Shelley is a person who cares on a very deep level, not just for the people in her life, but for her animals. The relationship she has with them is something she takes very seriously and is incredibly dedicated to. Moving to a farm recently meant that she actually got to live with her horses for the first time and have one, big happy fur-family. When she asked me to join her for her birthday in Minnesota, I was so looking forward to the chance to photograph her at her new home with her newest additions. Her sassy horse Fritzie and her rescue schnauzer Charley made for the sweetest models and even brought out an extreme outpouring of gratitude from Shelley.
This moment was especially meaningful to Shelley for two reasons. The first being that her regularly temperamental mare Fritzie became a more gentle, kinder horse with the help of supplements. While in the past Fritzie might have been a little hard to handle and had been difficult to fully trust, because of the change in her diet, the relationship between Shelley and Fritzie has started to mend. Since Shelley had yet to get pictures alone with her newest horse, now seemed like the perfect time to remember this period of reconciliation that they are going through.
The second reason this moment is meaningful is because of Charley.
Charley, her sweet, newest dog, spent all three years of his life in a puppy mill in Missouri. Because he was treated so terribly, his personality is nearly void of trust and full of fear. Living with him meant being incredibly careful of every action they made in order to gain trust. However, shortly after Shelley and her husband brought him home, he ran away. Desperate to find him, an entire team of people searched tirelessly for him. Because of the fresh rural community that farm-life surrounded her with, a kind person managed to locate him and return him to Shelley. He suffered a vehicle-related injury, as he was bleeding terribly and had minor brain damage. Even though finding him was a relief, it was clear that a new and difficult journey of healing was ahead of them.
Shelley, who suffered a mild traumatic brain injury herself years prior, was filled with compassion for her new family member. Even though Charley was slow to trust her, she loved him deeply and wanted him to be well. She knew from experience, however, that healing takes time. Through tears, fundraising, and entire re-training (even potty training), Charley managed to recuperate. While he still struggles with fear, he has a springy sort of joy about him and the most adorable ability to love deeply---much like his owner! Seeing him first hand after knowing what he had been through was like watching a miracle on four legs.
While Shelley might not have known how grateful she was for Charley, she had an emotional moment, an outpouring of gratitude, while she was taking a few one-on-one pictures with him. While it felt like Charley's photos were almost done, I asked her to lean in for one more snuggle with him to make sure I got enough shots. Then one of the most beautiful mid-session moments of my entire career happened. Something came over her, and she began to weep. "I'm so grateful," she said, as she hugged him closer and buried her face in his soft coat. Maybe it was the chance to have pictures with him for the first time. Maybe it was getting to hug him freely without him pulling away, but Shelley's heart was opened in a way she hadn't yet experienced. She was filled with an extreme thankfulness for being Charley's mom, rescuing him not once but twice, and seeing him happy.
It is stories like these that give me passion for what I do. Jumping in on stories that are in the middle of being written, and will one day prove to be life-changing, is one of the kindest privileges I've been given. Even though this story is far from over: Shelley is still training Fritzie and gaining trust with her, while Charley continues to walk a road to healing; taking the photo now (before the happy ending) matters. It is in documenting the journey that she'll be able to gain understanding looking back and know that this moment had an effect on her life.
My heart was to give Shelley pretty pictures with her babies, but I had no idea that what would happen that day would impact both of our hearts. Not only I was I taken aback by such an emotional moment with her pup, but when I got home I discovered her gratitude had been contagious! I came home and hugged my sweet dog a little tighter than normal, grateful for the presence she had in my life, knowing that time with my sweet dog (below) is such a gift. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to photograph her when I got home! Even though I'm not sure how much time we'll have together, I want to make sure I can remember her well when she is gone. I'm going to pretend I didn't say that though! Excuse me while I run off to endlessly hug my dog and feed her peanut butter, and I expect you to do the same with yours.