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The Story of Dale, a happy ending to a sad beginning

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At Zoo Studio, we generally deal with the happy side of life with pets, and people are used to seeing happy, playful, sooky and cuddly dogs and cats on our blog and Facebook page. However every once in a while, through our work with animal charities, we get confronted with cruelty on an unspeakable scale. One such victim of horrific cruelty was Dale.

However every once in a while, through our work with animal charities, we get confronted with cruelty on an unspeakable scale. One such victim of horrific cruelty was Dale.

We had a charity photography session booked with Peiradise – Paradise for Rescued Shar Peis in the afternoon. In the morning we received a call, asking if we minded them bringing an extra dog, as they had just rescued a pup called Dale who was in a real state, and they wanted evidence of his condition should the case ever end up in court for cruelty. Of course we said yes, we love the guys at Peiradise and give a lot of our time to them – an extra dog in such a session we could manage. We were told he was in a very poor condition, but we weren’t really prepared (and I don’t think you ever can be) for seeing Dale as he was. He was badly malnourished, dehydrated, he was blind, and couldn’t put weight on his rear right leg as he had a snapped cruciate ligament. He had been found on the streets, carelessly let loose by an uncaring owner who was moving.

He was terrified. We let him stay quietly in one corner whilst I photographed the other dogs, all the while I was wondering just how on earth we could get a photo of him. We kept trying to entice him forward, and bit by bit his confidence grew. Jen from Peiradise was wonderful with him, encouraging him, helping him, being so patient. We certainly weren’t going to put him through any pain or stress to get the photo, he had to want to join in the photo game, but how were we going to get him to want to participate? Love and Cheese.

Yes, some love and understanding and simple Coon Lite cheese turned out to be our saviour. I think this was the first time Dale had tried cheese, he picked some up from the floor where it had been left by another pup, and immediately started looking for more. Now cheese is a great tool for a dog photographer, even blind dogs can track it as it smells so good, and most pups LOVE it. And so it was with Dale. Before long, he was trying to push past the other dogs to get to the cheese; although he didn’t understand we were photographing or even what photography is, he wanted to join in our game which the other pups were loving so much. And that allowed us to get the photo.

But we weren’t just getting a photo. Before my eyes, I was seeing the beginning of Dale’s transition from severely abused victim to happy family pup, and it was beautiful. It was a journey that was going to take lots of time, and lots of thousands of dollars in vet bills, but the start of his new life started right there in our studio. And it wasn’t thanks to me, all I did was take a photo and provide some cheese, it was Peiradise who worked this miracle through their love, patience, understanding and money and I will never forget it.

The photo we took of Dale has since won 2 silver medals, in the International Aperture Awards and the Australian Professional Photography Awards, and has just won the Pet Portrait category in the highly prestigious International Photography Awards, and it is a photo of which I m very proud.

I don’t think it will ever be a photo I ‘like’, I would have so much preferred if I never had to take the photo in the first place. But I am very proud it has been so widely and positively recognised, and even more proud of the fact that it did its job – it helped Peiradise publicise Dale’s plight and raise funds to go towards his vet bills.

It has been a controversial inage, a cruel reality that has been hard to look at for many – I will always remember the photo as being a moment in time when I saw poor Dale’s life change so dramatically for the better.

We are happy to say that Dale is now well on his way to recovery and with a family that will love and adore him forever. We will be posting up happier photos of Dale soon – next time he is in the studio  and we will definately be celebrating with cheese.

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