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Strangest Animal – Tales with Tails

Strangest Animal – Tales with Tails

Winter of 2016 I found myself on a walk-a-bout. On a personal journey from Colorado to Washington state for several weeks of self discovery. Much of my time I spent with my daughter in the tiny town of Port Angeles, Washington.

With the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the North and the Olympic Mountains to the south I sat in the midst of photography paradise. I wandered down to the water to spy on seals & bald eagles. And up into the mountains for snowy Lake Crescent scenes.

But my heart yearned to photograph pets. Within two weeks I had tracked down the local humane society.

Olympic Peninsula Humane Society is located just on the edge of town nestled in lovely northwest trees and meadows. The OPHS has their own little forest with a groomed walking path that all the dogs know by heart. Near the dog building a rock garden and patio serve as a perfect location to pose adventuresome pups. In a separate building the cats enjoy huge suites and the bunnies have taken over the enclosed back patio.

On each of my four visits I had the honor of photographing whichever adoptable animals needed portraits. I posed a pair of pugs on a flat boulder. A regal pyrenees paused on the forest trail for her photos. An elderly cocker spaniel lounged on the patio for her session. We gathered all the Christmas decorations from the entire facility to create a holiday set for a litter of foster puppies. Kitties of all ages enjoyed rolling around on the soft fabric of my portable table top studio. (Yes on my walkabout my photography gear filled half my Subaru so I was well prepared for any photo adventure.) One bunny with a neurological condition managed to sit still for a few images (she was adopted quickly after that!) And one bunny we decided to surround with real carrots and lettuce for a fun studio set-up.

But the strangest animals I have ever photographed were also at the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society. I consider them strange because I had never personally interacted with one and honestly didn’t even know what it was when I looked at it. With the softest fur in the universe, a long bottle brush bushy tail, big round ears, shiny black eyes, teeny feet and cat like whiskers I had met a Chinchilla. Actually a pair of chinchillas.

According to Wikipedia, chinchillas are native to Chili in South America. The chinchilla is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who once wore its dense, velvet-like fur. Unfortunately by the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare after being hunted for their ultra-soft fur.

Somehow chinchillas became exotic pets. But I wouldn’t recommend them! They are very difficult to care for. Again per wikepedia they need dust baths, low stress, strict room temperature regulation, and teeth care among many other needs.

This pair we learned were relatively wild. The previous owners did not handle them and likely did not 100% know how to care for them.

Only one employee at OPHS knew how to handle them. As gently as possible she cradled one at time in her hands for their adoption portraits. Very fast, small, delicate and unpredictable we decided against letting them go on the studio table set. The first one we used a soft pink towel to wrap her in and concentrated on close ups portraits. The second one was a little more comfortable so she simply held him in her hands. While not the ideal poses we managed to create some extremely cute images of these strange rodents.

Volunteering at an animal shelter brings surprises and challenges. I never know before entering who I will encounter. I will definitely never forget those soft, squirmy, exotic chinchillas.

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 8. Aired November 26, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


Tales with Tails – Seen Equals Saved

Tales with Tails – Seen Equals Saved

For years people have told me “I don’t know how you do it, I would want to take them all home.” Usually said with a sad expression and a sigh of defeat. Well meaning people everywhere can hardly comprehend how I can meet hundreds of homeless animals a year and not want to take them all home.

As a professional pet and people photographer I volunteer my skills each week to photograph adoptable animals at two local shelters. Animal House Rescue and Grooming and Fort Collins Cat Rescue Spay/Neuter Clinic here in Northern Colorado. I’ve also volunteered at Larimer Humane Society in Loveland, Colorado, at Furry Friends in Vancouver, Washington and Olympic Peninsula Humane Society in Port Angeles, Washington.  

Hundreds of dogs and cats have modeled for me over the years. I’ve even had the pleasure of photographing chinchillas, rabbits, rats, ferrets, lizards, pigs, turtles, mice, fish, birds, guinea pigs and ducks. From the youngest puppies and kittens to seniors to special needs. Giant breed dogs to tiny mice. Well behaved to shy to rambunctious. Yes even neglected, abandoned and terminally ill.

So how am I able to look all those precious needy animals in the eye and not scoop them up and take them home? Can I turn my heart on and off? Do I ugly cry after each session? Do I have special powers of resistance?

I’ve decided on my role in their lives and my mission. I strive to take photographs that will speak to potential adopters. That will make someone’s heart skip a beat causing them to stop scrolling through pet adoption pages and introduce them to a perfect furbaby for their family. I am a connector.

I know good photographs make a difference. Recent statistics from found that good photographs increase adoption rates by 60%! Their recent campaign “Seen Equals Saved” urges creatives to use their skills and talents to make a difference in the lives of these animals and to ease the burden of rescue organizations throughout the country.

With the giving season upon us consider how you can give. You don’t have to adopt them all! You can volunteer photography, design skills, social media savvy, fostering, dog walking, litter box cleaning, and more. (Of course all our favorite organizations could use cash also!)

Wherever you are in the world you can make a difference. You could change the world for one animal today just by sharing a social media post, calling the shelter for a cleaning shift or donating time or money from your business. Every effort counts.

For this  holiday season and beyond let’s all #GiveWhereOurHearLives.

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 7. Aired November 20, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


Doggo Decoder – Tales with Tails

**Fictional Tale**

My tale this week is inspired by the lingo used in the pet world. When I chat with people not obsessed with pet/animals they either crack up or give me a blank look. How many quirky pet words or phrases can you relate to in this fictional story?

Doggo Decoder – Tales with Tails

Max shivered against the chilly sudden downpour. Darn thunder started early today! Even with his thundershirt hugging him securely the poor doggo jumped at the loud booms in the sky. But we have to go on our walkies and keep housetraining on track. No more potty pads for Max! He sniffed all the good places and finally settled on watering the classic fire hydrant. (Pretty sure the irony of that decision was lost on him.)

Back in the warm house Max squirmed under a cursory towel dry. As any full blooded pupper would he jetted off at full speed to race zoomies around the house. Running and leaping in circles, under the table, and over the couch he managed to spread the rain drops evenly throughout the living room.

Sophie nonchalantly observed the undignified chaos from the third floor of her deluxe condo. The tiniest twitch of her tail registered her royal disgust. Have canines no dignity? Obviously the proper response to a wet coat is to stretch out completely and begin a luxurious bristle tongue bath on a clean duvet. Followed up with a spiteful stroll across the dining room table. And finished off with a kitty roca deposit one inch outside of the pristine litter box. Ah well everyone knows that felines are supreme beings so her station in the hierarchy will remain purrfectly undisputed.

One final shake-off starting at Max’s muzzle and spiraling all the way to the tip of his tail feathers causing a fine cloud of mist and Max finally paused. What’s this? A BarkBox has arrived? Glory days! Much barking and bouncing is necessary until the treasure chest is pried open. Cookies and squeakies and kibble and bandanas are showered upon Max every month. Doggos age 7x faster than hoomans so he can celebrate his birthday every month right?

Besides that, who knows where Max lived the first five years of his life? Scooped up off the streets by a friendly animal control officer a year ago his previous life is a mystery. Heck we don’t even know his breed without a Wisdom Panel DNA test. (It doesn’t matter anyway since he’s fluffy so his breed is “Floof” in our minds.)

As part of the animal rescue foster network in town I agreed to care for Max until he found a home. All set up with yummy food, full veterinary exam, and a giant soft bed I loaded Max in my Subaru and brought him to my house temporarily. He earned the “Pawsome Pooch” award in obedience class. He kept a respectful relationship with Sophie. And he eventually got the hang of housetraining.

But after a few weeks I realized I had failed. Foster Failed. Yup, Max wasn’t going anywhere. He had worked his magic and found his furever home as my precious furbaby.

That evening while watching the storm subside we all snuggled on the couch under a paw print blankie. Sophie kneaded biscuits on my right leg with her little pink beans. Max flopped his fuzzy chin on my left leg and snored peacefully. I glanced at the plaque on my wall and contemplated it’s message again “Who Rescued Who?”

****Doggie models are Leo & Martha who live with Kathryn Eccleston. Kathryn is the mom of Ali who founded Animal House Rescue & Grooming. If you live in Colorado consider adopting from Animal House.

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 6. Aired November 13, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


Wildlife Vacation List – Tales with Tails

Wildlife Vacation List – Tales with Tails

Ever watch the movie The Big Year? Owen Wilson & Jack Black & Steve Martin are on a year long world wide competition to see all the birds on their list and win an award.

They may seem obsessed and over the top but I found out that Life Lists are very real and serious for bird enthusiasts. According to Life Lists are “a list of all the bird species they’ve identified with absolute certainty during their whole lifetime of serious birding.” Many Birders craft their entire annual vacations around spying a rare bird for their list.

Yeah really.

As I marvel at the dedication and depth of serious bird watchers I reflected on my own vacation habits. Shockingly I realized that I make a list of critters I’ve seen on every one of my trips! Casually, without forethought or intention I write a list. Maybe in the notes of my phone, in a journal or in a social media recap. And I’ve done it for decades! How have I just noticed this pattern? Who am I? Am I a closet naturalist? Is there a silent scientist lurking behind my camera?

With some reflection I decided that the explanation is quite simple. It’s thrilling. I get a rush when I see an animal in the wild by chance or design. I love to tell the tales of the critters I encounter to eager listeners. Like a “Wish You Were Here” postcard I share photos and stories to transport my friends and family to that moment with me.

Sometimes I have happened upon wildlife by chance. The school of dolphins in Hawaii, bear shockingly close to the trail in Alaska, the brazen wet racoon in Washington. Other times I have specifically sought out the critters. Burrowing owl families in Colorado, Orca pods in the San Juans, and tiny tail dropping lizards in Arizona.

But I can’t tell you all those tales today! You will have to watch the podcast and blog feed for all those tasty treats.

For now I am encouraging you to keep a list of the animals you encounter. You might be as shocked as I when you think back to your travels. Is your favorite story the time you rounded the bend in the trail to be face to face with a moose? Or the time you couldn’t believe your eyes at the number of tadpoles at your favorite fishing hole? Or the time you nearly bumped into a rattler on a bike ride?

Note all your sightings from your neighborhood to far off lands. Fox in your backyard? A bald eagle over the lake? Hummingbirds in the mountains? Or more exotic locals like puffins in Iceland? Blue Footed Booby in the Galapagos Islands? Giraffes in Namibia?

After a while you will have amassed a treasure trove of stories to captivate the room at any function. I have a feeling if you are tuning in to this story that you are like me. And all of your especially fond Tales have Tails.

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 5. Aired November 6, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


Seed, my favorite! – Tales with Tails

Seed, my favorite! – Tales with Tails

In high school my friend, Fancy, had a pair of zebra finches, Cecil and Beanie. When Fancy went out of town Cecil and Beanie came to my house for vacation. Every time she fed them they would immediately fly to their dish as if it were a giant birthday cake. She would narrate their enthusiasm in a squeaky voice “Seed! My Favorite!”

Ever seen a bag of bird food? Blend of millet, flax, grass seed, oat groats and a variety of oils and vitamins. Yum, pour me a bowl!

I loved having having her birds over so much I eventually had a pair of my own. Through high school and my kids younger years we always had a few finches. And all of them went crazy for their simple meal of seeds.

With my kids grown and off on their own a couple years ago I found myself yearning for a pair of “Beepety Beeps” again. After weeks of watching the Larimer Humane Society website I finally hit gold! One warm spring day I carted home 3 finches complete with cage and dishes.

All set up on my kitchen table I vowed to give them the good life. I added branches, toys and bits of paper. Because I love to hear them sing they were named Ingrid, Bruno & Brad after favorite musicians.

(A few months later it became clear that Bruno wanted Ingrid all to herself so Brad when to live with friends and their finches.)

True to their nature Bruno & Ingrid devour their simple seed diet. With a beepeddy beep they dive into their food dish. Wings fluttering, tiny orange legs hopping and beaks foraging excitedly through their breakfast.

I’ve tried supplementing their diet with appropriate fruits, with special pellet food, and a variety of seed mixes. They adamantly prefer their basic seed mix.

Watching them happily dig into the same meal day after day causes me to pause and consider my lifestyle. Am I infinitely grateful for the meals I consume? Does a piece of toast send me a twitter? Would a spray of grapes everyday give me joy?

Ok I do clap my hands, hop around the kitchen and hum a little tune when an especially tasty meal is dished up. What if I performed my happy food dance at every meal?

A simple bowl of cereal every morning, Thanksgiving feasts, meals with friends, popcorn with pups, reheated leftovers and quick snacks on a road trip. From basic to eleboate Bruno and Ingrid remind me every day to relish them all.

How do you celebrate food in your life?

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 4. Aired October 30, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


Fish in Costumes – Tales with Tails

Fish in Costumes – Tales with Tails

With Halloween stealthily creeping up the calendar, pet lovers are enthusiastically joining in on the action. Our pets are our furbabies and they deserve to celebrate holidays too!

In the Northern Colorado Animal Lovers Facebook Group Liana asked, “Do you dress up your pets?”

Images of Corgies appropriately displayed as loaves of Wonder bread, dachshunds as hot dogs complete with mustard and ketchup, kittens as fierce lions, pitbulls with frilly pink tutus, even bearded dragons as adorable vikings filled my imagination.

Alas I do not have a dog or cat in my life right now and am feeling left out of the festivities. With a sigh I replied to Liana’s question in the facebook group “My birds and fish likely wouldn’t be in the spirit this year.”

Liana’s responded to my post “I would pay good money to see your fish dressed up in a Halloween costume!”

Immediately my brain lit up and declared “Challenge Accepted!”

Over the last several weeks I have slowly crafted a plan. Black and white poster boards, check. Towels, check. Fish puns, check. Markers, check.

Hey it’s not what you think! I won’t be plopping my flying fox on a towel and drawing a mustache on him! And I won’t be pulling out the bristlenose pleco to pose in front of the poster boards as a teacher! The snails won’t be lining up as rockette dancers sliding across the counter with tiny tiaras! Just calm down everyone!

No my plan is much, much more difficult…for me. The set up: camera on a tripod. Dark towels draped over the front of the tank to block reflections. Posterboard propped on the back of the tank. Dry erase markers poised.

Perusing through Pinterest looking for fish jokes more times than I want to admit I formed a slick plan. All I have to do is draw part of a costume on the front of the tank, wait for a fish to swim by in just the right spot, then click the shutter. Easy right? Ummm not so much.

First it takes the fish about 15 min to acclimate to the towels and camera (this is when the excessive Pinterest browsing happens). Then they have to swim in the right direction, at the right depth and the right angle. And preferable only one fish at a time. And before 8:00 pm when the lights automatically turn off for fishy bedtime.

I started easy, a simple triangle shaped clown hat with little polka dots and pom pom on top. (Clown Fish, get it?) Swim, swim, swim….click! Dang it – blurry. Swim, swim swim…click! Dang it – turned at the last minute. Swim, swim, swim …click! Dang it – that fish is too small!

Fine how about a shark fin? Swim, swim, swim …click! Dang it – wrong direction! Swim, swim, swim …click! Dang it – fin on the head instead of the back.

Time for a break and a glass of wine and more Pinterest searching. How can I take these hysterical fish puns and draw them simply so my fish can participate in Halloween festivities?

Here are a few of my attempts:

“So-fish-tecated” Bowties and monocles.

“Oscar did you order dinner on-line?” Fishing line with a worm on the hook.

“Fastest fish in the river? Motorpike with a side-carp.” Stick figure motorcycle.

“Angel fish” Tiny glowing halo.

But my favorite theme is space.

Trouter Space.

Like Nasa throwing a party I decided to Planet.

Tiny astronauts with glass bubble helmets. Fish gliding along in rockets. Shooting starfish.

With the black posterboard as the background I created my scene. Moon in the corner, stars drawn on the front and back glass. Little rockets they could swim through. Helmets for the snails. And of course a whale of a sign declaring the fish tank now as “Trouter Space.”  

As a creative I love projects that make me think outside the tank and challenge all my skills. And I want to include everyone in my family, even the fishiest. Mission accomplished! All the fish and I are thoroughly impressed. #OhMyCod.

I am already researching themes for next year. If you hear of any good fish puns, let Minnow.

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 3. Aired October 24, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


Gypsy Over the Waterfall – Tales with Tails

Gypsy over the Waterfall – Tales with Tails

“What river is this?” Roman would ask my car full of kids on the drive to our parents house. All the kids would enthusiastically chant as groomed by my brother: “The Greatest River in the World!” Winding through southwest Washington the Lewis River holds many decades of family outing stories.

Gypsy, our golden retriever, loved water. Not hoses or baths of course but rivers, lakes and oceans. Her favorite game being Chase the Splash. As she swam her front paws hit the water giving her endless fountains of joy.

For Washington state Sunset Falls on the Lewis River is a short falls of only about 18 feet. One summer day, while all the kids splashed around above the falls Gypsy followed them to chase all their splashes too.

Sitting on the shore with our toy poodle my lazy daydreaming was abruptly interrupted by 6 people frantically running past me screaming, “Gypsy went over the waterfall! Gypsy went over the waterfall!” I looked up just in time to see her floating past into the forest. I clutched the poodle and listened to them calling Gypsy to shore a few hundred feet away.

Within minutes a very drippy Gypsy pranced back up the shore with all the kids. Relieved, I resumed my post on the rocks and held her leash while all the kids went back out to play. To my surprise poor Gypsy, shaking and drenched, whined and begged to be let back in the water! How dare I interrupt her beloved game?

That river still holds the title in my mind for the Greatest River in the World as it taught me to look at life through a Golden Retriever’s eyes. Falling off the waterfall was all part of the game and the fun for her. As far as I know she may have considered the waterfall the biggest splash to chase ever! Do you have waterfall moments? Can you view them through a soggy, panting, and carefree Golden Retriever filter?

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 2. Aired October 16, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.