Thanks to Aline Smithson over at Lenscratch, I recently learned about the work of photographer Nancy LeVine. Nancy has been working on a project about senior dogs.
I looked at her photographs just as my own dog Sam was beginning a sharp decline in his health. I read that Nancy lives part time in Seattle, so I contacted her and asked if she would photograph Sam, that I could bring him up to Seattle while we were out here in Portland. She kindly agreed to do so, but said she wouldn't be back in Seattle until the 19th of July. I figured I'd contact her on the 20th and try to go soon thereafter, knowing Sam's days were numbered.
Well, Sammy didn't make it that long, so he won't be part of Nancy's project.
So, I made my own portrait of him. It was taken the afternoon he passed away.
Sam, 16.75 years old, Oregon
Here is a look at a few of Nancy LeVine's images, as well as a description of the project in her own words. I dedicate this to Sam, of course, but also to all the wonderful senior dogs who have blessed the lives of many of my blog readers - many of whom has written sweet notes or emails about their own cats and dogs who made it to the golden years. So, here's to Honeycake, Mocha, Robot, Alfie, Zorro, Lucy, Angus, Duke, Jasmine and Max and all the others, who are no doubt frolicking in some greener yard at this very moment.
"Eight years ago, I began traveling the United States to photograph senior dogs. Like the diverse human pageant that Robert Frank captured in his book, The Americans, back in the 1950’s, I found dogs inhabiting all manner of American life -- and with many years inscribed in their beings.
My interest in the world of the senior dog began as my own two dogs began to approach the end of their days. This was at a time when I had lived enough years to start imagining my own mortality. I entered a world of grace where bodies that had once expressed their vibrancy were now on a more fragile path.
I saw how the dog does it; how, without the human’s painful ability to project ahead and fear the inevitable, the dog simply wakes to each day as a new step in the journey. Though their steps might be more stiff and arduous, these dogs still moved through each day as themselves -- themselves of that day and all the days before.
As mortality was weaving its way through this project, so was another American thread. The media were consumed with reports about our country’s sharp political fractures. It was all about the Red/Blue conflicts and the strident voices leading the charge.
Yet, what I witnessed in my travels was something quite different. It was people caring for the most vulnerable dogs. Whether the senior dog was part of a family where the dog/person devotion knew no bounds or one of the elders being tended at an animal sanctuary, I saw something much deeper than our divisions, something important about where we live and the best way to die.
Listening to the current fevered debate over Social Security and Medicare, I am left with a fearful pit in my stomach when I imagine a country that might abandon the fundamental promise to care for those who have gone the distance and need at least a minimum of support to help them ease out of life. Politics of the moment may dictate such a course, but, in our true American hearts, we are better than that. I have seen it all along my journey as I photographed senior dogs surrounded by so much love, devotion and respect for life lived long and well."
Joon, 16 years old, Massachusettes
Poopie, 14 years old, New York
Joey, 9 years old, New Jersey
Gussy Sue, 15 years old, Montana
Ginger, 12 years old, Wyoming
Champ, 9 years old, South Dakota
Carly, 16, Wyoming