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Internationally-renowned, award-winning animal photographer Illona Haus is the province's premier pet photographer, serving clients across Ontario, the US and the world. Photographing exclusively animals, both commercially and for private clients, since 2007, scruffy dog photography inc. -- based in Kitchener, Ontario -- is considered one of the world's leading and most influential pet photographers.


To learn more about the scruffy dog experience, its creator and history, as well as how YOUR scruffy can become a part of the SDP family, feel free to browse through the menu above, and scroll through a decade's worth of blog entries below!


Please drop us a line! We'd love the opportunity to capture stunning, creative, one-of-a-kind photographic memories of your 4-legged loved ones to treasure in artwork for a lifetime, and show you just what makes the scruffy dog experience second to none.

Charlotte ~ DOGS WE’VE LOVED ~ Simcoe pet photographer special photo series

Meet Charlotte … another entry in the special Dogs We’ve Loved series — a series that pays tribute to those dogs we have loved in life and continue to love beyond, the dogs who live on in our memories, in our hearts, our souls, and through the very important photos we create of them. You can see other entries in the Dogs We’ve Loved series here.

This lovely Sharpei girl was just as sweet as they come during her session back in July 2015.  And what’s more she was already 10 yrs old when her guardians adopted her. In guardian Kaitlyn’s words:

“We rescued Charlotte at the ripe old age at 10+ on New year’s Eve 2013. She was a companion for our other Shar Pei Herbie who was 8 at the time and dealing with separation anxiety.

To be honest we did not think Charlotte would be around more than 6 months because of her health. She had arthirtis, was deaf and not in the best physical conditions. We wanted to give her a home to live out her days. In the fall of 2014 we bought a house and a female shar pei pup joined the family. Charlotte continued to keep up with everyone.”

“In July 2015 we got Charlotte’s photos done. We didn’t know how long she was going to be around because she had started slowing down and her arthritis worsened. It was important to us to have her personality captured on camera so we would always have memories of her.

Charlotte passed away March 9th 2016 at 13+ years old. Her health just kept getting worse and she was having a very hard time doing much of anything besides sleeping.

We are just so grateful to have had this photo session.  It meant that even when we had to say our goodbyes to Charlotte we would always have wonderful shots of her which would help us remember how incredibly beautiful she was, inside and out.”

“Having those photos of Charlotte from our session meant the world to us. We miss her terribly but Illona did an INCREDIBLE job at capturing her on camera. Charlotte had the best smile. She was a bit of a nervous dog so very rarely she would relax and we would see it. We saw it that day during her session. She was relaxed and comfortable. Looking back on them now we remember what an amazing dog she was and how blessed we were to have her a part of our family. Thank you Illona for giving us this gift.”

I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Kaitlyn and Justin’s other two Sharpei, Herbie and Stella, and two more loving, attentive guardians you will never find.  I know that Charlotte is deeply missed, and will forever be a part of their hearts.

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Honoring those lost ~ Ontario pet photographer

This blog post is a long time coming … two years to be exact … as it’s been that long since I lost both Matea and Merrick.   For those of you who have lost a beloved dog or cat, or if you know this time is coming, and especially for those of you who have lost too many times already, it’s hard to know what to do to honor those who are now gone.  There are many options from burial to cremation, spreading of ashes to having some of their ashes incorporated into a piece of jewelry or art, even having carbon extracted from those cremated remains to make a diamond.  I guess, in a sense, the possibilities are endless.

For me, I’m not a diamond gal, nor do I wear excessive of jewellery … although there is one piece you will never find me without, and that is the silver nose print of Merrick.But besides these nose prints, over the years I have collected the ashes of those whom I’ve lost.  However, those satchels of remains were tucked away in crematory-issued spruce boxes with names engraved on the top and admittedly ugly ceramic urns, sitting on shelves around the house.  I wanted something better … something special … a place where the remains of ALL of my beloved scruffies could be kept.

So I turned to friend and potter-extraordinaire – my favorite clay person in the world – Steve Irvine.  Steve doesn’t typically take commissions, so when he responded to my pleading email and description of what I was after and agreed to make a large ‘group’ urn for me, I was beyond thrilled.

I had given Steve my approximate size requirements (having already lost five animals), as well as a colour preference … “turquoise”, I told Steve … partly because of the colours in my bedroom where I knew I’d want to keep this incredible piece, but also to represent the colours of Big Bay, the lake I grew up on … a lake – along with its colours – that Steve knows all too well.   “… and with several, short, peg-like protrusions,” I wrote him, “on which to hang a couple of collars or tags…”  I had also requested some treatment that would suggest the rolling ridges of the old farm where I grew up next door to Steve and his family.

Of course, being an artist and having a background in clay myself, including a Fine Arts degree focused on clay sculpture, I knew I was going to be hard to please … and no doubt, knowing me, Steve understood the challenge at hand.  And yet, the finished piece could not have been more perfect.

This group urn stands 17″ tall and almost 8″ at its widest … and sits on the top of my dresser next to my bed so that at night we can be all together … Murph, Mirren, Morley, Matea, Merrick, along with those living, Matlin, Mirabelle and Mowat.

And here are some details of this fabulous piece … the lake colours and the rolling ridges that Murph loved so much.

Matea’s noseprint … Morley’s collar …

And even though Murph – my first scruffy and the very reason behind scruffy dog photography – was buried on the family farm which had since been sold, he has finally joined my pack.  Two summers ago a dear friend and I made the trip up north, and along with some help from the new property owner at the time – Annie, a lovely and brilliant artist herself – the three of us toiled through a significant cairn of rocks and 15 years of washed-in soil to recover my sweet boy.  I am so grateful to Gateway Pet Memorial who had already agreed to handle the 15-year-old remains … and after many years, Murph had finally come home.

Of course, placing everyone in the urn was a deeply moving experience for me … especially Matea’s remains.  Her ashes sit in the fleece ‘snood’ she’d often have to wear around the house to stop her from flapping her ears … and as such, I can still touch her hairs as they are woven into the fleece.

It is such a comfort to be able to have all of my passed animals together, and I am deeply, deeply grateful for Steve’s incredible work and creativity on this group urn.  There isn’t a single piece in my house that means more to me.

I hope I have inspired you to do something special when it comes time to honor those scruffies you’ve lost.  And for those of you who have already lost, please feel free to share in the comments what you’ve done to honor your lost 4-leggers.  In the meantime, hold them tight … the ones we love and who are still with us.

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  • Karen Hughow wonderful, dogs are weaved into the very fabric of our lives. Thank you for sharing your story.ReplyCancel

  • Debbie WortonAnd once again I’m reduced to tears …
    The Boys still reside in their cedar little boxes where I can see them. Their paw prints stamped in clay for me to touch.
    It’s never felt quite right and now I know why …. they were always together on the couch …. always touching. Now they are separated in their own generic “forever homes”.
    I think your special urn was a stroke of genius … I’m sad that it had never crossed my mind to pay homage that way. I am very much inspired to find that “something special” where I feel I will have done right by them. ???? Thank you ?ReplyCancel

  • NicoleSuch a beautiful memorial. I love this and appreciate you sharing with us. As someone who has lost too many over the years, I also wanted something special. My husband made a large box from the wood of a black walnut tree from his grandparents farm. It’s on legs and is beautiful enough to be in our living room. It holds all their ashes, collars, favorite toys, paw prints and the cards that were sent.ReplyCancel

DNA for your dog, and why you shouldn’t bother ~ commercial pet photographer

Most of my loyal blog and Facebook followers will already be very familiar with Matlin, the amazing scruffy who joined my pack back in the summer of 2016. She was adopted from Dogs Etc of Texas, involving a very long drive to Dallas and back, and I was fortunate to have her meet Matea and Merrick and be with them for the two short months before their passing.

You can read more about Matlin on her scruffy dog bio page, and even more about her in her first blog entry.

Not a week goes by when I’m not stopped at least a half dozen times by people asking: “What breed of dog is that?” … and online I am asked even more often than that! I sometimes respond with: “Disney Dropout”, but typically my response is: “no idea!” and then I let them try to make some educated guesses while we stand around and talk dogs.

I’ll admit, from the moment I had Matlin, during the long journey back to Canada from Dallas, I couldn’t get over how stunning this dog’s conformation is. When she stands at attention, she truly does look like she should be a purebred ‘something’ … her conformation is balanced and strong, with lean muscle and great proportions … so it doesn’t surprise me that most people believe she’s a purebred of some sort.

Of course, I’m the first to suggest Wheaten terrier, Skye terrier (I mean, those ears!), Berger Picard (the breed of my dreams) … but we could sit and guess all day long. So … in early 2017 I decided that it would be super fun to do a DNA test on this girl of mine. It could also be educational; I mean, to know some of her ancestry would help to better note her drives and characteristics, and, as a result, respond to them accordingly, no?

Don’t get me wrong … I have never held much faith in these tests; with a background and knowledge of police procedures and forensics, I find the $100+ pricetag on such tests to be somewhat suspect. Having said that, I do know – through researching and writing my second last psychological thriller – that A&M University in Texas has the ability to genotype dog hairs to determine breed or at least breed-type …

… so maybe I was being too skeptical on these DNA companies. And besides, my intention was to run a fun contest on the scruffy dog facebook page … awarding a prize of a session to the person who came the closest to guessing the breed. I mean, how hard could it be?

And yet, when the results started to roll in, I was flabbergasted. There was no WAY that anyone would ever come close to guessing the vast and ridiculous mix of breeds that this girl’s saliva conjured up! Still, I figured it was high time to share the results from not just one, not two, but FOUR DNA-testing companies so that you can decide for yourself

First off … just so we’re clear … here are some general traits of Matlin McWhackyears that can’t necessarily be seen from her photos:

  • she is a medium-boned, lean-muscled 40 lbs … 22″ at the shoulder … and is extremely tucked under all of that hair
  • everyone notes that she is SUPER fast
  • she has personality quirks that definitely suggest a herding breed, as well as terrier
  • the shorter-length tail which sits high would clearly suggest a Wheaten (if you’ve ever seen an uncropped Wheaten tail)
  • her coat doesn’t grow, and she is a low-shedder … she also doesn’t have the typical oils that a dog would have, which makes her hypo-allergenic for this dog-allergy sufferer  (yeah, yeah, yeah, a pet photographer allergic to animals … take a moment and laugh)
  • she has an underbite
  • she is lacking certain premolars which was suggested to me is a poodle thing
  • she is loving and trusting of people she knows, and there is no – and I mean NO – squashing her joy
  • she is smarter than any dog I’ve had in the past, and I’ve shared my life with some pretty smart dogs
  • she is extremely soft and gentle with other animals in the house and out
  • and those ears!!!

The companies I used were easily the top dog-DNA testing companies out there and came highly recommended by people across facebook and beyond.


So first off Wisdom Panel. Well, these good folks are quite steadfast in their belief I share my life with a Chihowwug.

Yup, 25% Chow, 25% Chihuahua, 12.5% Pug, with 37.5% from mixed breeds of the herding, terrier and hound (?!) groups.


The next company I used was Viaguard – Accu-metrics. Wow, what a surprise … not a single Chow, Chihuahua or Pug in the mix!

And yes, you’re reading that correctly: 37-74% Rat Terrier.  According to ViaGuard, this percentage “usually means that one of the parents was a purebred.” Okay? Next up is 20-36% Border Collie & Labrador Retriever … then 10-20% Cocker Spaniel & Whippet (well, she IS pretty fast) … and finally 5% or less, GSD, Greyhound and Poodle. Ah, my first non-shedding breed!


I obviously had to try Embark next since everyone seems to love their results SO much. Hmmm…

The thing that confuses me about Embark is that they put great emphasis on their ability to predict health issues based on genetic traits. And the health results are the first you receive.

Embark found that Matlin was at risk of 0 genetic diseases … yay! … however she came back as a carrier of one disease: Von Willebrand Disease Type II (not I or III). The funny thing is, on Embark’s own site they state that Type II is found in German Shorthaired Pointers “and related breeders”. With a little online digging I discovered that the only breeds affected by Type II of this disease is GSPs, Rough Collie, and – oh! – German Wirehaired pointer.

Still, I was excited. That beard of hers … it had to be GWP!  I mean, Embark goes on about how particular genomes will dictate coat color, coat type, and traits like uppy ears vs. down ears, and even ‘facial furnishings’ … the kind that Matlin has, but which none of the previous test breeds would have!

Alas, when the results came in, not a single beard in the bunch … what’s more, even though Embark talks about VW Disease Type II being in GSPs, there wasn’t GSP in the results … or any of the other breeds that medical sites suggest might carry the Type II gene.

… but hey, at least we’re seeing the Chow and Pug again that are SO Matlin!

Oh, and also according to Embark, Matin is VERY “wolfy” compared to the average dog. 2.3% Sigh … if you could only meet this blonde of mine!


And finally, the fourth purchased test was from DNA My Dog because so many SDP followers on Facebook were telling me it was the most accurate. Um … ?

To be clear, with none of the previous tests did I submit a photo of Matlin, nor did I respond to the “suspected breed(s)” question that some of these companies ask for. However, with DNA My Dog – out of sheer frustration – I DID send a photo, and under suspected breeds I entered Wheaten and Berger Picard. Alas, my Bichon Fritriever Spaniel-Tzu doesn’t have even a trace of those.

At this point, seriously? Should we believe any of this nonsense?  More to the point, does it matter?

So yes, while I’ve always been highly suspect of these tests and have heard ALL of the stories – the good to the downright ridiculous – I had considered this to be a fun venture, with perhaps some believable results which could used in the course of a contest. Alas, I’m quite certain that NO one would have guessed anything remotely close to these results. And my final takeaway is that the science is still VERY much out on actually determining the ancestry of the scruffies who share our lives. So let’s just love our mutts and send any $s itching to go to DNA-testing to the amazing rescue organizations we got ‘em from.

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  • Torriei have looked for blogs about training a dog and i have left reply after reply and they have not answered back i dont have any more options do you think you could help me ReplyCancel

  • SusanI used Wisdom Panel for my mix and was impressed by results. I wasn’t asked what breed mixes i thought she was nor did i send a photo. They described her probable appearance almost to a tee as well as personality charateristics. Finding out she had Great Pyrenees explained a lot about her over protective behavior.ReplyCancel

  • Virginia GeffrosBased solely on Matlin’s appearance, I would have guessed she is a Briard x. But what do I know?ReplyCancel

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