Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York NY

November 25, 2006

Kahlila, Loren, and I went to high school together, but we lost touch over the years. When the couple contacted me about shooting their wedding, I jumped at the chance to see them again, as well as to work in a location as visually interesting as New York. I started my career there, shooting the local music scene, but I hadn't worked there in almost a decade, and I missed it. I was hoping that their wedding would provide an opportunity for some incredible pictures...and I wasn't disappointed.

Kahlila and Loren were married at the
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
; a huge, gorgeous, historically significant church on manhattan's upper west side. Their reception was held at Synod Hall, adjacent to the church. Everything was beautifully planned and precisely executed by wedding coordinator
Soraya Jollon of Soraya Weddings and Celebrations
, who was nice enough to change the entire schedule around in order for me to squeeze in a few archetypal "Big Apple Romance" shots while we still had daylight. Thanks Soraya!

Kahlila looked GORGEOUS, incredibly glamorous in her slip dress and retro "fascinator" (the little white feathery thing in her hair). And Loren was totally stylin'...his sweet, open smile made him look more than just handsome. The DJs played every 90's song we ever loved and I had to remind myself a couple of times that I was here to shoot, not dance. :)

I think that people in their 20's often have a hard time finding a place for themselves between adulthood and adolescence. You spend most of your time either pining for the past or fearing the future, and feeling like you're not really a part of either. Yet being with those people again, seeing them transformed into adults themselves, helped me to remember how far I've come.



Memorial for Tonka, 8/23/04-12/04/06

I haven't posted in a while and have so many new awesome weddings and other shoots to share with everyone, and I will get to that in the next couple of weeks. And I know I tend to stick to the good stuff in my blog, since it is as much about my business as it is about myself. But I think the point of this blog is to get to know me as a person, too...I like to think my clients want to know when something really major happens. And now, something has.

In my "about me" picture on the upper right of the page you will see my two dogs, Luna (left) and Tonka (right). Luna is 5 and we have had her since she was a puppy. She was my very first dog. She was quite a handful to raise, but we threw ourselves into it and made her into the wonderful, friendly, sassy little girl she is today. Tonka, on the other hand, seemed from the start to be pre-wired for perfection. Tonka was a loving, joyous, soulful dog. He actually liked getting hugs (most dogs don't, since throwing your arm over a dog's shoulders is a dominant gesture and usually makes them nervous), and when you did it he would lean into you and lick your face when you did it. He jumped for joy everytime someone came over--be it my mother or the mailman. He seemed to understand English and had the most solid temperament I have ever seen. One minute he would seem like a wise old soul, calm and centered, and the next he'd be springing 5 feet in the air for the sheer joy of going outside to pee and chase squirrels, or greeting us in the morning with a "aaROOO" sound that's impossible to describe--somewhere between the call of a humpback whale and an elephant. Tonka was as strong and healthy as a horse every day of his life. Purchased on a show contract, he was to be the foundation of what was to be a new line of healthy, long lived, beautiful akitas. After he finished his AKC championship, we had planned to look for a suitable female for him and begin breeding.

Tonka died yesterday from Gastric Dilitation-Volvulus, aka GDV or "bloat". Bloat is a very serious, sudden disease that all large dog owners should be aware of and akitas are high on the list of at risk breeds. Although Luna had had a couple of bloat scares in her life, though never any that resulted in surgery, Tonka did not--he hardly ever even had a tummy ache. I used to count myself lucky that it didn't seem to be an issue with him, especially as I saw him evolve during his teenage years into the picture of a bloat risk--slim, male, and deep chested. But he did not have the anxious, fearful temperament, nor the propensity to eat too fast and too much, that are the other warning signs, and most importantly we fed him a natural, meat based raw diet. And while I did all the usual things a responsible big dog owner does--not allowing exercise or lots of water consumption after meals, keeping an eye on him while he ate and afterwards--mostly the possibility of it happening to him rarely if ever crossed my mind.

In the end it is probably his solid akita temperament that we loved so much, that led to his death. Bloat has an 80% survival rate if the dog is given treatment quickly enough. Tonka probably started bloating sometime early Sunday morning but, stoic guarding breed that he was, didn't make a peep. Not so much as a single sound to indicate the great pain he must have been in. Until 10AM. He whined once then, which woke us up, and when we saw the size of his tummy and the pale color of his gums we rushed him to the hospital, running red lights and doing 80 all the way. By then he was in deep shock and barely standing, but we had hope because of his youth and strength--we though maybe we caught it early enough. The surgery could cost anywhere from $4-10,000, but we were willing to spend anything. But when they got him on the operating table and opened him up, they found that his stomach had already perforated and necrotized, its contents having entered his abdomen--suggesting he had been bloated for hours. There was no hope. If he had just whined earlier, or if it had been during the day and we had seen him, we might have been able to save him--but instead we put him down, saving him the next 24 hours of suffering that would have ended in death anyway. At least we got to say goodbye before they put him under.

It's hard sometimes, when you run your own business and both Brian and I do, finding time for your family. When I returned from Thanksgiving last week I resolved to make more time for mine--to try and enjoy the present more, rather than pining over the past or fretting about the future. I stuck to my resolve, and I now have the comfort of knowing that, during my last week with Tonka, I made the effort. I played with him, walked him, cuddled him, and loved him as best as I could.

I would like to share the following quote from another akita breeder's website, regarding Jake, their first akita, who died at age 10:

" I honestly believe that dogs choose their partners and come to us for a time to teach their lessons, and then when they have accomplished what they set out to do, they leave us to find another soul who might need them more. I guess it helps me a little bit to think that maybe someone else is as lucky as we were to get to spend some time with him. I wonder where he has gone and only hope that whoever gets to be blessed with him next knows how special he is and appreciates every second they might have with him. I miss him so much, but often feel like he is still here, watching over Bruce and me and the dogs and making sure that we are ok. He truly was an angel and already, I miss my friend so much. I miss hearing his howl when he’s excited, and not seeing him bounce around the house with all four legs off the ground and not hearing his breathing when we go to sleep at night. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and thank him for every wonderful memory and for every wonderful person who is in my life because of him."

This sums up the situation better than I probably can right now. I know exactly what it is that Tonka was here to teach me... but, for once in my life, I wish I wasn't such a fast learner.

EDIT: My brother John had the great idea of making a donation to a worthy animal organization in memory of Tonka, and asked me where to donate to.
I thought that the idea was genius so I am posting this link to ARWNY--Akita Rescue. They have been instrumental in rescuing and rehoming thousands of dogs throughout the country and working to shut down puppymills as well. If you are thinking of sending flowers or something to us, please instead consider using that money to make a donation to ARWNY in Tonka's name--you can sponsor a specific dog they have right now or just donate to the general fund. And if you can't donate, you can still help them by doing your holiday shopping at their online store.

Here are some pics to remember him by: