This a cautionary tale for my fellow pet photographers and anyone working with animals.
I had never worked with so many people and pets in one group at a time, so I was a little nervous but very excited to have my first outdoor winter session. I love winter and it’s not often that people want to brave the cold crisp air to get their pictures taken.
Gear in hand, all bundled up in my poufy winter jacket, I walked up the hard crunching snow path and knocked on the door.
As the door opened I was greeted by a room filled with people and dogs, so many welcoming friendly faces. As I reached over to shake my clients hand, I felt pressure followed by pain on my left wrist. My client quickly apologized for her dog's, “let’s call her Peaches” mouthing. She explained that Peaches was very protective of her and that she was working with a trainer to help with her socialization.
I knew from my many years of working with shelter animals that “Peaches” had displayed signs of aggression and not “mouthing”. I could feel my wrist throbbing underneath my jacket but I ignored it and told my client not to worry about it.
To prevent my gear from fogging up, I had to wait outside for everyone to get ready. As I waited, I discreetly inspected my wrist and I noticed that I was bleeding along the side where it was the most painful. I used my shirt sleeve to put pressure on the wounds and left it covered under my jacket until I could tend to it.
A little shaken-up at what had just happened, I pushed on with the group session all the while making sure I gave “Peaches” and her owner lots of space. I was very happy I did, as the rest of the day was perfect.
The shimmering snow reflected beautifully on everyone's faces and we all had a great time. Even with the frozen finger tips and runny noses, the session went beautifully.
As much as I was enjoying myself and everyone was so welcoming and friendly, I felt relieved when I took my last frame for the day. I could no longer ignore the pain throbbing under my jacket.
At the end of the session, I said my goodbyes and drove away.
As soon as I arrived in the safety of my own home, I was able to process what had happened. “Crap, I was just bitten” I thought to myself!
I was so mad at myself for not noticing the signs right away. I was mad at the owner for not telling me about her dog’s known behavioural issues. I was mad at myself for not “asking” the owner if her dog had any behaviours she might be worried about. This went on for a while as I cried in my loving husband’s arms and tended to my wounds.
After I was done feeling sorry for myself, I realized that it could have been worse and that I needed to do something to protect myself against future occurrences, because the reality is, it can and probably will happen again.
I hope that my story will prompt you to think about this subject and put things into place to protect yourself.
These two scars along my wrist serve as reminders for me:
That “ALL” animals are unpredictable.
The best defense is an offensive strategy.
Before working with any type of animal, educating yourself on how animals communicate will help you identify what they are trying to tell you and how to work through these signs while photographing them.
That I am the only one that can protect myself by asking the hard questions.
I know this may seem like it would be an uncomfortable conversation but it doesn’t have to be. It’s more about getting to know your client and their pet.
Asking the owner about the animal’s behavioural tendencies will show that you really do care about your client and their pet and it will help you prepare before you work with any animal.