Looking back on it, I’m surprised it wasn’t more of a disaster.
My Mom got a new dog a couple of months ago. She had been dogless for about a year and a half and was finding living alone a bit of a drag. She had Bailey from 1994-2006, and Heidi from 1996-2010. Both were Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers. In fact Heidi’s Mom was from the same litter as Bailey, so that does make Bailey Heidi’s Uncle? Does it work that way in the dog world?
So after weighing the pros and cons of taking on a new dog, she decided to contact the original breeder of Bailey and Heidi and sure enough, she was still in the doggie-making business. In the middle of October my Mom and mother-in-law headed off to Sault Ste. Marie to choose the pup. A week later, they were back with Lucy.
So far, this is all well and good. Then a couple of weeks ago, my Mom tells me that she’s made an appointment with a doggie-photographer and she’d like my to bring Audrey, my 2 and a half year old daughter along. The day of the photo-shoot, Wednesday, I wake up with particularly bad stomach pains, known affectionately as The Complaint, and I spend the entire day in bed with a hot-water bottle. I know I can’t miss the event; it’s all my Mom’s been talking about for the past week, and I find out that my wife, Marla is unable to come along as she has a previous engagement. I’m awoken at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon by my mother-in-law, who is apparently just as excited about this as my Mom. She’s come to put rollers in Audrey’s hair. I drag myself out of bed and witness the living room turned into a model’s prep-zone. No fewer than 3 dresses are laid out, the final wardrobe undecided. Audrey’s sitting pretty patiently in front of the TV as her Grandma is bustling around her.
The appointment is scheduled from 5:45 pm to 6:30 pm. I have the address of the photography studio. I naively thought that it would be an actual studio, but as I get closer and closer to the address, I’m up near the airport somewhere and there’s nothing around but storage terminals and industrial/commercial businesses. “Fly by night” is the phrase stuck in my head, so why am I not surprised that the place is called “Little Flyers” or some damn thing. Just as I am about to drive past the place completely, I’m drawn to the photographer’s flashes (or are they muzzle flares?). In this neighborhood, anything was possible. I pulled in to the lot of a strip mall. All the other businesses seemed shuttered. I couldn’t tell if they were closed because it was after work hours, or whether they were abandoned. Sketchy.
As it turns out, the studio wasn’t a studio at all. It was actually the front entrance-way to a place where dog enthusiasts bring their dogs to run around obstacles and what-not. I don’t know the correct terminology for this kind of thing. Canine steeplechase? That doesn’t seem right. This photo studio is just a temporary thing for the holidays. Apparently the photographer has an understanding with the people who run the doggie steeplechase. The place immediately smells like a Pet Valu, and I start to sneeze uncontrollably. I half expected to see Michael Vick’s photo on the wall, but all that was there was January’s schedule for something called “agility training”. The schedule only had the dog’s names listed, not the owners. Misty was coming on Jan 12 in the morning. Hopefully she’ll be done by the time Duke arrives at 1 pm.
It was immediately clear to me that these ladies were experienced with photographing dogs. One of them was the actual photographer, and the other one was the “handler”. They worked well together. I thought they may have been a lesbian couple, but I’m not sure on that. As we were coming in, two shelties were being led out to their vehicle. The room was so small that the actual studio had to share space with the desk and the computer where the photos were uploaded after the shoot. So, as you began your shoot, the previous people were mulling over which poses of Spot and Ginger worked for them. You had to be careful you didn’t get your sleeve or shoulder in the frame of the next person’s shoot.
Teaming up a four-month old puppy and a two-year old girl for a photo shoot sounds like the very definition of misplaced optimism, but I have to say Audrey acted like a champ. She sat where she was asked to sit, she crossed her legs when she was asked, and she even looked and smiled at the camera most of the time. This is even more remarkable when you realize that these people are not used to working with actual humans. They are the kind of people who refer to female dogs as “bitches” without any sense of irony. They’re used to giving treats to dogs to get them to sit, but I was very glad to see they didn’t offer kibble to Audrey.
A few snaps in, the photographer wanted to get a little fancy, and introduced a few props. “Do you want to wear a TIARA?” she asked Audrey. Her eyes lit up. Who doesn’t? It took a terrible moment before I realized the “tiara” had probably just been on one of those shelties’ heads fifteen minutes before. Too late. The damn thing was already in place, and I was powerless to stop it. Even more humiliating was that I was ordered to stand behind the photographer and yip in a loud and high voice. I’m still not sure if I was supposed to be getting Audrey’s or Lucy’s attention, but all I know is it didn’t work for either, and I was beginning to lose my voice. I couldn’t tell if it was from my yipping or from the allergic reaction I was having to all the dog hair in the air. The next thing I knew Lucy had some damn halo on her head. Who puts a halo on a dog’s head? I mentioned this to a friend afterwards, and she thought that maybe you could display the photo after the dog had died and you envision the dog was in doggie heaven. That sounded pretty fucking sick to me, but maybe she was right. I’m just glad they didn’t put the halo on Audrey. Wait a sec! I spoke too soon. Audrey AND Lucy are both wearing halos all of a sudden. How did that happen? One or two shots of Audrey on her own, and then one or two shots of Lucy solo and we were mercifully done. You gotta hand it to those ladies, they sure worked fast. This wasn’t their first dog photo shoot, it was obvious.
It was good we ended when we did, because part-way through our shoot, dogs and their masters begin trickling in the front door and walked right through the make-shift studio to the back room where the steeplechase was about to begin. This was very distracting to Audrey and Lucy, and yet the handler and photographer were somehow able to maintain some semblance of order and control. I thought I had seen it all, but as we were standing in the corner picking out our prints, a family of five Rottweilers trotted in for their Christmas photo. They were all wearing matching scarves and hats. Audrey shouted “Carl!” and tried to climb up on the back of one of them, just like in the story-books.
My parental instinct finally kicked in and I knew we had to go. She kicked up a royal tantrum and I could barely get her parka and boots on before carrying her out. I think we lost one of her mitts. But we got the photos, and that’s the main thing. Please don’t tell me this is going to be an annual tradition.