Writing this post is almost impossible to do, but about two weeks ago I had to say my final farewell and give my very last hug to my favorite dog on the planet, Pancake. He lived an admirable and honorable 13 years on this planet, every single one of them by my side. Like so many people I know, Pancake and I were attached at the hip from the very first day we met. He was two months old when I brought him into my life, ridiculously floppy, baby-faced and puked the whole way home in the car as I held him and was fully committed to a creature I hardly even knew yet. It was the first time I had ever experienced the sensation of wanting to protect a small creature, not because I thought baby Pancake needed my protection but simply because I wanted to offer it to him unconditionally.
It's difficult to describe the bond we shared. Dogs, like the people closest to us, adapt and form to our lives all while maintaining their own individuality which we in turn adapt and form to. That's the meaning of life right there, and that's exactly what it was like sharing the past 13 years with Pancake. We learned from each other, we taught each other, we listened to each other and when we fought (Why did you eat the last remaining copy of my college thesis, Pancake? Why did you eat your poop again, puppy Pancake? Why did you puke on the floor during a client meeting, Pancake? Why are you whining during the busiest day of the week, Pancake? Why did you eat my friend's fancy pair of glasses and expensive hand poured wax candles, Pancake? Why won't you pee outside at 10:30pm during a winter snowstorm, Pancake? Why did you secretly eat all that grass and mud at the park, Pancake? Why did you have explosive poop in my car while we were running errands, Pancake? ), we always worked through it and came together in the end. Quickly. With forgiveness and understanding and respect for our own particular ways of being.
One of the things Pancake and I enjoyed doing together most was taking long walks on the beach. And no, that's not a joke. Being at the beach is where I feel most at ease, and as a puppy I guess I taught Pancake the value of quiet beach time. It took us a long time to get the hang of off-leash boundaries and behavior - for me, I needed to learn to trust Pancake as a young dog, and for him he needed to learn to trust my rules and expectations. It wasn't until he was about a year and a half that we were able to be off-leash together in a calm and confident way. But I still remember that first time he ran farther ahead than I wanted, and I called him back to me (with the promise of a tiny piece of carrot, his favorite) and he turned on a dime and sprinted as fast as his tiny dog body allowed and zoomed all the way back to me and crash-landed at my feet in a sandy pile, happily taking his carrot prize. Our beach walks, both in San Francisco and on Cape Cod, were always the epitome of freedom and joy and it was a beautiful thing to be part of. I'll always be deeply grateful that Pancake valued an experience that meant so much to me - not only was it convenient, it was made more special that we got to do it together for all those years. He was at his happiest zooming down a beach, and I was at my happiest watching.
Side Note: Pancake did NOT enjoy swimming. This is a photo of the torture I would inflict on him a few times a year. During the Summer we'd be on Cape Cod because I would be teaching or visiting family. Early in the mornings before I went to teach my photography class we would go to the beach. It would be still and quiet, with no tourists or children or dogs. I'd take gently pick up Pancake and walk him out through the still shallow morning water and place him in the water and quickly walk back to shore. He was not a great swimmer, but it cooled him off and was good exercise. Also it was adorable (proof is above).
For the few years that I lived in Los Angeles, Pancake and I sure clocked a LOT of miles on the trails at Griffith Park and Runyon Canyon. We hiked at least once a week, usually twice or three times. 'Hiking' in LA is not leisurely enjoying nature while challenging your body. 'Hiking' in LA is basically going to the gym outside. As much as I was shocked at how many people talked loudly on their cell phones while on the trails or carried obnoxious boom boxes or literally RAN WITH WEIGHTS, I secretly loved being part of that weird, weird world. Pancake loved it, too. We'd do very brisk hikes in the LA sun weaving amongst all the other people, trying to keep up with the most fit humans I'd ever seen. Sometimes on really hot days Pancake would tire out and literally lie down in the middle of the sandy paths. He'd roll over ever so dramatically and cover himself in dirt and slide under a 'shrub' which provided a tiny bit of shade. I'd sit with him and give him water while strangers gawked at how poorly treated my little dog was until I finally gave in and hoisted him over my shoulder and hiked all the way down the trail with him grinning ear to ear. I called that 'hailing a human taxi' because secretly all he wanted was to be carried around in public.
I'm incredibly lucky to have so many talented photographers in my life. I guess that's just part of the job. After ten years of telling people how important it is to turn the mirror around and show them the beauty that lies within the bond they share with their dog, it honestly never ceases to amaze me how affected I am by looking at good proper portraits of Pancake and I. It's as if all those years I had no idea what we looked like together - because that's honestly the truth. When you share your world with a dog (or a person) it all becomes second nature and getting an outside perspective is nearly impossible. These portraits I have of Pancake and I are some of my favorite possessions and I'm so glad that I can look back at them now. Just like my clients can look back at the work we make together and feel comforted. The camera is the most magical mirror.
To everyone who has reached out over the past few weeks: Thank You. Thank you for recognizing what a meaningful relationship I had with my favorite dog, and for lending your support and well wishes. It's a vulnerable, painful, confusing, overwhelming, joyful, beautiful, terrible, wonderful experience to lose a dog. Feels not too dissimilar from the experience of having a dog. It's all one big swirling cycle of appreciation and love and loss and the willingness to do it all over again.
Farewell, Pancake. You are a very good dog. Your cells are in my cells are your never, ever far away.