Tales from the Cabin
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Doggone Photo Shoot

A morning of mayhem

By Nancy Cain
Published: August 1, 2005
Photo by Nancy Cain
Daybreak on the St. Lawrence River is the golden hour in Thousand Island Park, N.Y. The sun climbs up behind the Victorian pavilion at the main dock, spilling a bronze wake across the water, backlighting a line of Canada geese or a lone laker steaming along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Early Native Americans, who recognized the grandeur of the area called it Manatoana, or Garden of the Great Spirit – and they were right.
Most mornings, though, the serenity is broken as dogs of all shapes and sizes seem to appear out of nowhere dragging their owners or romping after sticks, tennis balls and black squirrels. And it’s not just the river that is golden – it’s also many of the four-legged residents. The community green is typically a tangle of golden retrievers with coats varying in hue like grades of maple syrup.
It was on one of these golden mornings that Clayton’s owner (Colleen Deluca) and Amos’ owner (me), hatched the idea to organize a golden retriever photo shoot. We knew of at least 13 other goldens that might show up.
Our idea for an exclusively golden retriever photo shoot was short lived, for we were in Thousand Island Park, where there is a 125-plus-year history of egalitarianism. By gosh, if there was going to be a doggy photo shoot, it should include all breeds. “No problem,” we replied naively.
We set the time for 7:30 a.m. on the following Saturday. We placed an announcement in our island community’s weekly newsletter inviting all dog owners to come to the main dock at the appointed hour.
Within hours of the newsletter’s publication, I got a call from an owner who regretted she and her black lab would be out of town. Would I be willing to include a black pillow decorated like her dog – kind of a stand-in – in the photograph?
“Uh, sure,” I answered, wondering whether this was an omen.
Colleen and I arrived at the main dock a little before 7:30, dragged by our dogs and toting cameras (and the black lab pillow.) We leisurely got our caffeine from the new dock-side coffee shop, and that was the last leisurely thing about the morning.
As Colleen raised her cup for that first sip of coffee, dogs and owners started streaming down the dock. Our dogs moved into high alert, and her coffee (and my tea) went flying. Soon we were tripping in a knot of dock-side deck chairs, tables, leashes and squirming dogs. We quickly moved the mayhem away from the coffee shop out to the main dock.
Dogs and people kept coming. And coming.
In retrospect, I don’t know quite how we thought we could pull this off    – having all 50-plus dogs sitting nicely looking at the camera. It was, said Rascal and Pumpkin’s owner, “the world’s longest butt-sniffing line.”
Finally – amidst a cacophony of “sit, heel, NOOOO!” and peals of laughter – we were able to memorialize the event with some bad, half-group shots. Then Colleen suggested that we break into smaller groups. “Goldens over there, labs and lab-wannabees to the left, and all the little dogs on the other end of the dock,” she commanded with all the presence of a seasoned preschool teacher. Within seconds of our “Okay, we’ve got it,” signaling the end of the photo shoot, leashes were unclipped and the water was teeming with retrievers of all breeds and colors.
Alas, only eight Goldens out of at least 15 came to the photo shoot. We photographed the dogs all right, but we certainly didn’t end up with a department store-like portrait.
My last-resort idea had been to have my teenage son videotape the entire event. But when we returned to our cottage (exhausted) and viewed the tape, all we really had was a bunch of snouts and waving tails moving in and out of focus on the screen, and some of the best footage of human legs you can imagine.

With a doctorate in animal behavior, Nancy Cain is more than a little chagrined by the dog photo shoot gone awry. Rumor has it, she’s already making plans for next year.
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