Old Dogs Rock (and so do Nancy LeVine’s Portraits!)
(Full disclosure: Schiffer Publishing provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
An old dog’s eyes, milky white, are not so much going blind as they are being clouded by memory: every stick, every ball, the squirrel that got away – they’re all there. Nothing is forgotten. The day she swam across the lake, or chewed your mouthguard into a million pieces. Remember when she was lost for two days, and came home soaking wet, muddy, and with a bird’s feather – blue and white – somehow lodged beneath her collar? She remembers. They all do. Every word, every walk, every time you RUBBED their neck. The memories spill into their eyes, and eventually all they can see is the past.
– Daniel Wallace
Anyone who’s ever opened their home and their heart to a dog is sure to love Senior Dogs Across America: Portraits of Man’s Best Old Friend. Award-winning photographer Nancy LeVine traveled across America, photographing senior dogs in their natural habitats: in forever homes and animal sanctuaries; lounging on couches, riding along with their humans in tractors, and playing with their siblings, human and non; aging with dignity and wisdom and grace.
The eighty-six portraits included here promise to tug at the heartstrings – and make you hug your canine companion just a little bit tighter tonight. The dogs featured run the gamut: there are big dogs and little dogs; pit bulls, dachshunds, greyhounds, Chihuahuas, and mutts; and several tripods, a few one-eyed dogs, and one very big German Shepherd on wheels (hey, Abby!). There are even two Otises, both chocolate Labs by the look of ’em, living just a state apart in Washington and California. LeVine lovingly captures the spirit and personality of each of her subjects; while the book is rather short on words, each picture sings and shines and speaks volumes, dancing off the printed page and right into the reader’s heart.
There’s an interesting mix of full-color and black-and-white photos, and LeVine makes artful use of white space for a simple yet sophisticated feel. Each photograph is accompanied by the dog’s name, age, and place of residence – nothing more. The photos speak for themselves.
As a former photographer for the Elmsford, New York Humane Society, LeVine places a special – and much-needed – emphasis on animal rescue organizations, particularly those that focus on senior dogs. Along with disabled dogs, dogs with behavioral issues, bonded pairs, and big black dogs (yes, really!), senior dogs are often passed over for younger, healthier pups.
Among the shelters and sanctuaries that get a shout out here are Best Friends Animal Society; Foster Dogs NYC/Fospice; Friends of Greyhounds Rescue; Muttville Senior Dog Rescue; Logan County Rescue; Denver Dumb Friends League; Denver County Shelter; Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary; and Animal Haven Rescue.
There’s also a section about senior dog rescue at the end of the book, which includes some insightful and amusing comments from Sherri Franklin, the founder of Muttville (“Muttville is making seniors sexy!”).
As an adult, I’ve adopted seven dogs (and counting!); some were already seniors when they came to live with my husband and I, while we had the privilege of watching others make the transition from puppyhood – with all its crazy, boundless energy – to adulthood and, eventually, old age, and all its aches and pains and the comfortable familiarity of old friendships. We’ve dealt with failing sight and hearing; saw an eye lost to what turned out to be a benign tumor; battled cancer and kidney failure and strokes. So far, we’ve helped three of our closest friend make the transition into whatever comes after (four, if we’re counting cats). There are four left, though it may be three sooner than I care to admit.
We’ve fostered, including an ancient old Lab who had arthritis and heartworm and not nearly enough time left with his family. (We work with a domestic violence shelter, so all of our temporary furkids already have humans of their own. It has to be that way, lest I adopt ALL of the dogs myself.)
As much as saying goodbye hurts – each dog takes with her a pretty sizeable piece of my heart; by the time it’s my time, I doubt there will be much left! – the pain is worth it, and more. I know because I still want to adopt, even after a very rough few years; because, as much as loving a dog with everything I’ve got terrifies me, I’ll never stop. I know because I’d do it all over again, in a heartbeat.
Senior Dogs Across America is a pretty shiny reminder why.
And now, because I simply cannot talk about dogs in general without gushing about my own pups specifically: a few of my own portraits. I tried to choose my favorites, but among the most recent too, so you’d get a gander of them in their most distinguished and grey-muzzled.
Ralphie the one-eyed wiener dog, shortly after his fifteenth birthday. He passed away five months later, in May of 2013. On my birthday, to be exact. (Nancy, I can sympathize.)
My soul mate and forever dog Kaylee, at fourteen years young. She passed away six months after this photo was taken, in May of 2013
(just twelve days after Ralphie. It was a rough year.)
Peedee celebrates his thirteenth birthday in August of 2015. He died three months later after a 22-month battle with lung cancer.
Jayne, eleven years old. Her birthday’s in September, but we’re not sure she’ll make it. Cancer, again.
Twelve-and-a-half-year-old Mags (front) and twelve-year-old Rennie,
doing their daily 40 minutes of water therapy. (Cue the Rocky theme song.)
I guess Finnick is technically a senior, though at ten (and a half!) he seems like a spry young pup.
Comments (May contain spoilers!)
Animal-friendly elements: Senior Dogs Across America is a celebration of, well, senior dogs in America! Inspired by her own aging pups, LeVine began traveling the U.S. twelve years ago, photographing senior dogs in their natural habitats: both private homes and shelters and sanctuaries. A former photographer for the Elmsford, New York Humane Society, LeVine uses her platform to promote adoption, particularly of “special needs” dogs such as seniors. Many of the subjects are being cared for at sanctuaries, and the afterward includes a note on senior dog rescue.
On the downside, in one photograph you can see deer heads mounted on the wall in the background, which is just icky (but hardly Carly’s fault!). Also, there are a few sibling pairs and parent/child groups, which suggests that the LeVine’s canine subjects might have been bred or purchased from breeders.