Pet photos… Don’t wait – do it now!

I take pictures. A LOT of pictures. Probably more than the average human being takes, even with the convenience of modern technology. I take pictures of anything and everything – flowers and plants, wildlife and pets, old buildings and barns… Funny tho, I very seldom photograph humans!

One of my favorite ways to spend a sunny day is hanging out in our backyard with our dogs and chickens, camera in hand. They are my absolute favorite models, and I’m fond of saying that practicing on them helps me keep my skills sharp. So consequently, I have tons of pictures of our pets – TONS!! I display some of them in frames around our home, and keep many more in albums so that I can swap them into frames from time to time. I’ve always felt that pet photos are as important as family portraits – after all, pets are family, right??

Well, we lost a member of our family last week.  Peanut, our mini dachshund, who came to us 10 years ago from a friend, when she was about to lose her battle with cancer. It meant the world to her to know that Peanut would be loved and cared for the way she had planned to do herself – and Peanut soon came to mean the world to my husband and me.

When he first arrived, it didn’t take us long to find out that Peanut was a very quirky little guy, who insisted on keeping everything in our household running smoothly on a very strict schedule. He took it upon himself to tell us when it was time to get up, when it was time to eat, and when it was time to go to bed. He was my co-pilot on most of my weekly runs to the bank and feed store (and he visibly pouted if he couldn’t go), and he visited our local hardware store, garden center and jewelry store with me quite often. He was my husband’s best buddy, who “helped” him to do guy-things around the house and in the garage by day, and who “helped” him relax and watch TV by evening (we actually recently bought my husband’s new recliner with Peanut in mind). He was a very sweet and sensitive “old soul” type, and he was a world class snuggler – but Peanut also knew no fear at all, and could be a real ankle-biter when he felt it was necessary. He had the heart of a lion in his little 9 pound body, and he took his responsibilities around here VERY seriously… Our other (much bigger) dogs were well aware of this, as were some humans – and they all respected Peanut’s space when it was obvious that he wasn’t in the mood for any foolishness. Clearly, Peanut was “Top Dog” in our house, although we never used the word “dog” when we spoke to him – he really was more of a four-legged person… 😉

Peanut was 12 1/2 years old, and died suddenly of an unknown illness. We’re thinking it was probably cancer, but we don’t know that for sure. It was 4 AM when it happened, and it was a pretty traumatic experience for my husband and me, as we were not expecting it at all. He left us pretty quickly, and we’re just very lucky that we had a few minutes to tearfully say our goodbye’s.

While processing the whole ordeal in the hours that followed, I tried my best to find solace in photos. But, in going back through my archives, I found that Peanut wasn’t in many of my images, and the few that he WAS in were really not the best. This discovery just compounded my sadness – I was already heartbroken beyond words, but now I was just physically ill. I could feel my stomach turn a little more with each and every click of my mouse. How could I have shared my life with this little guy for an entire DECADE, and not have a whole slew of *really* good pictures of him?? To say that I was devastated doesn’t even scratch the surface.

It took a while, but eventually, I reasoned that because I am what some might call a “natural light photographer”, I take most of my pictures outdoors (truth be told, its because I haven’t mastered the use of a flash yet). And since Peanut really wasn’t a particularly “outdoorsy” kind of pup, he wasn’t with me and the rest of our crew on those sunny afternoons when we were hanging out in the back yard doing pictures. Peanut much preferred to soak up the sunshine from the comfort of his own little bed by the back door – during which time, I really hated to disturb him, because he didn’t like being disturbed… Besides, regardless of where he was (or how far away *I* was), he didn’t really relish having a camera pointed in his general direction. So most of my indoor images featuring Peanut were either too dark and noisy, or he simply tucked his face down into his bed to avoid my lens. Outside, he either squinted at me and turned away, or he was in so much of a hurry to get back inside that he was just a blur in my viewfinder.

HOWEVER, about two weeks prior to Peanut’s death, my husband and I were sitting on the front porch, having our coffee and enjoying the scenery – there were hummingbirds at the feeder, other birds and squirrels were in the trees, and the horses were grazing in the field across the street. So I went inside to get my camera – and Peanut just *happened* to come back out with me. This was an extra special treat for him, as we generally don’t allow our dogs to go out front because of the traffic on our road – but it was a Sunday morning and there was little traffic, and Peanut wasn’t in the habit of straying off, so I thought “why not?”

As it turned out, it would be the last time I’d take any photos of Peanut. They’re not much to look at, as they weren’t planned.  They’re not fancy, they don’t have colorful backgrounds, and Peanut hadn’t even had a very recent bath – but I will cherish these images forever, because they’re all I have….


Candid or posed, indoors or out, alone, or with family members, or with friends – or all of the above – just INCLUDE THEM IN PHOTOS!! And be sure to have someone else take pictures of YOU and your pet together, too!  Not just for posterity either – I can’t TELL you how many times I’ve seen lost pet posts on FB with the words “this is the only picture I have”, only to find that I can barely identify the pet in the attached photo.  I wince at the thought of someone trying to find their beloved friend, or a scared pet trying to get home, based on an image like that!

So, I don’t care how inconvenient or difficult it might be, or how long you’ve been “meaning” to do it, don’t put it off any longer – just get out there and DO IT!! Strive to get good shots that show their personalities – if you aren’t able to do this yourself, have someone else do it for you, or hire a professional if you have to.  And do it OFTEN – because just as with humans, pets grow and change over the years, and they can leave us at any time.

However you choose to get pictures of your pets, I guarantee that one day, you’ll be very glad you have them. I mean, sure, pets live on in our hearts long after they’re gone, but it’s not the same has having photos to hold, display, and look back on. Digital images and paper prints preserve memories and can bring joy for years to come – and they can be a huge comfort in times of grief…

Take my word for it.  I speak from experience.

Rest in peace, Peanie – we miss you, little buddy… Til we meet again…


Rescuing Nurse Mare Foals

I have been photographing the horses, ponies, foals, mules and donkeys at my local rescue since the early 2012, and have acquired a large collection of images that document all these scenarios – but for the purpose of this post for EPNet’s “Horses in Need 2014” documentary photo project, I have chosen to focus on nurse mare foals.

PLEASE NOTE:  Nurse mare foals are NOT the same as PMU foals.  Nurse mare foals have nothing to do with Premarin, hormone replacement therapy or drug companies.  These are two completely separate issues.  Read on…

Nurse mare foal, Traveller (March 2014)

The nurse mare industry is often referred to as a well kept (or “dirty little”) secret, and not many people are aware of it. For those of you who don’t know, a “nurse mare” is a mare who is bred specifically so that she will come into milk – the foal that results from this pregnancy is referred to as a “nurse mare foal”.

A nurse mare foal is created for the sole purpose of being discarded. When these unwanted foals are born, they are often killed on the spot, or left in the field to die alone – purely so that their mother can be rented out as a wet nurse, to nourish another mare’s foal with her milk – usually a well bred, more valuable foal than her own. Its a big business, and nurse mare farmers may earn thousands per year by renting their lactating mares to breeders in need of this service.

Virginia Dawn
Nurse mare foal, Virginia Dawn (March 2014)

If nurse mare foals are allowed to live for any length of time, they are normally taken from their mothers before they are 30 days old, and may be sold to anyone who will pay the farmer’s asking price. They may be sold to private buyers to raise as their own, or to sell later (sometimes referred to as “flipping”), or they may be taken to auction, where they will be simply sold to the highest bidder. Although it is illegal to sell foals under 6 months old at auction, it still happens – and many die from the stress, or because their buyers lack foal experience – and they are sometimes purchased for their hides (aka “pony skin”, “cordovan leather”, etc…) and meat (a delicacy in some countries). The lucky ones are purchased by kind hearted, experienced individuals and rescue organizations, and are hand raised to become much loved companion horses. All while their mothers, the nurse mares, go on to be bred yet again, so that they can produce yet more unwanted foals, and then be rented to yet another farm for their milk.

And so the vicious (but perfectly legal) cycle continues…

LPFR Volunteer Wendy fixes lunch for the babies
Lunch for the babies (March 2014)

This is where rescues enter the picture. Together with the help of extremely dedicated volunteers and very generous supporters, many rescues specialize in raising nurse mare foals so that they can be adopted out to loving homes .

LPFR President, Sharon Hancock, herding nurse mare foals
Herding nurse mare foals (May 2014)

A nurse mare foal may be any breed, and any color. When they arrive in rescues, their ages are normally counted in days or weeks (vs. months), and they are often fearful and unsocialized, sometimes even sick. But training begins immediately, since many don’t even really know how to “be a horse” because they missed out on the bonding experience and valuable lessons that they would have received from their natural mothers. So, the foals are taught to accept foal formula from a bucket, and are fed around the clock (later they are weaned to hay and foal appropriate grain). They are introduced to halters and leads right away – and even blankets, depending on weather when they arrive. While they wait to be adopted, the foals are continually socialized and trained – to accept handling, to lead/load/tie, to pick up their feet, etc… When the time is right, desensitization work begins, and they may even be taken out and ponied with other horses on short trail rides. And if they are with the rescue for an extended period of time, they will receive saddle training.

Ginger needed a clean up and resists being tied.
Ginger needs a clean up and resists being tied (May 2014)
Volunteer Robin gives Wonka some much needed love...
Wonka gets some much needed love – he was only 24 hours old when he arrived in rescue, and was considered a “preemie”. (May 2014)

Since I’ve been volunteering, documenting the arrival and progress of nurse mare foals has been an ongoing project. Some are adopted by “foal approved homes” early on, but some wait a long time. For example, I first met Carson and Thumper shortly after they arrived in 2012 – they were bought at an auction in Kentucky by Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue in West Virginia, and then were transferred to Lilly Pond Foal Rescie here in Maryland. Thumper was adopted long ago, but Carson remains – he is almost 3 years old now, and has literally grown up at LPFR. He’s been started under saddle, and is still waiting to be adopted. And there was Minka, Felonie and Athena, who all came to LPFR in 2013 from the Last Chance Corral in Ohio. Minka and Felonie have gone on to new lives, but Athena is still here, searching for her forever home. In the two years that she’s spent at LPFR, Athena has blossomed into a beautiful young mare, who has ponied on the trail and will begin saddle training in the spring.

Carson & Athena
Nurse mare foals, Carson & Athena (March 2014) – they’ve been in rescue practically their entire lives and are still searching for their forever homes.

As of this writing, there are still five fillies from the 2014 nurse mare foal group residing at LPFR, who are waiting for their happily ever after (along with another from a hoarding situation and one who was purchased at auction). And as I understand it, LPFR has been in contact with a nurse mare farmer who is looking to dispose of their upcoming crop of foals as their mothers ship off to breeding farms. This is a good thing, as many nurse mare farmers are unwilling to work with rescues – except that this particular nurse mare farmer has *over two dozen* pregnant mares, due to start delivering in late January, potentially making this LPFR’s BUSIEST nurse mare foal season to date.

Jatavi & Kate
Nurse mare foals, Jatavi & Kate (May 2014)


And so the vicious (but perfectly legal) cycle continues…


A Day at New Holland

(Original article edited and moved here for EPNet’s Horses in Need Photo Documentary Project 2014. Please feel free to visit this gallery on my website for additional images and comments.)


I had been trying to get up the courage to go to New Holland with my local rescue for the last two years, since I first started volunteering my photography. I’d heard LOTS of horror stories about horse auctions, so I always hesitated to ask if I could ride along on the once or twice monthly trips.  But, when I had a chance to go on the spur of the moment, I didn’t even think about it – I just jumped at the opportunity and said yes. I don’t know why, and a part of me now wishes I hadn’t gone. The other part, however, is very glad I did, because it was a very educational and eye opening experience for me.

New Holland

Aside from a pair of wild pigeons, the only animals I saw were equine and bovine – and I found them in just about every nook and cranny of the sale barn as I walked around. All shapes, sizes, colors, ages, breeds, and in all conditions and “states of being”. I’d venture to guess they numbered in the hundreds. These were animals who may have won races, who may have been a breeder’s top show prospect, or who may have once been a little girl’s cherished pet. They may have been someone’s trail partner, or they may have just finished hauling kids around at summer camps, or they may have worked hard on a farm all their lives to earn their keep. And here they were, unwanted and for sale to the highest bidder, at an auction. Some were obviously well cared for – many appeared to be just broken and used up. Some would be sold and go on to the next chapter of their life – but many of them would be sold for slaughter.

What really struck me tho, is the fact that there will be yet another load of more unwanted animals, just like these, for sale here next week. And the week after that. And the week after that. Every Monday. This sale takes place EVERY WEEK, like clockwork. And has, for GENERATIONS.

When you consider that there are other sales, just like this, going on every day of every week all over the U.S., and has been for many years, well, the numbers are just staggering.

New Holland

New Holland

Lets just say that things at New Holland move VERY fast… From the auctioneer’s voice over the loud speaker, to all the selling and buying going on, to animals being moved from one location to another or running up and down the sales floor. It was pretty chaotic, and the place was full of people – sellers, buyers, rescuers, employees, tourists, spectators – adults, children, some Amish, some Mennonite, some whatever. It was so hard to keep up with everything and everybody, because there was such constant movement, and the noise level was extremely high – I was amazed at how calm the animals seemed to be thru it all. The rescuers tried their best to quickly educate me (like, on what they looked for in a horse, what the red and green squiggly lines on the hip tags meant, what the auctioneer was saying, what was/was not allowed with respect to photos, etc…) – because the object seemed to be to get in, get what she could, and get out – but it was just all so overwhelming! I don’t know how much I retained, or how much I lost, because I just couldn’t focus on any ONE thing for any length of time. And I kept finding myself standing precariously close to a horse’s rear end and in perfect position to possibly get the crap kicked out of myself. So, at some point, I just started walking around aimlessly by myself, immersed in taking pictures.  That is, until I was told to stop.

New Holland

First, an Amish man on the sales floor told me that photography was not permitted inside the barn, so I apologized and went outside to take pictures. Then a man in a baseball cap quickly brushed past me with his head down, and said “you better put your camera away” – he didn’t stop to chat, and I never did see his face. And shortly thereafter, a man on horse back rode up and yelled at me, that pictures were “not allowed AT ALL, ANYWHERE ON THE PREMISES!!” I don’t know who these men were (and come to find out, neither did anyone else), but I was polite with all of them, as I didn’t want to make a scene – I wasn’t there to upset anyone.

So, I put my lens cap on, slung my camera over my shoulder and started asking folks what the policy *really* was on photos. Come to find out, it depends on who you talk to, and largely what kind of mood they’re in. The general consensus was that “the office” doesn’t mind people taking pictures, as long as they’re not “causing trouble” – and judging by the fact that two OTHER men suddenly appeared to be following me, someone must have been expecting me to cause trouble. I mean, discreet shots with a cell phone is one thing, but my DSLR stuck out like a sore thumb, and made it very difficult to be discreet. So I started asking folks for permission to photograph certain animals – and all but one person was more than happy to oblige me. And that one person who declined was very nice about it, so I politely respected their wishes.

New Holland

New Holland

I do not know the histories or current statuses of the animals in the images I came home with – with the exception of #230, who came home with us to Lilly Pond Foal Rescue, and was renamed “Dawson”. We also brought home a pregnant mini mare (now named “Piglet”), a pregnant pony mare (now named “Dolly”), and a foal (now named “Dusty”), all of whom had been collected from this auction a week prior, and cared for by friends of Sharon’s until she could get there to pick them up. They all made it home safely, and you can now follow them on LPFR’s website and FaceBook page.

New Holland

In hind sight, I now believe that every person involved with equines needs to attend an auction like New Holland at least once in their lifetime. Especially anyone who breeds – if you can walk out of a place like this, and then go home and breed your horses with a clear conscience, well, then, all I can say is “more power to ya.”  In my personal opinion, if people weren’t breeding so many NEW horses, donkeys and mules every year, there wouldn’t be so many UNWANTED horses, donkeys and mules every year – and maybe, just MAYBE, so many wouldn’t end up in places like this, where their futures and fates depend on who will give the most money for them, not on who will give them the life that they deserve.

New Holland

I honestly don’t know how rescuers do what they do on a regular basis, year after year. I guess one just becomes numb to atrocities and sheer numbers after a while, and as long as they can stay focused on the task at hand, they can probably function normally once they leave. After seeing it with my own eyes for the very first time – even sitting here writing this, three days after the fact – I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. And I know that some of these animals will haunt me until the day I die. I’m just very thankful that I had my camera as a distraction, otherwise, I probably would not have been able to stay very long. Perhaps with a few more trips under my belt, that feeling will subside a little, I’m not sure. But I don’t know if I will be able to go again, either – if I DO happen to get another opportunity, I don’t know if I will be mentally prepared for it. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

All I know FOR SURE, is that the rescuers who frequent New Holland must be some of the most emotionally strong people on Planet Earth – they really ARE angels of the hard-core variety. I believe there is a special place in Heaven for every single one of them.

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