Once abandoned and sentenced to death, then rescued and adopted, now life-savers themselves and beloved family members . . . My pictures are a declaration of love and gratitude to dogs – three Spanish rescue dogs in particular, who joined our family, saved their owner’s life and changed our whole lives for the better.
My obsession with photography started when my husband Carsten fell seriously ill. On Christmas Day 2009 the dogs (in those days it was only Noodles and Scout, two Galgo Español mixes) suddenly started barking, whining and howling. When they ran to the bathroom door, we found Carsten unconscious in the bathtub. I told the emergency doctor about a severe headache Carsten had suffered a few weeks before. The doctor looked very concerned. He checked for my husband’s vital signs and informed his colleagues via his mobile that the patient was ‘moribund’. Carsten was rushed to the hospital immediately. They told me in a concerned voice that they would initiate an induced coma. The diagnosis was a severe brain haemorrhage due to a ruptured aneurysm.
The following days, weeks and even months were marked by trembling uncertainty and waiting long hours in the hospital. After several operations and two weeks in the induced coma, Carsten was not in a perilous condition any more and they slowly woke him up. This took a few days, however contrary to the expectations of many, he had survived. We had managed to overcome this hurdle, but still nobody could tell me anything about the outcome of this and whether he could recuperate or live a normal life again.
We had no idea what damage the haemorrhage and the resulting strokes had done. One of the first questions he could answer was the names of our dogs. When he was finally awake, he had no short-term memory at all for several weeks. He also had no idea what year it was or where he was. He had the most creative answers to my questions.
During those weeks of uncertainty, in order to try to retain normality as far as possible and to have a creative outlet to cope with the nerve-wracking pressure, I decided to proceed with ‘a picture a day’ project. This meant producing something like a photographic diary for my husband by taking at least one picture a day.
I’m glad I had my family, friends, our dogs (who were even more affectionate than usual in those days) and photography to get my mind off things at that time. I can clearly remember the day Carsten started remembering things. He greeted me with the words: ‘I think what happened yesterday must have been more severe than I thought.’ That ‘yesterday’ had been three months ago. He recovered even better than the most positive predictions. We were lucky and our luck came in the form of three alert dogs, wonderful doctors who did the right things and my husband’s amazing power of recuperation.
The best way to improve your skills is to practise as often as you can. I couldn’t stop taking pictures, even when my husband was back home again. With several other sick family members to take care of, stress was still a major part of our lives.
Photography had developed into something like occupational therapy. As I posted my pictures online, I had to come up with presentable ideas and pictures on a daily basis. I read every photography book I could lay my hands on. I don’t believe in my talent, I just shot pictures all the time. My pictures and skills got better and better. As my subjects were still mostly our dogs, more and more people asked if I could photograph their dogs, too.
Dramatic events make you think about life and what you would like to make of it. My job as a freelance translator was secure and ran smoothly, but was not exciting or creative. I felt stuck in routines and a dull job. So, I dared to take the step and turn my hobby into a profession. Ten years on now, I work successfully and full-time as a professional photographer and I couldn’t be happier about this decision.
My photographs as well as my three Spanish rescue mutts have gained international fame, awarded with appearances on television, including the Good Morning America show, and features in publications worldwide, among them, National Geographic, The Daily Telegraph, Die Zeit, The Huffington Post, La Repubblica, and many more. My work has also been on the covers of dozens of magazines, including The Sunday Times Magazine. Talk about “silver linings”.
Photography is now my job, as I’m a full-time commercial and editorial photographer specializing in pet portraiture. It’s my hobby gone wild, my daily creative outlet and, next to the dogs, my favourite pastime. Every single day I have to remind myself this is real. If somebody had told me a few years ago this was possible, I wouldn’t have believed it.
My dogs are my joy, recreation, constant source of laughter. They are muses, friends and family members. All three are rescue dogs. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And they are my treasures.
There are still a few stereotypes and misconceptions about shelter dogs. Mention shelter dogs and lots of people assume something must be wrong with a dog for it to land in a shelter. But animals are abandoned for a variety of reasons, for example the owner has died; they descend from an unwanted litter; the animal has had to be removed from a harmful environment because of a neglectful or abusive owner; the owners had no idea about the responsibility that comes with it; they had to move flats and were not allowed to take pets with them; the dogs were used as useful animals and due to injury or age were not able anymore to perform as expected, etc.
Even massively abused dogs usually have a remarkable ability to recover. With patience and love they are often able to trust human beings again. Well led shelters will give interested people the chance to get to know the potential new family member and discuss whether the pet is suitable for the proposed environment and situation. There are lovable dogs of many breeds in shelters looking for homes, even puppies and purebreds. I’m sure you can find your next canine friend and family member in your local shelter or via a rescue organization. I surely did.
From left to right: Ioli, Noodles and Scout: