#7: Sylas, a last day
Updated: Jan 3
#7: Sylas, a last day
Warning: sad content about a beloved dog
I met Sylas on the last day of his life. When his owner Marylynn told me his story and sent me his picture I truly said out loud "Oh my goodness this is the most beautiful dog I've ever seen"...(Sorry, Zuri...) I shared the picture with my husband. And sent it to a friend. But Sylas had osteosarcoma and he was not responding well to the treatments. ming up with an end of life treatment for him.
Marylynn and her husband Ryan love their 2 year old pup, and their menagerie of pets (including a flying squirrel and two other husky border collie mixes) and gave Sylas a wonderful life. I’m telling this story in my countdown of favorite photoshoots of 2022 because this shoot taught me two incredibly hard and important values in photography namely to 1) keep a healthy emotional distance from my subjects and 2) pay attention to the needs of all subjects, in this case a dog and his humans.
Marylynn surprised her husband with the photoshoot. When I spotted Sylas from across the parking lot at Lake Roland park, I ran up (like I do) excitedly saying “Sylas!” since I recognized him from all the pictures I’d seen. His human looked at me warily. I said I’m mollye the photographer and he said oh ok, hi, a little standoffish. I’m used to people not knowing why I’m so excited so I let it slide and asked if I could pet this sweet looking pup. And then Marylynn arrived. Surprised, she said softly and a bit sadly. Then Ryan started tearing up. She surprised him with the photoshoot.
Of course Sylas was unaware of a photoshoot going on but he understood, I’m sure, the closeness of his mom and dad and a sudden warmth on that November morning. They said, ok, he’s weak but he can move and walk with us as long as we walk slowly. I’d never seen a dog on his last day of life. I’d really never seen a sick animal, really. I wasn’t around when my family dog died almost 20 years ago. I felt in myself a kind of emotion like instant grief welling up. I didn’t know this dog or Marylynn and Ryan of course but I knew right away that they loved this beautiful smart friendly brave animal and cancer was pulling him, yanking him, out of their lives and away from his own.
We walked slowly. I tried to get pictures of him up close, his beautiful amber eyes, his regal suit and the little pointy bone on the top of his head that looked so cute and sweet to boot. I wanted to get their closeness with him but also his wild self, his wolfish backstory, a way of grabbing them together and apart but not making it feel like two separate shots. I also needed to slow down a lot. Sylas needed time to make his way down the trail or to grab at his big red ball*.
A few times Ryan and Marylynn told me he needed to rest. So we sat together with Sylas and just let him breathe slowly and feel us petting him. His mom and dad kissed him and told stories about him. The shoot was supposed to be around 30 minutes...a customized rate and time for this very unique and important shoot...
...but I think I was with them for an hour and a half. I usually lose track of time in my sessions (sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes its probably annoying to my clients) but in this case I easily let everything else slide away. I needed to not only be present as a photographer, but of course just as an empathetic stranger, a visitor to this family and their unique sadness.
As in all my photography, I’m intuitive about it…so I didn’t come in with an agenda. I just knew this was a tough one. There were a few this year where grief took hold. A friend who grieved the loss of her brother. A writer who had lost her mother. And now this. Because I wanted to share their story properly, I’ve devoted a blog to this one. I asked Marylynn, who is a vet tech so she knows way more about animal health than I do, to share Sylas’s story. You can find that below.
Note: Of course I felt like crying at the end. We placed little Sylas in his stylish car hammock. He looked longingly at us. It carved new groove in my heart. I swallowed hard. I'm not even a crier, or it's not my default sadness response, but a sense of loss welled up in me. I said goodbye. I looked that into that dog's golden eyes for the last time. They would travel to the vet after the shoot to let him move on. So it was sudden and fresh and vivid. Every sad thing destroys us a little. Sometimes it wrecks us into feeling like we'll never be ok. And I worry so much about that. I mean to the point of it being a thing in therapy I can't let go of. But anyway this was not my deep attachment. He was not my fur child. But saying goodbye is always painful. I'm so happy he had, and has, such wonderful pawrents.
From Marylynn, Sylas’s mom:
We got Sylas from a nice woman in Georgia when he was 8-9 weeks old. We’d met the woman on Facebook). He was always a very happy and smart pup with so much energy. But very rough with toys and an aggressive chewer. After many shredded toys, I got him an indestructible ball* for outdoor play. He always got so irritated that he couldn't grab onto it that he would push it around the backyard “yelling” at it. Even the neighbors thought he was hilarious with that ball. From day one, we started teaching him basic manners, even though he often acted otherwise when meeting new people, like jumping up on them. He had so much energy that we ended up getting another puppy when he was about 6 months old to help exert more energy throughout the day. They became best friends. After he turned 1, every now and then we would notice him limping but could never figure out what was wrong. Then out of nowhere his hock area (like a human’s ankle joint) started expanding on one of his hind legs. The vet diagnosed him with osteosarcoma…and after a few tests and a second opinion…we decided to get his leg amputated. He healed well and was in good spirits. During his first couple weeks of healing Sylas would try to get us to throw his toys so he could fetch, but after my husband told him “no” too many times since we wanted him to take it easy, he decided to start dropping the toys onto his bare feet... but he never tried to drop them on mine :) Once his stitches were out he was able to run and play and he reunited with his beloved red ball. He always had so much character. Even after his amputation he still enjoyed fetch, running after his red ball and running after the lure course with the other dogs. He had 2 fur brother dogs, a fur sister dog and a fur brother cat. We never thought we would lose him within 6 months of his amputation but we made his last day as memorable as we could ... with Mollye's help.