Heartfelt Doggie Portraits

I love it when people connect with me because of this blog.  Thank you to everyone who reads a post here and decides to follow me.  What an honor.

So now I need to slip into past tense.  A couple of weeks ago, someone from Littleton decided to follow this blog.  I went to Shaina Zimmerman’s Rescued Rover blog to find out a little more about her. What a wonderful surprise!  Shaina takes pet portraits as a sideline to her work as a veterinary assistant and student at Red Rocks.  Her blog is filled with beautiful work.  I knew I had to find out more about this woman, so I contacted her and she agreed to talk with me by phone.

Rescued Rover-Versailles at Coyote Song Trail

Shaina’s 3-year old shepherd, Versailles at Coyote Song Trail, Littleton

Shaina started loving pets at an early age and said, “I was the kid who would find a stray and catch it and bring it home. My parents didn’t seem to mind.  They always had four or five dogs at a time around.”

At seventeen, Shaina got a dog of her own, not shared with the rest of the family, and she was hooked for life.

“I can read them (dogs) easily,” said Shaina, “and I really enjoy them.  I volunteered at some shelters, and then worked at pet care places and doggie day camps.  I like to work with aggressive dogs particularly.  I like to rehabilitate them, giving them lots of love and treats.  If I can socialize them, it gives them a second chance in life.”

An old boss of Shaina’s introduced her to photography and a new love took off.  She is mostly self-taught in her skills, but you wouldn’t know it. She said she fell head over heels in love with the different lenses she now uses to snap her beautiful pet portraits ($100 per session, $25 of which is donated to her favorite charity, Outpaws Animal Rescue).

Rescued Rover - Bailey the Lab

Shaina’s Lab, Bailey, 5, keeps her smiling.

Some of Shaina’s photography time is spent taking portraits of the dogs and cats at Outpaws. This organization is a completely foster-based center, which means they try to keep dogs until a good home can be found. Their mission statement reads, in part:

“OutPaws places companion animals in foster homes until they can be matched with loving forever homes, educates the community about responsible pet ownership, advocates tirelessly for the best alternatives for both homeless animals and beloved pets and remains committed to fighting pet homelessness until every adoptable dog and cat has a home.”

One of the challenges for this not-for-profit organization, is getting adoptions up.  Many of the photos taken of the dogs in the past were dark, blurry, or taken spur of the moment, without great lighting or time.  Shaina said she’s trying to help here, too.

“All they have to promote their adoptions is their website, so taking good pictures of available dogs and cats is huge for them,” said Shaina.

I congratulated this young person for all the energy and love she gives to the pet community, and she replied, “I only wish I could do more.”


Wishing you a day full of good doggie stories, great friendship, and the positive energy that Shaina brings to our world.

Building The Story Concept

I am reading a new book on writing called Story Engineering – Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks.  Who knew writing was such serious stuff?  Even the title is intimidating.  Still, yours truly decided to brandish her reading glasses, brave the wilds, and crack open the cover of the book.

Story Engineering by Larry BrooksWowser! The writing actually made sense.  I have to admit I’m only to page 46, but this is great fun for me.  I’m working on the first competency, called “concept.”  Here I always thought the writer was supposed to sit on the couch in a thoughtful position until others heard the creative sounds of snoring, then jump up and say “Eureka!” with the next story idea fully formed in his or her head.

Nope. Mr. Brooks nicely broke down that process into things like ideas, concepts, and premises.  These things all bundled together form a meaning or theme for a book.  How cool is that?

In short, a concept is constructed by taking an idea and playing what if games with it.  So, if your idea was to write about pigeons (roll with me here, will you?), then the concept starts asking things like:

  • What if pigeons became so populous in London that no one could see the sky any more? Not that people in London have any reason to look up anyway; it’s almost always raining there.  But still.
  • What if a pigeon started pooping gold nuggets? Hard on the head, but I’d keep that bird.
  • What if a gold-pooping pigeon lived in London amongst a population of pigeons that were being decimated because there were too many of them everywhere?

Forgive me. It’s 6:30 in the morning, and I have no idea where my creativity is. But you get the point (and yes, if you want to play with this golden pigeon idea/concept, knock yourself out).

One more important element of the great concept, is character. According to Story Engineering, a tale needs a “conceptual delivery strategy” to show us the truth in our stories via a character or set of characters that … “make the journey more personal and visceral, as opposed to journalistic.”

It’s easy to say “Say no to drugs,” as Nancy Regan showed us in the mid ’80s, but show us a person who learns that lesson through experience, and we have a great delivery system for a concept, like “what if a real estate salesman, with career and marriage problems, turns to cocaine use for his solution?” The 1983 movie starring Dennis Weaver became “Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction.”

Now, a concept is not a full-blown plot ready to throw down on a page, but only “a window into that plot.”  It’s kind of like a guide post.  It this or that a good story idea? I don’t know. What’s your concept? Is the concept original? Gee, how many stories are there with gold-pooping pigeons escaping a slaughter-house in London? Is the concept’s delivery system (character/s) strong? Maybe there is an old carrier-pigeon owner who loves the birds and wants to help a select few escape the slaughter.  What will he gain by befriending the gold-pooping pigeon? What will his girlfriend say? What is their story and what will they learn?

By now, I’ve forgotten that I’m working on the notion of concept because I’m too busy playing with images of pigeons and curiosity about the “sky rats” as a friend of mine calls them.  Can’t wait to read more in this book.

Meanwhile, it’s your turn. Come up with the most unlikely subject (idea) you can think of.  Write down the word or phrase in the middle of a blank sheet of paper.  There’s your “idea.” Then write as many “what if” questions as you can around that word. Develop a premise by popping a character into the mix. Mostly, have a fun and creative day.

A Tail’s End

It all started with the discovery of small bits of blood on my walls.

Hmm. How did that get there? Guess somebody in our house had an ow-ie. For once we had no drama to go with it. I counted my lucky stars, wiped up the dots, and went on with life.

Then came a little chewing. Prophet has always chews on himself–guess that’s entertaining for a dog riddled with allergies. We’ll be watching television and he starts in–chew, chew, chew, lick, lick, lick. That sound–the click, click of teeth on fur, and slurpy, desperate noises as his tongue laps up his shedding–that sound is indelibly burned into my memory banks. Hollywood should come record my dog doing this. Add a few dog licking sounds to any torture scene and you have real entertainment–rated Y for yucky.

“Stop that!” I shouted with all the love in my heart. Prophet got up and walked away. More dots. Hmm.

Finally, I caught him in the act. Proph was actually chewing the tip of his tail! And, he managed to make it bleed. Oh happy day. Add a trip to the vet before sending him off to PetSmart so my good guy and I could enjoy a weekend away. I took him in.

Sure enough, a hundred and some dollars and a funky looking band-aid later, we had a dog with an infection on his tail and a scramble for a pet-sitter for the weekend. Petsmart doesn’t take in pets with band aids. Who knew?

A week or two later, and all the antibiotics used up, we went back to the vet for the bandage removal. The dog made more fuss getting the thing off than on.

“I’m not sure this is a good sign,” said the vet. “He shouldn’t be in pain any more.”

“You don’t understand,” I said. “I love my dog, but he’s a bit of a drama queen. Perhaps the vet tech didn’t say pretty please when she took his tail in hand?”

We did an X-ray. Two or three bones up there was a little crack. Hairline. I could hardly see it. Back on went the band-aid. I wasn’t going to even consider amputating the tail as she suggested.  People heal pretty quickly from broken bones to arms and legs. Surely, Proph’s tail should be better in no time.

Guess the healing angels didn’t hear me. With the anti-biotic used up, Prophet became more and more aware of his broken tail, and he ripped off the second band-aid. Back to the vet for a new one–$37 for an empty syringe and self-adhesive ace wrap.

We had company that night. Prophet was so excited. Our friends brought their dog along. No matter how that other dog tried to set a good example–sitting quietly, staring at his owner with a please-can-we-go-home-now look, laying on his bed with the resignation only a dog can project–Prophet wasn’t buying it.

As the volume of Proph’s barking increased and picking up of shoes and other inappropriate objects became a hopeless invitation to play, I kept wondering where my well-behaved middle-aged dog had gone, and who was this exuberant little kid before me? Into the kennel he had to go. At last he settled down and we could enjoy our company.

A dog's band aid

Remnants of a tail wrap, number four–or was that five?

Later, we let Proph out, but the band-aid stayed behind. Goodness! No way were we going to go to an emergency vet to have the thing put back on. Home remedy time. We wrapped up the tail–two, three, four more times in the next day or two.

At last my guy got out the ever-powerful duct tape and wrapped that tail so that it would take a nuclear explosion to get it off. Proph slouched and sagged around a lot, but the band-aid stayed on.

A couple of days later we took the wrap off to change it. But the happy little tail end had turned purple. I cleaned it and the dog didn’t flinch, but he licked open a wound with just one or two swipes of the tongue. Back to the vet.

The tail end comes off

A little shorter, but still a cute tail, don’t you think?

“It’s dead,” she said. “No, it’s hard to wrap a tail too tight. You’ve done what you could.”

Times like these, I think of all the Reader’s Digest articles I’ve read where homeowners perform miracles with creatures that no vet will touch. Love, band aids and voila! Healthy pets and wild critters emerge from these times.  Not so with poor Proph.

We took him

in one more time. Snip, snip and five inches of tail were gone. But gone is the chewing as well. He’s smiling again, even from within the “collar of shame.”

Prophet in the collar of shame

Peek-a-boo! I’ll be busting outta this contraption any day. Watch out, tail!

Oh! That collar? It’s on because when the vet took the operation band-aid off, Prophet managed to lick off two stitches  while we were in the reception area making the next appointment!  His tail had been healing nicely. It’s back in a band-aid. Maybe next week we’ll get back to normal.

Until then, lick, lick, lick will be ever in my brain next to the wree, wree, wree of the shower scene from Psycho.