• ... 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 two ... now THREE trusty sidekicks. For more details on illona and the mcscruffies and the newest mcruffles cat, 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 (NOTE: previous years of blog entries have been archived.)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 scruffnut a beef tendon to gnaw on, and enjoy the photos and ramblin's.

some of the things we love – tags!

since even before the inception of this blog almost two years ago i’ve wanted to take time out to share the occasional find …  dog and pet products that truly stand out, that have been scruffy-tested and scruffy-approved … and in turn, maybe steer a couple new people onto some great products.

i’ve started a list of things i intend to share with you, so stay tuned for many more!  and if you have a dog-related business or a dog product and would like it scruffy-tested, let me know!  we’re always thrilled to see and sample new doggie goods!  of course, it should be known that i do not, nor will not, receive any compensation for these plugs.  i do so purely because i believe — truly and deeply — in the products i write about.  and it should be known that the scruffies and i are extremely discriminating.

first up … dog tags.  now sure, some of you might have a quiet couch potato or two, rarely getting past second gear out on the trails … but for those of us with high-energy dogs who run like it’s their last day on the planet, you know first-hand how worthless those cheap tags are that you get made-on-the-spot in those big pet stores.  the letters are illegible by the sixth or eighth month, and that’s only IF the tag is still hanging on the collar!  often the hole in the substandard aluminum or metal-alloy has worn all the way through and the tag has been left somewhere in the bush!

so …  i have two brands of top-grade tags i’d like to alert you to.  first, my favorite dog tags in the world: Red Dingo dog tags


these are funky, eye-catching tags made of heavy-duty stainless steel and coloured enamel.  they come in three sizes, and over thirty different designs.  above, matea is sporting a three-year-old tag in the older “bone” design … it’s just a “small”, and bears only her name on the back … no address or phone number.  for her, the Red Dingo tag is bling.  you’ll see her real ID tag later in this entry.

and here is merrick’s Red Dingo tag … the newer “bone” design.


Red Dingo’s engraving is deep and, so far, shows no signs of wearing.  my only complaint is that although the small-size is best for a dog merrick’s size (20 lbs), it allows for only 3 lines of text.  who doesn’t add a cell-phone number to their dog’s tag these days?  and i know there is debate about whether to have your dog’s address on the tag, but frankly, i’d rather have their address than their name.  what good does it do a rescuer to have the dog’s name vs. the address?  i’ve found my share of lost dogs, and those with addresses i have safely returned home without having to involve the Humane Society.

and now for the best tags … made by Lucky Pet.  okay, granted, their website could use some work, and their enamel tags aren’t quite as slick as Red Dingo’s, but Lucky Pet’s metal tags are hands down THE best tags around.  i’ve used them for years and can attest to their durability.  and you’ll not find any tag with deeper, more permanent engraving. here is morley’s 5-year old tag …


sorry for the blurred out address and numbers … but as you can see for the other text — even after five years of being battered around with other tags and clips — the engraving is more than legible, and the ring-hole isn’t even close to wearing through.

for matea, i use a rivet/plate tag … and i love it.


they also have a great one for the cat in your life …


so, that’s my spiel on tags.  and if you don’t have tags on your pets — danglies or collar-plates — please reconsider!!!  even if you have your pet microchipped (which you should!), tags can save you and your pet a lot of grief.

and to end this entry, i can’t resist sharing with you this one outtake from the dog-tag shoot this morning.  this is what’s going on while i’m trying to shoot their tags …


no question that merrick LOVES matea.


justyna - I love how he’s got one eye on you!

Jill - Love the kissy picture! :-)

Liz - We also love Red Dingo tags! That’s what my pups wear – both bones. Actually Paddington’s is the same as Matea’s!

leesia - we love red dingo too! we have the soccer ball (for becks of course :)), daisy and butterfly. :) that last image is too much.

Erinn A. Fitzpatrick - hi! you’re featured tags look great.

i have purchased some tags from this site:

and so far they’re proving their weight. the best part is that you can have a ‘catch phrase’ on them–mine is ‘kiss me, i’m irish!’ for irish red and white setters.


ursula - dog love…so pure and true.

Christina - I love these slide-on tags: http://www.boomerangtags.com/page.php?c=collartags

The Red Dingo ones are very cute – we had a little pewter heart tag as bling but went through two of them that worn out and fell off.

andrea - that last photo is wonderful…i’m still smiling!!! :)

illona - hi, Colleen … i just checked their site and i can’t see the rivet/plate tags either. it could be that they didn’t sell well or people complained that they were difficult to install. they did require a leather punch and some brains. i wouldn’t be too keen on those plastic ones either.

you could always write Lucky Pet and tell them you saw their rivet/plate tag on the blog and wondered if they’d still supply you with one.

failing that, there is another place you can get awesome collars — a wide selection for incredible prices — and they COME with free plate tags … stainless or brass. i’ll make that my next “things we love” blog entry. promise.

wendy - I agree about the Red Dingo tags. We’ve had ours for 2 years and the front looks as good as the day we bought them. And they have great customer service too!

Michelle - These tags look great! I really like those enamel ones, so maybe I should look into getting a few. I love the last photo too, that is so cute! And his face just says “Busted!!”

SBell - Love the last photo. I have the enameled small tags on my Buggy, it’s a fish, all bones. It’s supposed to be for cats, but it matches my husband’s tattoo to perfectly! Bug has had his for 5 years at least and it still looks great.

Colleen - Thanks for the tip! Does Lucky Pet still sell the rivet/plate tag like Matea’s? I only see the plastic version and I’m not so convinced it will hold up.

Kim - True puppy love!!

urban merrick

i love graffiti … i mean good graffiti, not the crap that’s all about gang tags or just kids being stupid and disrespectful.  i’ve been trying to find a couple of good locations for graffiti to use as a backdrop and after much research and on-line searches, i scored.

of course, what’s an urban shoot without a little hair product?


merrick wasn’t entirely impressed with his urban shoot.  he’s still rather mistrusting of the camera … and taking on the job of location scout, chauffeur, hair stylist, and photographer all in one doesn’t leave room for “acting couch” as well.  i had to take what i could get.


still, we managed … and took the time to “enjoy” two different locations …


… and i use the term “enjoy” loosely as we had to be somewhat careful with our steps through the Parkway underpass train tunnel.


this is one of  my favorite shots …


… and if you come to Woofstock this year, i’m hoping you’ll see it on my t-shirt. :)  … the new scruff of scruffy dog photography.

the tunnel was awesome … until, of course, we heard the train rumbling far down the tracks, heading our way.


back at home we required a bit of a clean-up … waterless shampoo to get the Alberto hair paste out … and mineral oil for a large spot of grease on one of merrick’s paws.  i’m sure the entire time he was thinking i was insane.


so … if you’re local to Kitchener and would like to incorporate more of an urban flavor into your shoot, we’ve got the locations to suit!  and if you know of any other awesome walls of graffiti in the area, drop us a line … we’ll be sure to check it out!



andrea - a merrick tee for me as well please!!! :) LOVE these shots…such vibrant colours. and what a face he has!!!! :)

illona - thanks, everyone.

JEAN, i’ve ordered a couple of T’s just to see if this this company’s work is worth it. then i’ll be doing T’shirts for my “staff”. if they come in and are good quality, i’m happy to order an extra one for you! of course, i might expect you to man the booth a bit. 😉 … hope you don’t have to work.

Jean - Woofstock here we come! (I hope … that is if I’m not forced to work.) Must get a Merrick T.

Great shots Illona!

Laura - These are so awesome! What a badass dog!

Jenn - Sorry typing is not my thang…

Jenn - merrick totally rocked that urban thang & the du what excellent:) Love the color in bkgr and your guy’s expressions go perfectly with entire look… suoer fabulous images. Inspired once again!!!

toxeh - Love all the shots. And you picked a wonderful location.

the cure for the common cold … doggie style


when merrick started sneezing a few days ago, followed by several bouts of inverse sneezing, i initially worried that he might have a grass seed or some other foreign object lodged in his nasal cavity.  being so low to the ground, it’s a solid assumption. but the sneezing didn’t ease up and i could hear he was a little rattley.  my next theory was that he could be in the early stages of kennel cough … given the training we’ve been doing weekly around so many other dogs, it was certainly another valid theory.  but the cough never came.

i checked his temperature — 100.3 … and i listened to his lungs — all clear.  i admit, there were moments during his worst day when i was ready to take him to the vet’s.  instead, i listened to my gut and turned to a more natural approach: boosting the immune system.


although dogs produce their own Vitamin C, during times of stress and illness it’s sometimes good to offer them a boost.  and as far as echinacea, i prefer the tincture over capsules, and like to get a combo of echinacea and golden seal.  this same combination — along with honey to soothe the throat — was what i used years ago with incredible success when matea developed kennel cough from the bordatella vaccine.

now, clearly if your pet is snorfling up anything other than clear fluid — green, yellow, or even bloody discharge — you should be making an appointment with the vet.  but in this case, i was on track.  merrick’s cold has all but cleared up over the past four days, and now matea is sneezing … a sure sign that it’s just a doggie cold, and merrick has been so generous in sharing with his sister.

i’m NOT advocating you don’t seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is sick … but what i AM saying is that you gotta trust your gut on things and not necessarily take your pet in at every sniffle or limp.  sometimes these issues can — and should — be resolved with natural approaches, giving the body a chance to heal itself before bombarding it with pharmaceuticals. this does not mean that there is no place for western medicine, that going to the vet is a bad thing … there is a place and time for antibiotics and other drugs.  you just have to figure out when it’s the right time.

given all of the health issues we have experienced with our pack over the last few years, and recently saying goodbye to morley as well as our 19-yr-old cat woody, it’s become almost a habit to head off to the vet’s at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary.  and with two hyper-vigilant pet guardians such as ourselves, that can add up to a lot of vet visits … AND a lot of potentially unnecessary drugs and tests, which can be hard on the animal and almost always interferes with the body’s natural healing path.

i never used to be so paranoid, so quick to pack up the animal for a drive to the clinic.  years ago when matea took her first hard blow during a late afternoon play session with her girlfriend macy, she almost immediately started peeing blood … pure blood in the pristine white snow.  talk about shocking!  but my gut told me to wait it out, watch and monitor closely, but don’t rush off to the vet.  often vets don’t have the answers either since our pets can’t speak for themselves.

by much later that night matea’s urine had started to clear considerably, and by the next morning she was fine.  several more times over the years she’s had similar blood-tinged urine, and it was always during those hard winter hikes after the girls flushed a rabbit and took off crashing through the woods, no doubt battering their bodies over logs and rocks.  even macy had bloody pees on a few of these kinds of hikes.  clearly, this is not a case for the vet — although questioning the vet at your annual wellness appointment could be beneficial.  this is a case of kidney blow, not unlike how a human body would react to something similar.

it’s wonderful to see natural healing first hand.  it builds faith and trust in the body’s ability to heal itself, and reminds us that sometimes it’s not vets who hold the answers, it’s our own instincts.

of course, merrick steadfastly believes that the cure for everything — including the common cold — is a good dose of balls … and  i have no intention of convincing him otherwise.



Shawna-spiritkennels - Love it- I’m all for letting the body heal itself- we are going down that route with a cancer diagnosis. Thanks as usual for sharing your knowledge in a well written way…LOVE the pictures. I’m playing major catch-up on flickr so I just learned of your news of Morley, so sorry I missed it. What a beautiful life he had with you…always so very hard to lose them. I love your photography, I don’t always get enough time to check it out, but it’s always nice to spend some time on your photostream.

illona - yes, Nat, agreed … bloody urine can be nothing and it can be something. what i was trying to get at with the post is that the whole picture has to be taken into consideration. there was a physical reason for the bloody urine in the cases i mention in the blog entry … and it’s critical to watch our pets closely when something strange like this happens. if there had been accompanying lethargy or even frequency of urination, any kind of indication of pain or discomfort, or a lack of appetite, we would have been to the vet’s in a heartbeat.

what i’ve always advocated is that people know their dogs … know their bodies like you know your own. in most cases, you’ll know if something is wrong.

unlike you, some pet owners would not only have missed the bloody urine, but also the lethargy.

Nat - I just wanted to make one small comment on this. While bloody urine can be a sign of nothing significant it can also represent a urinary tract infection or something much much more severe.

Last fall one of our dogs had very bloody urine – once. This was accompanied by lethargic behaviour that day and the day prior. The lethargy really had me worried so our vet squeezed us in and it turned out that our dog has immune-mediated hemolytic anemia: essentially his immune system was popping his red blood cells and sending him on a very rapid decline. He survived with a great investment of money, a blood transfusion, and numerous drugs for several months to follow.

Just wanted to mention this because it was so sudden and so unexpected. Without the bloody urine, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the lethargy.

Take care!

Christina - Great post Illona. And as an aside, I didn’t realize Woody was no longer with you guys. Sorry to hear it. xo

Holly Garner-Jackson - Great advise, illona. Common sense is something we all have to pay attention to, and when it’s beyond our scope we go to the professionals.
Love that photo of Matea soaking up the sun! And of course little goobernonuts!

Michelle - I totally agree with you! I’m lucky enough to have a great vet (and a great relationship with him) that allows me to call if I *think* things are ok, but just want a second opinion so I don’t worry. We are WAY too quick to pump ourselves and our animals full of drugs in this country and it’s great to have a reminder that it’s not always the best idea to do that!

tee4tia - a couple of weeks ago Zuzu had a bit of blood in her urine. This is the first time I didn’t go running to the vet. I thought that maybe I should wait to see if the body would heal itself. I felt uneasy at first because it’s not my usual way to handle things like this. But then I realized too that usually they don’t know what’s up without a battery of tests leading usually to no results and antibiotics. Thanks for printing this it really makes me feel so much better.

Darlene - I am going to look into putting Puff on some holistic immune boosters. He has had sinus problems for over a year, and suffers such bad food allergies.
I’m sorry about Woody….didn’t know you had lost him as well.

Margaret - I’ve wondered if echinacea is OK for dogs – I guess now I know! I use it for myself, and thought it might be a good idea. Love the pics of these two canine cold victims. Belvy must have been channeling Merrick this morning, as when I got him up to go outside (and for me to collect a urine sample!), he picked up a ball to take along. Must help to have a ball along when your crazy mom is sticking a plastic container under your personal parts first thing in the morning!

I absolutely agree about helping the body with its battles. When I studied Microbiology, one of the things I found most fascinating is that even antibiotics mostly work on the premise of injuring the bacterial cells enough for the (host) body to fight the infection, and ideally win the battle. Of course, the body has to be strong to wage such tiny but signficant wars.

I didn’t realize you and J had lost Woody. My most sincere condolences.

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