• ... home of Ontario's premier pet photographer. This is where the photos of scruffy dog photography meet the heart and soul behind all of those fun and wacky photo shoots and the long hours in the digital darkroom ... a behind-the scenes peek into the zany life of a pet-exclusive photographer and her scruffy sidekicks. For more details on illona and the mcscruffies, check out the "about" section.

    What you will find here is the past several years of blog entries -- selected client shoots, sneak peeks, facebook recaps, news and announcements, promos and specials, as well as info on canine health and general dog chat. (NOTE: previous years of blog entries have been archived.)

    So, grab a cup of jo, give your scruffy a beef tendon to gnaw on, and enjoy the photos and ramblin's.

Buster ~ DOGS WE’VE LOVED ~ Toronto pet photographer

Meet Buster, another entry in the special Dogs We’ve Loved series — a series that pays tribute to those dogs whom we’ve loved in life and continue to love today, who live on in our memories, in our hearts, our souls, and in the very important photos we create of them.

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Buster was 14 at the time of his scruffy session in June 2011.  His guardian Sara and the rest of his family could see that this proud boy was starting to deteriorate and “wanted to get the photos done as soon as possible so Buster would be able to enjoy the experience of being out and about.”

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Buster was an absolute champ during his scruffy session … and I think we ALL had a lot of fun that afternoon.  His incredible spirit was truly inspiring and unquestionably unforgettable.

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Sara wrote about her session with Buster:

“I have so many good memories of our session. Buster was so happy that day, and he had so much unexpected energy.  I especially remember him deciding at one point just to start walking towards something he was interested in, and not responding to any of our calls until he had seen everything he wanted to see.  He was so proud of himself, turning to give us his huge smile.  It means a lot to me that I had that day to spend with him, to see him enjoy the nice weather we had, and all the different locations he got to explore and enjoy, and just being off leash and getting to wander around.”

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Like every Honor Session™ I shoot, I remember a lot of the moments from my afternoon with Buster.  He was such a trooper, mustering up great bursts of energy throughout his session, but even when he had to lie down to rest he was an absolutely poser … whether at the train tracks, in a meadow of wild flox, down by the water, in the tunnel of trees … and once this boy hit the long grasses he was in heaven, munching the fresh greens like he’d suddenly become a holstein.

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What stood out for me was the incredible love his guardians had for him.  These were the young girls who grew up with him.

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Three months after Buster’s scruffy session, Sara and her family made the difficult decision to ease Buster’s suffering.  It was clear his time had come when he could no longer get up on his own, and — being the proud creature that he’d always been — Buster refused to accept help when it was offered.

In Sara’s words:

“Having his photos really helped me right after we lost him.  It was a way of keeping him close.  As time has passed, the photos help me remember the little things I loved about him, like the little wattle under his chin, and how soft it was…and how the pink part of his lips were always falling out of his mouth.  I always loved how expressive his eyebrows were, and I love how all of his wonderful expressions came through in the photos.

I still think of Buster often, and I look at his pictures every day. I want to say thank you again for fitting him in with such short notice, and capturing all his wonderful expressions.  Thank you, Illona!”

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As always, it was such an absolute honour to be chosen to capture these memorial images for Buster’s family … to photograph his spirit and expression, his fabulous smile and that constant, youthful glint in his eye.  These Honor Sessions™ aren’t always easy but they are memorable, they are sad but joyous, difficult but celebratory … and always they touch me very deeply.

Dog-speed, Buster.  May you be running free of pain and jumping at those tree branches…

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Marylin Scheffer - I’m actually in tears. What a wonderful article and what beautiful guardians and photographs. The pain of the loss of a loved one can be so overwhelming. A beautiful tribute to a much loved family member.

Donna Rigg - Wow. Beautiful photos for beautiful memories

Buddy ~ DOGS WE’VE LOVED ~ Kitchener pet photographer

This is Buddy, the first in the Dogs We’ve Loved series — a series to pay tribute to those dogs whom we’ve loved in life and continue to love in death, who live on in our memories, both heartfelt and photographic.

Buddy’s guardian Sonia contacted me in March when her boy was diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  The rush was on to fit his Honor Session™ in as soon as possible while Buddy was still feeling good, still had some giddy-up in his step and some zest for life.  He was only 12.

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We had scheduled our session for a Sunday, but that Saturday — while driving home from the vet with one of my own scruffies after one of our late-March ice storms — I was so excited by the iced-cloaked branches and bushes, I sped home fully expecting to put together my gear and my own sick and aged dogs for a mini session in the icy landscape.  And then … I thought of Buddy.  This glorious yellow lab would look even more splendid in the icy terrain, the sun glinting off the last encrusted branches.  So, I called Buddy’s guardian Sonia to see how quickly she could get herself and her old man together.

Alas, the timing was off, and by the time we got to the field I had scouted on the drive home from the vet, everything had melted.

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Still, we managed to capture a lovely portfolio of images of Buddy in several field areas, and finally the brick alleyway.

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Almost three months after Buddy’s session, Sonia wrote:  “Illona … Just wanted to send a quick thank you for the lovely photos you took of Buddy – he passed away last night and being able to look at all of the different poses and expressions you captured of him is so helpful right now.  Thank you again!

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Buddy was definitely a one-of-a-kind dog.  I won’t forget his session, his big spirit, or his big, bellowing bark.

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Dog-speed, Buddy … dog-speed.

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DOGS WE’VE LOVED … the series

For several years now I’ve had a project on the backburner … well, not a project so much as a book.  Not some big glossy coffee-table photo book, per se — although I have a couple of those in the works as well — but instead, as throw back to my two decades as a novelist, I am writing a book about dogs.  Alas, as any of my fellow professional pet photographers will tell you, this business doesn’t leave much time for side-ventures like writing books!  So, in the meantime, in the same vein as my non-fiction project, spurred by a rash of recent losses of client dogs, I thought I would put together a series of tributes to these deeply-loved souls.

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… the last image I captured of my sweet, old man Morley McScruffy, euthanized only a couple of hours later due to a brain tumor. Age: approx. 17 (adopted at 9+ yrs)

Almost a decade in this industry — shooting exclusively animals, and 95% of those dogs whose life expectancy is often barely 10-14 years these days — I suppose I should have anticipated the mounting number of losses of dogs.  I didn’t, and as each year goes by, sadly, the losses mount.

And believe it not, many times those loses feel deeply personal to me.  In so many cases, clients’ dogs feel like ‘family members’.  Meeting and working with them during their sessions, talking to their loving guardians through emails and phone calls, is only the first step in getting to know these amazing creatures.  But it is during the long hours of behind the computer … viewing their images at 100%, gazing into their sparkling eyes and their tongue-lolling smiles, one image after the next, one expression after the next, editing through my days and nights … I come to feel a profound and indescribable connectedness to each and every one of the souls I photograph.

So … in an effort to honour these souls who have touched not only their guardians’ hearts but mine as well, I am bringing to you a series — posted on Facebook and then shared more fully here.  Initially I intended to title this series Lost Dogs or Gone Dogs … but let’s be honest: if you’ve ever lost a dog (or any animal), you know they are never truly ‘lost‘, never completely ‘gone‘.  They are always with you in some way.  And let me tell you, if you don’t see it now, you will — one day.  I promise.

Even the title: Dogs We’ve Loved doesn’t quite suit since we never do stop loving them.  But for now, it will do.

Besides honouring these dogs who have passed, what I hope to bring to light with this series — as I have done throughout my career as an animal photographer — is the absolute importance of photographing our beloved 4-leggers.  I don’t care if you hire a professional and turn those images into one-of-a-kind artwork for your walls, or take the photos yourself … just make sure to have those photographic memories captured!  Because whether they are taken by disease, accident, or actually live their full lives, dogs’ and cats’ aren’t with us long enough.  …and they touch us far too deeply to be forgotten.

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If you don’t already follow the scruffy dog Facebook page, consider doing so in order to get the latest.  And, better yet, subscribe to the blog using the slide-out Subscribe tab over there on the left.  This will send you out a short email alerting you whenever a new blog post has been made!  That way you will always be tapped into the latest!

To see the first in the Dogs We’ve Loved series, check out Buddy’s entry.

** CLIENTS:  I know most of you have shared your losses and grief with me already in emails and phone calls, but if you could send me a quick email to remind me, and add a few words, I would love to post a tribute to your scruffy here if you have lost them.  I want to hear from you.


Virginia Swan - And I had the privelidge of knowing him. He was beautiful in every way.. Very much a loveable guy ????

Morag Reid - I didn’t have nearly enough pictures of our golden Indie Girl when she passed away. She was 13 and still a wee madam. The last picture I have of her was on our sofa, soaking wet and fast asleep. She was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 10; we fought it and won, but succumbed to a different kind of cancer. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with our golden Mackie boy. I took a ton of pictures of him, probably once a week in the last 6 months. He passed away at 16 1/2; he had many health issues resulting from a handshake with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever when he was 9, but he was always so full of energy and joy, right to the last vet visit. He still greeted each and every member of staff even though I knew he was tired and in pain. Such a class act.

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