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The Girl Behind the Camera and the Dog Who Changed Everything for Me

Nearly eight years ago, I rescued a puppy. He had giant puffy fur, perfectly manicured white paws, and a freckled nose...and he was terrified of everything. Jake and several other Bernese Mountain Dogs had been pulled from a puppy mill in rural Ohio, where they were locked in cages and never exposed to the real, happy world. Meanwhile I dealt with my own demons, battling chronic anxiety and depression since I was 15. Over the next few years, he and I worked diligently through his fears, and Jake became a new dog. He passed his Canine Good Citizen test and became a therapy dog, helping children learn to read, bringing smiles to elder care facilities, and visiting wounded warriors in the hospital. Another year went by, and after more training, something unexpected happened - Jake learned to disrupt panic attacks and alert to depressive episodes I would go through and completed all the legal tasks to become my service dog. Jake and I went through it all together - divorce and all the emotions of letting go and starting over, the apprehension of being alone followed by the equally large unease of trusting someone new, moves across the country - the highs, the lows, and everything in between.

They say the only fault of a dog is that its life is too short, and with Bernese Mountain Dogs that is especially true. The breed's life expectancy generally ranges from 8-10 years, leaving those of us who love them wondering how we could set ourselves up for such heartache to let them go so quickly. Life expectancy - such a strange phrase, really, because nothing can prepare you to expect there to be an end to your best friend.

As Jake celebrated his seventh birthday last year and we headed toward that dreaded "expectancy," we found a lump under his nose. A melanoma. We are blessed to have amazing veterinarians who surgically removed the mass with clean margins, and all of his chest x-rays to detect spreading since have come back clear. Simultaneously at 32 I went through my own cancer scare and resulting surgery, and have been just as lucky to overcome it. I knew I needed to remember this moment in time and Jake forever the way he is now - bright eyed, floofy-tailed, paws crossed, smiling pup who starts my every day with his "good morning" roo-ing conversation and closes every night by wrapping his head around my neck when I hug him. I'm fortunate enough to be among some truly talented people in the pet photography industry, so I set out to determine how to make our story last forever, not for an expectancy.

- Jake isn't overly boisterous or goofy. He's calm and stoic and often just sits back and observes the world. I needed someone who could embrace Jake's sober personality but still draw the sparkle in his eyes.

- Jake is a gentleman. He's often found with his front paws crossed in typical Bernese Mountain Dog fashion. I needed someone whose calm energy would allow Jake to be himself - relaxed enough to set back and cross his paws.

- I wanted a natural, organic style that captured Jake's methodical nature, but an x-factor that incorporated a little bit of fashion.

- As the photographer who is usually on the other side of the lens, I needed someone who could make me comfortable being in front of it, which meant I needed to have full confidence in what they were doing and just listen.

I admire the work of dozens of photographers - pets, weddings, family, fashion. For weeks I scoured the internet making my short list, ensuring the person I chose was the right photographer for us. Out of all the photographers in the world, I kept gravitating toward Josie Baughan of The Artisan Hound, based in Northamptonshire in the United Kingdom. Her style is fresh and clean with that x-factor of rich colors and refinement I was looking for. Her personality is calming, certainly compounded by her beautifully posh and proper British accent. And I trusted her completely - her work is consistent and her talent unwavering. With a few months of planning and praying that Texas weather cooperated on the weekend I brought her in, Josie arrived in Dallas last October. It has taken me the past 11 months to process the overwhelming emotion of these photos, muster the courage to put into words, and share some of the raw story of me and the motivation behind our shoot.

My photography session with Jake was flawless. I felt beautiful thanks to the talents of Styles by Vero, a fabulous pair of new heels, and Jake's nose nudging me along. I felt relaxed as Josie walked me through being in front of the camera. There was laughter, there were tears, but I felt a sense of peace knowing that this moment in time with my best friend would surpass any expectancy and last forever.

Jake has brought me to an important place, where I still fight some battles but know that above all, there are dogs. He has since retired from daily work, but is never far from my feet at home and if we talk on the phone, you can be assured he is laying there with his paws crossed silently observing the conversation with his stoic supervision, always watching me. Jake is the impetus behind Haute Dog Pet Photography. He makes his mark in everything from our logo to the inspiration behind every photo we take.

Nearly 8 years ago, a puppy rescued me. I had flat brown hair, manicured nails, and an unfreckled nose...and I was often afraid of everything.

Photos copyrighted by and used with permission from The Artisan Hound.

To read about our session and see some of the amazing photos, please visit The Artisan Hound to hear from Josie. For the rest of my life, words will never explain how I will cherish these images.

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