Dogs and Freelance Photographers. Joys and Challenges.

It's 10:15 in the morning. I've been to swim practice while Belinda and Studio Dog have had their long walk through the neighborhood. I'm sitting on the couch in the living room writing this blog while Studio Dog is curled up tight and wedged against my left thigh, snoring softly. If I get up to make coffee she'll hop up and follow me into the kitchen, ostensibly to supervise, but mostly to see if more treats might be had. Our home has been graced by this dog for over eight years and we got her when she was a little over 16 weeks old. Over the years our family routines have changed and that is what prompted me to sit down and write today. 

We got Studio Dog (she won't let me use her real name; prefers anonymity...) when Ben was in middle school. She was a rescue dog and her "headshot" on the rescue site immediately grabbed us. One day the foster parents showed up, interviewed Belinda and me for over an hour, inspected our house and our yard, and approved us as fit dog parents. Ben came home on the school bus, walked through the door and instantly fell in love. During the first few years with us I was out shooting assignments all the time but Belinda was doing graphic design from her home office and Ben was home right after school. Between the two of them they showered Studio Dog with attention and affection. We all came to the rescue when she got "skunked" and, until very recently, she had never spent the night alone.

When Ben hit high school things got busier. Ben and I would get up at 6:00 am most mornings and I would drive him to cross country practice and then go on to swim practice. Belinda walked with Studio Dog before heading out to work at a new job downtown. Life was changing for everyone. 
In the early years of the recession I had time to sit home, blog, walk with her and be around when Ben came home from school but as the recovery slid in for Austin I started spending more and more time working on locations for clients. There was still ample time for Dog/Photographer time together during the post processing phases. And the boy was usually back and engaged by 4 pm or so. 

Now we have a new dynamic and I worry about Studio Dog getting left out. Belinda is designing at an ad agency downtown five days a week. Ben is halfway across the country at college. I'm doing more multi-day assignments away from the studio and the house. I'm sure, from the dog's point of view, that she feels the pack is slowly abandoning her. 

In order to stem my feelings of guilt at leaving her alone for long hours during the day I've found and retained a dog sitter who comes in on the days when Belinda and I will both be gone. Our dog sitter and Studio Dog seem to really adore each other and it's good to read the daily note from the dog sitter with its recap of what the two have done during their time together. Usually it's a long walk and some play in the yard. If it's raining there's an extended game of tennis ball fetch down our long hallway. 

I'm not sure how other families and other freelancers handle the whole situation with their "stay at home" dogs but "dog wellness" has become part of my basic workflow for projects. I schedule the shooting dates and times, fix a budget, decide on gear, style, etc. and then I book the dog sitter for every day I'll be out. This adds $25 a day to my overall cost of doing jobs but the reward is an assuaging of my guilt at leaving such a dedicated and affectionate member of the family alone for so long. 

I wish my clients were well enough trained to allow Studio Dog to attend photo shoots but most corporate workplaces, law firms and businesses are not set up to welcome visiting canines and, truth be told, she would find a way to get into trouble. I am looking forward to the long winter break with Ben at home so he can keep her company while I'm out on jobs. 

For the most part she is doing well with our situation. On days like today, which are all about writing the blog, cleaning the studio, billing and organizing, she is delighted to be involved in the business. We'll choose a lunch spot today that has a dog friendly patio. Many days I'll head out, grab something to go, and come back to the house to have lunch with her. My favorite burger place even has a large glass container full of good dog biscuits on the counter and I always bring one back for her. 

I wish I could train her to do clipping paths or to pack and unpack the gear cases but I fear that, without opposable thumbs, it's a lost venture. 

There is a danger to being a freelance photographer with a chummy dog. Many times I'll head to my favorite chair to read or write only to have her curl up next to me and will me into napping. I'll wake up an hour later as she barks and barks at the mailman only to find that I've gotten less done than I intended and more napping done than is practical. Sometimes her interruptions are healthy. When we're in the studio and I'm editing photographs I tend to get engrossed and work for hours at a time. At least once an hour I will feel a paw on my leg; a small nudge, and I'll look down to see the urging brown eyes of my studio mate looking at me expectantly with a bright green tennis ball in her mouth. You'd have to be made of stone not to take the time to head into the back yard to toss the ball, and chase each other around. 

I wonder how it would be if we didn't have Studio Dog around. Would I really get any more work done? Would I be the least bit more profitable? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm perfectly happy with the bargain as it stands. With work being less organized around small, repetitive jobs and more organized around concentrated, episodic immersions, followed by long periods of relative quiet, I'm sure we'll find a good balance between the necessity of work and the pleasure of spending quality time with a priceless canine companion. Her main job is to help establish our family routines and keep us on track. She also scours the floor of the kitchen for dropped food. And she does her best to keep our Squirrel Alert Levels at Def-Con 5.  I would not trade her for all the Hasselblads and Leicas in the world. 

I only hope that someday I will be half as good a person as my dog seems to think I am.

Any tips I may be missing?

Studio Dog carefully instructs Ben in giving high quality belly rubs. 

Riding shotgun on errands to the bank or the coffee shop.

Supervising Ben during vacations.

Remaining vigilant against the possibility of squirrels.


Butch said...

That is one sweet dog! Sweet photos, too, and a sweet story!

Unknown said...

Kirk, I fear you unwittingly disclosed the real identity of Studio Dog in the post...

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks. Now corrected. I'm sure people can find the original on some feed but ..... ah well.

Michael Matthews said...

The dog whose name shall not be written (except in that one slip) seems to share all the characteristics of our two-year-old Havanese. In his case we're hoping he'll grow out of the hypervigilance about squirrels and anything ele which dares approach the house, and that he'll lose the overdose of small dog belligerence which sometimes presents. But, all in all, there are few things more comforting than the loyal companionship of a trusty little dog. In fact, I'm sliding toward a dognap as I write......

Art in LA said...

Did you let a "Tulip" slip out? I'm a freelancer too (business stuff though), with a CR-V and 9 year old dog, plus two high-schoolers. We're lucky that there is usually someone around the house to keep Sprite company. We definitely try to manage our away time carefully though. With luck, she's alone for no more than a few hours.

If we know we will be gone for a longer period, we'll use a "doggie daycare" spot. Are there places like that in Austin? For longer trips, we have an "extended stay sitter" ... freelancers who love hosting dogs at their own home for days at a time.

Humans and dogs cut a deal long ago to live together. All for the better, I must say.

Gato said...

Having someone -- dog or human -- around to remind you to take a break from the computer is not a bad thing.

I'm not a dog person, but your writing and photos have even me liking Studio Dog.

Alec said...

A great sidekick to have around - very cute.

bishop said...

I've enjoyed your blog for a long time, but now I've learned something new about you. You are a good man Mr. Tuck.

Unknown said...

My guess is that without Studio Dog you would be less productive due to stress. She relieves more stress than those unfortunate folk who have never experienced the love of a dog will ever understand. We are approaching a critical change with our fifteen year old poodle. He is mostly blind and rather arthritic, but still slowly follows us around the house as best he can. His older sister--the one with two legs--will begin her studies at the University of Texas at Austin in the Fall. Big changes in store. Luckily, his grandmother lives about a mile away and takes care of him during the day. Dogs are wonderful. Rub Studio Dog's ears for me!

typingtalker said...

I have been surprised at the number of people who routinely drop their dog(s) off at a Doggie Day Care. Routinely means every morning on the way to work with pickup in the afternoon/evening on the way home. Our vet who runs one of these things is surprised as well but he doesn't mind cashing the checks.

We used to use a dog walker/dog sitter when on vacation but now use our vet's big facility. He doesn't mind cashing our checks either.

Many years ago a colleague who travelled a lot used his vet's kennel so often that his dog ran around loose in the office and slept under the vet's desk. Those checks were cashed as well.

We love our pets and prove it by writing checks -- playtime is sold in increments of 15 minutes.

David said...

My wife, Michelle, wanted me to tell you that she really likes Studio Dog. I always show her Studio Dog pictures.

Your dog sitter reminds me of our cat sitter, who leaves daily notes about her visits with our cat. (Emma (the cat) was in a very good mood today, we went out on the porch for a while, she ate all her treats, etc.) I'm sure that Studio Dog misses you, but I know she would not want you to worry about her.