My Soul Dog Isn't Who I Thought He'd Be...
If you've been following along with my journey as a photographer, you'll likely know I have three dogs, one of whom has kind of become the face of my business. Arawn, my Belgian Malinois, was not only the inspiration for my logo, but he was the first model for my photography, continues to be my model to this day, and was really the reason why I got into pet photography in the first place. But I'm not actually here to talk about Arawn.
Before I get ahead of myself, let me set the stage for this upcoming series of posts for you.
Last year, Marika Moffitt of Dirtie Dog Photography in Seattle, a fellow pet photographer who I have learned from, and would consider a friend and mentor, lost her Soul Dog. This prompted her to create an incredible project called the Soul Dog Journey Project. This project provides pet parents with 52 weekly prompts that encourage them to think about, write about, and photograph their Soul Dog. I decided to join in not only to support Marika, but also because I spent a lot of time last year thinking about Soul Dogs and Heart Dogs - what those terms meant, how they differentiated, and what they meant to me - and wanted to take this time to vocalize my thoughts and feelings.
You see, I've always considered Arawn my Heart Dog. We got him as a 10-week-old puppy, and from the moment we picked him up from the breeder I knew my life and my heart would never be the same. But recently I started hearing the term Soul Dog. Was a Soul Dog the same as a Heart Dog? The more I pondered on this, the more sure I was that they were two different things. And while Arawn is for sure my Heart Dog, Soul Dog was reserved for someone else.
This train wreck of a dog came into our lives unexpectedly and without planning. I won't go into the full story of how we got him here - but suffice it to say he was a backyard breeder pup with zero socialization, a fear of most everything, and no idea how to be a dog when we brought him home as a six-month-old.
Those first weeks and months with Omega were the most challenging transition I've ever had with a dog. When we got Anya, our oldest, the biggest issues we faced were teaching her not to chase the cat and dealing with some separation anxiety. When Arawn came home we went through all the normal fun of a puppy (potty breaks in the middle of the night, coming home on lunch for potty breaks, potty training during a cold and et winter, and of course chewing on everything), but he was such a sweet, well-adjusted pup that it didn't seem like such a struggle. But Omega was different. He and Arawn butted heads from day one. Both of them wanted to be the center of attention, and neither one was willing to back down. Omega didn't know how to play with other dogs so he was often too rough or just spent his time barking at the other two. He was afraid of his own shadow, and he barked at everything. He was nervous around men and children, and pretty much anything that made sudden movements or loud noises. He wasn't potty trained, and he tried to hide anything "bad" he did from my husband. Unfortunately, things got much worse before they got better.
About six months after bringing Omega home the fighting started. It seemed that any time he and Arawn were in a small room or tight area together Omega would pick a fight with him. The first fights were really just scuffles with a lot of barking. But the fights quickly escalated, and Arawn started walking away with a scrape here and a scratch there. I tried to manage them, but with three large dogs, a full-time job (luckily I was working from home), and a business to run, it was a lot to manage. It all came to a head when Arawn walked away from a fight with a pretty nasty puncture wound in his side. My husband was done. He wanted to rehome Omega.
To be honest, this was an incredibly difficult time for me. I'd never even considered rehoming a dog (I also used to be pretty judgmental about rehoming). But my husband was adamant. I begged him to give me more time, and eventually, he agreed that we could seek assistance from a trainer. Alison, the owner of Daack Pack Dog Training, was an absolute Godsend. She specializes in dogs exhibiting aggressive behavior, and we spent the next year with her navigating Omega's behavioral issues, learning what made him tick, and finding an incredibly caring, emotionally-connected dog beneath all the fear and heartache. (We also found out he wasn't as dumb as we'd always thought. After getting him on Fluoxetine to help cut through his anxiety-induced fog, we learned that he actually picks most things up as quickly as Arawn with the right direction and motivation.) With training, Omega's true personality started to come through, and I found myself more and more bonded with him. Sure, he's still reactive to certain triggers, and we have to monitor his compulsion in specific situations, but he's grown into a smart, loving, goofy dog.
(Check out the cell phone shots below to see some of his goofy moments.)
My soul dog & our journey
So how did I know that Omega was my Soul Dog? Honestly, I just knew. I mentioned before that I always knew Arawn was my Heart Dog, and that hasn't changed from the day he came into our lives. We will love each other unconditionally until we both take our last breaths. I feel a bond to him that I had never felt with another dog before. But with Omega that bond is different. Deeper. More spiritual. He doesn't just touch my heart, he touches a part of my soul. I see him and he sees me.
I'm excited to dig deeper into this bond we share as I go through the Soul Dog Journey Project, and I'm more excited for everyone who has chosen to take this journey with me by reading along. The prompts are weekly, and I'll try my best to post weekly. If you're not already following me on Instagram, make sure you watch there for updates on when I've posted. As much as I'm going to make this about my bond with Omega, I also won't hold back on the nitty-gritty and the struggle it often is to be the advocate for an anxious, reactive dog like Omega.
So fasten your seatbelts - this might be a bumpy ride.