there to cheer me on and support me just like family does.
It’s odd how much an impact it is or a void that can be left by the quiet and calm presence of one dog when they are no longer there. There isn’t this huge dog who quietly saunters down the all to my office and nudges my hand while I work so I will pet her and then lies down quietly on the floor while I work. I won’t have that warm heart just a few feet away as I type or edit photos anymore. There is more room in my office now, but I would give anything to be crowded again and have to type one handed.
I spent the last week we had with Kira wanting to get some photographs of her. But as a photographer I have this need for the photos to be perfect. Even if they are just personal photos that I might be the only person to see them. I still want them to be nice. I want the photos to be as good as they can be and I want my dogs to look good in the photos. So I kept putting off taking photos until I had time to get out my cameras and lashes and take some nice indoor portraits of Kira so that I would have really nice photos to remember her by. Then one night I decided to lie on the floor with her and just snuggle her. It was then I decided I needed to just take photos now and capture the moments as they were. The real moments that we had together. Because we never knew how much more we would have. I am so glad I made that decision. I took photos of her with my cell phone two nights in a row and then she was gone. If I hadn’t taken those photos I would not had any images to remember her in her last days by. So don’t wait for it to be perfect. Don’t wait for the best possible circumstances. If you have an opportunity to create memories do it now while you have the chance. You never know if you will have the opportunity again.
Coming home from work to find that Kira had passed was not how we wanted it to go and it might have been one of the hardest things I’ve experienced. But, Thankfully we have amazing family and friends that when we shared the news of Kira’s passing were so supportive and loving. There really are no words to express how grateful I am to have all these people in my life. I don’t know how we would get through the times like this without them. So many people shared words of compassion with us and told us exactly the right things that any dog lover needs to hear in these tough times. We also have the most amazing vet who took the time to talk to us and share her thoughts and kind words with us. Knowing that she didn’t believe that Kira suffered meant so much to us.
In the end Kira died at home the way she lived. Without fanfare and without drawing attention to herself. She died peacefully and in a way that we didn’t have to make that most terrible decision that any dog owner has to make. In hindsight I believe Kira was hanging on those last few days for us. She still got up and followed me to my office even though it was obvious she was laboring. And that was when we knew it was time. But she had other plans. For the last few nights once we knew the time was close, before I went to bed I got down on the floor with her and whispered in her ear. I told her I loved her and if it was time for her to go tonight that it was OK and that she didn’t have to hang on for us. And that is what she did. Once we were gone for the day and she didn’t have to be with us anymore she could leave us for the last time. The hardest part is just not being able to be there in the last moments and say goodbye.
Earlier this year I took this crazy mutt for a couple of runs. She is a beginning runner. Much like I was not to long ago she struggles to keep up. I really want to run with her more but she has a hard time keeping up. She can barely go 3 miles with me. Normally I would think this is great, but right now all my running goal have me training for long races that require me to have long training runs. Not as much time for short runs she can accompany me on. I need to train her up like any runner gradually increasing her distance so she builds endurance. But I am not sure ow to find the time. Brynn also struggles with something many human runners strugle with and that is pacing herself on a run. She just wants to sprint and pull and run. Then before we finish she is exhausted. But I am looking forward to more runs with her.
Recently we received the news that everyone with a dog dreads hearing. Your dog has cancer. Our big lovable dog Kira recently started exhibiting some signs of difficulty breathing. It was clear she needed to go to the vet. You hope for the best, while fearing the worst. Maybe it’s just an infection to be cleared up by antibiotics. You refuse to speak the name you fear most as to avoid manifesting it into existence by shear utterance of the words. But once the evidence is before you, you can no longer deny it. Cancer it is
We were devastated by the news. We cried. We said how unfair it was. Kira is such a good dog. A huge loving, snuggling, 115 lb lap dog who is faithful and kind. She doesn’t deserve this. She deserves to live out her day into old age. No one deserves cancer. Not a single living being. But it is a fact of life and we must make our peace with it. So that is what we will try our best to do.
Kira has started on medication to help her breath better and it seems to be helping. She seems to show no external sign of the disease that ravages her inside. She will stand with us until she can stand no more. She is determined to be by our side, still following us from room to room, jumping up on the furniture to sit with us. If you didn’t know better you might not be able to tell she was sick.
We have decided that there is not much we can do for her especially at her age to try to fight the diseased directly. We will do our best to make the best of whatever time she has left with us. In a house full of seven dogs that can often seem too chaotic she is the one who is most often of to the side out of the way being a good dog. It’s hard not to think we haven’t done enough for her to this point. We have only had her for such a short time and it’s never enough.
We will now take every opportunity we can to make each day as good a day for Kira as we can. We will devote whatever time we can to her. When you have a whole crowd of dogs at your house it is hard to decide who gets to go along for what adventures when. But for the foreseeable future every adventure that is there to be had will be an adventure that Kira gets to go on.
On Sunday we decided to take Kira out to Fulkerson Winery for an event to support a local dog rescue that we have worked with. There was a dog walk through the vineyard and wine tasting at the winery. Kira had a great time on the walk. Just strolling along wither people. She did great meeting other dogs, which sometimes can be overly stimulating for her. She got to go see everyone from the rescue. She loved going into the winery and getting attention from everyone. I think she really had a great time.
After some time at Fulkerson we took Kira down to Watkins Glen and hung out at Clute Park. Kira got to explore the park and play in Seneca Lake. I think she really wanted to just go out for a swim. She walked out on the stone peninsula with us. Then we all sat and ate lunch and Kira shared a pizza with us. This was her first trip to this park so I think it as nice for her to get to experience something totally new even at this stage in her life.
She was a bit tired after the adventure, but I think it is better to get her out and about enjoying life while she can even if she is tired and needs a little time to recover after words. That is how you make the most of the moments you have left together in my book.