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have you met my dogs?

February 2, 2011

Those of you who have known me for a few years know this story; if that’s you, feel free to ignore this post and just ogle the photos of the most awesome dogs ever.

If you don’t know me (and I’ve gained a lot of friends through Facebook in the last couple of years; Flickr too, and my FB page followers), and something tells me you don’t know of how all of this happy came to be. I’ll try to make it short; Lord knows I’ve written reams on what has happened in my life over the last 5 years; in fact, if you want some backstory, feel free to go check out some of my writings and photos at Flickr (although I confess that when the Bad Things started to happen, I went through a period of massive deletion of photos). Some important ones are still there; they’ll always be there.

Ok, so…during a 12-month period between 2007-2008, all three of my dogs–my entire pack–died. My beloved Buzz, Lola and Gracie all succumbed to the eventuality of death. Illness or old age, it really doesn’t matter how they left me, what matters is that they did. No, I take that back. They didn’t leave me; they were taken from me. During that time, it was not all that uncommon for Mr. Susan to come home from work and find me all fetal in the dog beds; crying my puffy, reddened eyes out. I got tattoos; I got cremation jewelry; I pored through old photos; I spent my days cursing my Karma and my nights dreaming of my dogs running away. To say it was a difficult time for me is the most absurd understatement I could ever make.

When Gracie, my mija, the last of my pack died, I went though a sort of trauma. I hadn’t been without a dog in the house in almost two decades. I remember coming home from the vet’s, where I had to leave Gracie after she died; coming into a completely silent house. Nobody was wagging their tail when I came in. Nobody barked like they were out of their mind when they heard the sound of my car pull into the driveway. That Vast Empty that greeted me that day was almost crippling. To make it worse, Mr. Susan was going out-of-town the next day for a week.

I was going to be alone, and I was terrified.

Mr. Susan was so frightened for me, so worried about what might happen to me in the Aftermath, he almost had to cancel his plans. But he went, and I woke up that next day, and for some reason, I knew I had to go see my friend Bonnie. Bonnie runs Hearts for Hounds, an amazing rescue that I’ve had the pleasure to photograph and visit many times. She runs a little adoption every Sunday here in Long Beach, and I got dressed and immediately went out to see her.

I just wandered around, looking at the yapping dogs, the quiet dogs, the ones who looked terrified. I didn’t want another dog. I wanted my dogs, but I found it comforting in a little way to just be around some dogs. Just walk around the cages and pet them, talk to them, and for just a few minutes not be alone without a dog.

Anyway (sorry, this is getting long), I spotted Jack first. Oh my gosh, he was one of the terrified ones. He looked up at everyone with these pleading brown eyes, and my heart broke for him. For all of them. I told Bonnie what had happened and she scooped up Jack and put him in my arms and said, “just for company. Bring him back in a few days, and in the meantime, he’ll make you feel better.”

Ugh. I was about to put him back when Bonnie pointed over to another cage at a little goofball on his hind legs, pressed against the cage, watching us. “That’s his buddy,” she said. “They came together.”

Oh man. It wasn’t a love for them that made me take them home that day; it was a horrible, horrible fear that after bonding in the adoption circuit, they would be separated and would again be traumatized by losing something, or someone, they had grasped onto for love & companionship.

Now I’m going to make this really short: I didn’t love them at first; in fact, I didn’t even like them. I resented them for not being my old dogs, my real dogs. But they clearly loved one another, and they were warming up to me pretty quickly. That night they slept in the bed with me, and even though they weren’t my old dogs, they had the same comforting signals that told me everything was ok: the rapid heartbeat; the dog breath slowly puffing on my cheek as they fell asleep; the warm little bodies snuggling up against me under the covers.

Short story: I fell in love with them. I had to train them from scratch; that took 6 months and they still have accidents. They didn’t know how to play. Can you imagine that: a dog that doesn’t know how to play! But now they do: T (his name was RT when I got him, but I shortened it to T, but Pickle is his nickname and that’s pretty much the only name he’ll come to now), T prefers the tennis ball. He’s completely mad for the ball. Jack likes squeaky toys; he likes to destroy them and pull the squeaky out. And he likes to wrestle with me. He’s very clever, and will run through the house and hide and jump out at me.

Mr. Susan calls them clowns. They totally are clowns, and I love them so much, that sometimes I’ll catch sight of them and I’m terrified at how bonded we became and because of what they had gone through (their histories are terrible, and I’ll save that for another day), and because of what I had gone through, I know that their deaths will impact me more than…more than I can ever imagine.

I photograph a lot of dogs; some puppies, some old. Lots sick. I’ve photographed dogs the night before they were to be put down. I photograph shelter dogs and it’s my favorite work of all. Dogs are my thing. Rescue dogs. Spreading the word, helping to find fosters, getting other people involved in animal rescue. That’s my thing.

So you see, when I introduce you to my dogs, I actually introduce you to a part of me that you might not even know. We’re inextricably bound; these dogs and I. We’re pack mates. We’re best friends. We’re roommates. We’re sentient beings and we love one another like there’s no tomorrow.

Believe it or not, that’s the short version of this story. Once in awhile I like to get down on the floor in the studio and take some pictures of us. It’s sort of like marking your child’s height on the door frame to his bedroom, only I do it with a camera. And with my dogs.

The dogs whom you’ve just met.


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My daughter had the same experience with cat. Her first rescue wasTurk, so named because he’d been abandoned on the streets of Brooklyn to look after himself and his smaller litter mater after having been burned and malnourished. The poor thing had coarse fur like a rat and almost no teeth because of the malnourishment. He was skittish around anyone, but gradually grew to realize that Grace was giving him the home of a lifetime. It was a year before he’d let any man get close. But over time his fur became like the fur of a cat. His other teeth didn’t grow in. It’s taken the better part of five years for him to become socialized. When Grace and her then boyfriend (now husband) adopted another cat, Ms. Jackson, there was a brief skirmish. Two people and two cats an essentially one-room New York apartment was a lot of closeness. But they all pile into the bed together now.

Chris Bonney

February 2, 2011

Hi Susan, that made for rather emotional reading, sat here on the sofa with one of my rescue dogs, with the rest of our little pack snoozing in various places around the room.

What gorgeous dogs. So glad you all found each other. So sad that you lost Buzz, Lola and Grace so close together 😦

Thank you for sharing. Dogs are my thing too, especially rescue dogs.

Best wishes,



February 2, 2011

So I’m crying again. Only this time for the first time in a few years I get to look over a my own furry, snuffly body and feel better.

To clarify; the warm snuffly body is my dog Radar. I don’t have a warm snuffly body personally. Not normally…

They way you love your pack says more about you than you know, and that last amazing picture says the rest.

Now that’s enough sentiment from me for 2011.


February 2, 2011

I do know your dogs and I knew Grace, Lola & Buzz too…but I don’t think I knew them in 1998 (I think you meant 2007-08). I joined Flickr in 2007 and one the first photos I connected to was your collage, standing in the shower titled “My Dog Died” (I think I remember this correctly; red wine can fuck with the brain cells after a while) You were one of my very first contacts on Flickr. You are an amazing inspiration Susan. I hope to meet you in person someday. And if I ever pluck up enough courage to get a tattoo – it’s gonna say “vatos rule”.


February 2, 2011

You are amazing! Amazing dog Mama and lover. Amazing artist. Mostly an amazing human. YUP

Gwyn Michael

February 2, 2011

look at all you wonderful people!

Chris, thanks for sharing your story. So many people have no idea how hard these animals have it, and how little they would actually take, just to live.

Thanks for the support and for checking on my dogs, the vatos 🙂

susan sabo

February 2, 2011

Oh, Susan. I love these so much, and any time I picture you in my head, I picture you with your dogs. LOVE, love, love.


February 2, 2011

You really must stop making me cry.


February 2, 2011

Nicole, that is such an awesome thing to say! I love that you picture me with my dogs. Man, that makes me really happy.

Oh, Cindi. It’s my mission in life to make you cry. One day, I must do this in person!!

susan sabo

February 2, 2011

i know the story, i saw the pain you shared, the recovery of your soul that you bared for us, but i still read about it again. here i am, again, all teary-eyed, but smiling. i’m looking forward to one day meeting you and the vatos, and mr. susan, if he’ll have it. awesome. xoxo


February 3, 2011

Esther, we’ve known each other for so long online; it’s just ridiculous that we haven’t met yet. We will. And soon.

susan sabo

February 3, 2011

My sister and I went to Catalina Island and Kona stayed with my mom (Lee had to work). My mom says that she was out with Kona in the yard and Kona gave her this look. My mom didn’t really pick up on it until he started dashing around the driveway and yard- he wanted to play. Do you remember our conversation about Kona not even knowing how to play with the ball or really “playing”. He’s come a long way 🙂 Thanks for the beautiful pictures with my Kona Bear.


March 27, 2011

omg, Melissa, that’s such great news! I do remember that conversation; it’s so sad to adopt a dog and realize that they have no concept of play at all. He really has come a long way 🙂 I’m so glad you and Lee got to keep him. I can’t imagine how happy he is with you.

susan sabo

March 27, 2011

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