By Tracy Ahrens
Trucker came into my life on Valentine’s Day during an adoption fair at a local pet store. It wasn’t until Easter when I began to use him as a mannequin for festive holiday hats, scarves and headbands.
The classic first “Trucker bunny” photo (wearing rabbit ears) was sent to a large list of people via email including the kennel director who cared for him at a local animal shelter.
During the Christmas holiday season I strapped large red, felt reindeer antlers on his head in the backyard. He sat in the grass and yawned with an expression of, “Oh for God’s sake,” while I snapped his picture and laughed.
The best picture of that photo session is framed and on my bedroom dresser. He had moved to our patio with the antlers on his head and dropped to his back while I stood over him. I caught a picture of him from the chest up, his front paws curled over his chest and red antlers and collar contrasted against stones scattered with dry pine needles and pinecones. I titled the picture, “Dead reindeer pose.”
Taking pictures of pets in attire stems back to my childhood. I remember crocheting a tiny stocking cap for my hamster, Marshmallow, and a red-and-white Santa hat (equipped with ear holes) for my rabbit, Bosley.
In adulthood I’ve enjoyed taking photos of people’s pets in holiday attire at a local pet store to help raise funds for humane organizations. I’ve gathered a stockpile of hats, bow ties, headbands, eyeglasses, necklaces and so forth for every major holiday including Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Halloween. They are categorized in storage totes, making it easy to dress up my pets at whim.
Finding props during holiday seasons is simple via visits to retail, craft and party supply stores. Post holiday sales are even better. I also find that decorative hair ties for girls are excellent for necklaces on small animals, and barrettes are perfect placed in the long hair of dogs and cats. Other ideas include tucking a small animal in an Easter basket, large Santa hat or plastic Halloween pumpkin.
While my three cats (Jack, Forest and Joan) and Trucker pose for photos wearing attire nearly every major holiday and on their birthdays, the one holiday that I send 4×6 pictures via snail mail is Christmas. When I joined Facebook, sharing images became quicker and brought smiles to other pet-loving acquaintances around the world.
I think that my tradition of creating unique Christmas pet portraits set in when I adopted Trucker. Each year I look forward to capturing them in new poses, wearing new attire and making people smile when they see the images.
Friends usually ask me, “How do you get your pets to keep things on their heads?” I never force my pets to participate. I interact with them during a photo session and if they feel frustrated, I let them go. We try again another time. For my pets and me, it’s a time of bonding.
The best images, I find, are captured in natural light by a window or while spending time outside with my pets.
It works best to sit with them as they sleep or rest by a window, or lie in the grass in my fenced-in yard. I casually try different props on them and snap away.
Each pet has a unique reaction to these props and I’ve learned to work around their responses.
Joan doesn’t care. Jack gets stiff and his eyes grow wide, making photos hysterical.
Forest hates wearing anything on his head and rips it off in seconds. Thus, I’ve resorted to placing neck attire on him or letting him sit among colorful bows or garland. One year he ripped a Santa hat off of his head and stood on it with his front paws, posing like he had conquered the cap.
Trucker, for the most part, is accepting. Though, sometimes he shows me a sad face as though he’s being reprimanded, or he simply closes his eyes and falls asleep.
One holiday season I abandoned tiny hats and such and utilized one of my fluffy red winter scarves to wrap around each of my pets in a festive way.
Within the last two years I’ve started to add decorative borders and words to my edited Christmas images using photo kiosks. One year I added an appropriate line from ‘Twas the night before Christmas to each photo.
Another time I shared a suitable line from Christmas carols on each image. A picture of Trucker with the red scarf around his neck and looking out a window read, “Do you see what I see?” Jack was wrapped in the scarf from neck to tail and the wording read, “We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way.” Joan was by a window with the scarf around her neck, looking at me with questioning eyes. Her picture read, “Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice”
One Christmas Forest actually kept a hat on his head, bringing me much excitement. It was an elf hat equipped with ears. He was staring out of a window from his favorite sitting spot as the camera captured his reflection in the glass. His picture read, “Forest the elf.”
Close friends and family have grown to love the surprise images of my pets each Christmas. Some say they display them in their homes among Christmas decorations.
At my home, every Christmas holiday I display images (in decorative frames) captured from the year prior.
The time I spend with my pets taking these snapshots is treasured. The images also provide a current picture of my furry kids to keep on file.
Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author, artist and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. See her web site at www.tracyahrens.weebly.com and add her book, “Raising My Furry Children,” to your collection. Visit www.raisingmyfurrychildren.weebly.com