• ... 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 (NOTE: previous years of blog entries have been archived.)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.

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

Jack ~ DOGS WE’VE LOVED ~ Waterloo pet photographer

Meet Jack … Mr. WhackyEars and Mr. Personality.  Sadly, he may be one of our youngest entries 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 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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Not unlike my original scruffy Murph — a Baltimore street dog rescued at the age of 6 months after being locked in a drug house for 17 days without food and water — who was lost at the young age of 4 ½ due to aggressive lymphoma, Jack as well, had only weeks after his diagnosis of cancer at the same age of 4 ½ yrs.

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I was shocked to hear through another client that Jack was spotted at OVC’s Cancer Center … and then to hear from guardian-Tegan of Jack’s passing.  I had met him only a year earlier during his scruffy session, and at that time, no one had any idea that this life-loving, kooky-eared, big-hearted, exuberant boy was anything but invincible and in the prime of his life.

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One of guardian-Tegan’s most memorable moments from her session with Jack:  “…when you did your duck impersonation and he turned his head to the side as if to say ‘What the heck is that?!’  I also remember how he stood so well for pictures, like he always knew when he was having his picture taken.”
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Jack definitely was a poser during his session, and certainly the kind of dog that the camera loves.

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When it comes to the prints that Tegan has of her boy, she says:

“I love the ‘everydayness’ of the presence of Jack’s photos in the house, like Jack is always just around the corner. I have some at the front door, and it’s like he’s ready to go for a walk with us. Those pictures embody both our time with Jack and also the things that I love about walking the dogs: being outside, and watching them be the crazy creatures that make me laugh.

I also have one at my desk, which I like to look at when I’m having a bad day. He was such a snuggler, and I like to think that he’s helping me get through tough days at work.  I get teary-eyed just writing these words.

I also gave some photos to my mom and my mother-in-law, who both spoiled him rotten, and it makes me smile when I see him in their houses. As I said, it’s like Jack is always just around the corner, making me smile now, just like he did when he was here.

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I love hearing from guardians what their photos and artwork mean to them, especially after their scruffy has passed.  These photographic memories are so vital, and sometimes they are all we have left of our beloved 4-leggers once they are gone … which is the very reason I started photographing animals exclusively 14 years ago and launched scruffy dog photography a few years later … and it is the reason why I take every SDP session very seriously, knowing how important these images ultimately are to each guardian.

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Thank you, Tegan, for entrusting me to capture Jack’s spirit, and for sharing your thoughts.  Jack was a truly fabulous and memorable boy, and I know how deeply he is missed.


Claudia - We knew and loved Jack. He was our first “exposure” to pets – what a wonderful experience! Jack was amazing and we miss him very much! He was a gentle and kind soul. We enjoyed him at our cottage – what a happy place for him. (Tegan’s “mother-in-law”)

Kathie Sturley - I so admire how you perfectly sum up our lives with dogs….. So well said and photographed. What an amazing rare talent you have!!

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

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