Maya ~ DOGS WE’VE LOVED ~ Toronto pet photographer

Meet Maya … easily one of my most special and memorable Honor Session™ dogs … another entry in our special Dogs We’ve Loved series — a series that pays tribute to those dogs whom we’ve loved in life and continue to love beyond, who live on in our memories, in our hearts, our souls, and through the very important photos we create of them.

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Please don’t misunderstand … all scruffy dog sessions and Honor Sessions™ are special, and all are memorable … but Maya stands out for several reasons.  I grew up with shepherds like Maya – big, strong, brave, quiet ones like her.  I shot numerous sessions for this girl and her brother, Blitz, and then her successor, Zelda.  And I’ve become good friends with her amazing guardians Corinne and Phil.

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I did post a previous tribute blog post about Maya, but will write a few words again about this beautiful, larger-than-life girl.

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I met Corinne and Phil and their two fabulous scruffies in the winter of 2013 for the first of their three scruffy Seasons Sessions.  On a bright, crisp February day I was introduced to two energetic, vibrant, joyous shepherds.  Maya was 8 and Blitz was 5.

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Then came their summer session …

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…but then, in late summer, before our fall session date, came the horrible news.

In dad Phil’s words:

“One night Maya started acting strangely; she was restless and it was apparent within a few minutes that we needed to take her to the emergency vet clinic. What the veterinarian found was that Maya’s pericardium was full of blood, crushing her heart. The most likely cause was hemangiosarcoma which is a highly invasive form of cancer that affects the lining of blood vessels, and it was made abundantly clear to us that this was not something Maya could overcome. They were able to drain the blood, and with the pressure gone, she acted like her old self again. While we clung to hope this would be a one time deal and that the vets were wrong about the cancer (after all they hadn’t really run any tests), we decided it wise to prepare for the worst.

The very next day Corinne called up Illona, asking to move up the final session, mentioning the terrible news about Maya’s health, and that it was highly unlikely that she would be with us when her last session was scheduled. Kindly, Illona booked an honor session for Maya two days later … and only a few days after our session Maya’s heart re-effused and we were forced to make the decision we had always dreaded; to say goodbye to our special girl. That day she slipped quietly away while we held her in our arms. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to experience.”

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I’m not going to lie.  This was not an easy session.  I mean, any Honor Session™ is tough, but it becomes extra tough when you’ve already come to know the dog through previous sessions, and when you connect with the guardians and have become friends through a mutual love, respect and passion for dogs.

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While we took it easy on Maya during this final session, we spent a full afternoon hitting numerous locations knowing that this could be our last opportunity.

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Phil’s reflection on the session …

“The memories of Maya’s sudden passing were so overwhelmingly heartbreaking and I felt they would be all I could think about were it not for the honor session. That session helped us heal by allowing Corinne and me to remember Maya for the beautiful and loving companion that she had been for 8 years of our lives. The results of that final session decorate the walls of our apartment, more than any shots from any other photo session we had that year. The work Illona has done for us has always been fantastic, but she really took the time required to capture what we felt was special about Maya that day, and we are extremely thankful.

It’s easy to dwell on the bad and traumatic moments in our lives. In my case it was having my first dog, that I loved very much, die in my arms; a decision I felt I had to make out of love to spare her a far more gruesome fate. However, Illona put another image in my mind when I think about Maya. This image in my mind is inspired from a fantastic shot of Maya and her brother sitting happily in a field of wheat. That shot exists as a large framed canvas hanging on the wall in my living room so that I cannot miss it”

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“We will never forget Maya, and we still miss her to the point of tears some 3 years later, but Illona made sure we wouldn’t just dwell on how she died, but remember the good times we spent together as a family. In the end, as cliché as it sounds, it’s what Maya would have wanted.”

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I say it again and again: it is so absolutely important to capture photos of your 4-leggers.  It doesn’t matter if you choose to hire a professional and create artwork, including an incredible keepsake album, or you take photos yourself and make up some kind of online consumer photobook.  Just, please! … make sure you capture those photos to remember them by.   scruffy dog photography is a business that was born from the loss of a dog named Murph — the original scruffy dog.  I lost him very suddenly at only 4 years of age to vaccine-induced lymphoma.  With only four rolls film — two of those taken in the final days when he was dying — I learned the hardest way possible how utterly meaningful even a small handful of photos can be … and I would do anything to have more and better photos of him today.

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As for Maya, it was the deepest of honours to have met her and to have played even the smallest of roles in the creation of this one facet of her memories for Phil and Corinne.  It is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time to bear witness to the incredibly deep bond between dogs and their guardians, and an honour to be responsible for capturing it.

It has been one of my greatest pleasures in my career to come to know Corinne and Phil and their pack, including new girl Zelda and two-legged progeny Oriana, and am I beyond confident that Maya’s spirit will always be with them, in their hearts, and following the spirit of this entire pack, wherever they go.

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Donna Rigg - It’s very hard reading these beautiful stories and not feel their pain. But Photography is the most amazing craft that gives back to so many.
Stunning images as always

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