Take The Photos

Dec 23, 2020 - 2:58 PM

Our Holiday Pets section of The Chronicle of the Horse is one of my favorites because who doesn’t love a horse, dog, cat or child dressed up? It’s always a great mix of hilarious (please see the cat on p. 85) and stunning (see this issue’s cover) photos. But this year’s feature, especially the tribute photo on p. 86 hit me a little differently. Alongside two pups in their adorable bandanas are two framed photos of dogs.

“We used the tractor for the photo because it was my Dad’s, and we had recently lost him to pancreatic cancer,” said Heather Fritchman in an email, noting that the two dogs in the framed photos, Boogie and Kody, were beloved pets who passed in recent years.

While I’m not easily brought to tears, that did it. Because if I’m being honest, this whole holiday season feels different. My dog, Leo, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer in the fall, and we’ll be lucky if he’s around to see the beginning of 2021.

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Leo’s 2019 holiday photo, made possible by the gift of doggy angel wings from a sweet neighbor. Lisa Slade Photos

He’s been that dog for me—the first I had in my adult life, the one who saw me from my early 20s into my 30s and marriage, through several big moves and life changes, the one who’s gone everywhere with me for the last eight years. It’s been a year of loss for so many, and while it seems in some ways trivial to spend so much time lately feeling sad about the impending passing of my best bud, I know that all horse people, so many of whom are dog people by extension, can understand.

Though there have been many moments of sadness associated with his diagnosis, it’s made this holiday season much more poignant, with more laughter than I remember in years past. It certainly wouldn’t be cheerful, or in the usual holiday spirit as we think of it, to consider death, but I think there’s something important, maybe even a little joyful, in doing that.

It’s easy enough to say we should appreciate every moment of our lives with human loved ones, but it becomes somehow more pressing with our animals, who age so much faster than we do. One look at a suddenly graying nose or muzzle (Was it like that even yesterday?), and you’re reminded that this loved one really won’t be around forever. And that’s aside from the horrors that arrive to snatch them from us too soon—the cancers and the colics.

Some years I didn’t dress up Leo for a holiday photo; I can’t remember why now, but I’m sure we were busy, and it wasn’t really important, so I didn’t do it. He might not have minded (though plenty of treats come with the photo shoots, so maybe he did miss those), but now I wish we’d taken every chance we had for a photo. The photos we did take, including and especially this year—he got extra treats, of course—I’ll treasure forever. The same goes for family photos I rolled my eyes through in years past. Seeing the faces that are now missing, I’m so glad someone thought to preserve those moments.

So I hope the holiday pets section this year makes you laugh but also inspires you to take as many photos as you can going forward, and not just of pets, no matter how busy you are.

There will be a time you’ll wish you had.

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We very sadly said goodbye to Leo on Dec. 10, just before this magazine came out. We miss him terribly, but all of his silly holiday photos and videos are now a source of comfort and still provide so many laughs.

This article ran in the December 2020 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

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