The Grand Champion


I had an obsession with horses from the time I was about seven years old. My big sister took horseback riding lessons, and after watching her once I was hooked. I wanted a horse. I needed a horse. Late at night, my mind haunted me with dreams of a horse of my very own: tall, chestnut-brown, with a mane and tail that flew behind it as we raced across wide-open spaces. It was an impossible dream, and I knew it. But for years… YEARS… I was heartbroken that we lived in the Chicago suburbs and not on a farm somewhere that horses were a more reasonable choice of pet. 😂

I watched horse movies all the time. My favorite was National Velvet with Elizabeth Taylor. A twelve year old girl wins a runaway horse in the town raffle, names him The Pie… and quickly realizes that he can run faster and jump higher than any horse around. She trains with a family friend (Micky Rooney), cuts her hair to disguise herself as a jockey, and enters the Grand National, “the greatest horse race in all of England.” I watched The Pie become England’s Grand Champion so many times that our VHS tape began to wear out.

Between the dreaming and horseback riding lessons my parents signed me up for and endless National Velvet viewings, my heart could barely shoulder the disappointment of living horse-less, except for one saving grace:



Jennifer Rebecca Warner, a 35 pound, black-and-white, runt-of-the-litter English Springer Spaniel, was our family dog. We got her as a puppy when I was in kindergarten and she was a member of our household for the rest of my childhood. Jenny was no horse in stature, but her heart must have been as big as any horse’s ever was; she was eager-to-please, patient, and as gentle as any girl could have ever wanted. I would gallop around the block with her running beside me on the leash, pretending we were off on wild adventures as a horse and rider. I made her a harness in the winter and she would “pull” us down the sidewalk through the snow, proudly bearing the title of my sled horse. My dad even helped me build a “horse jump” for her (complete with adjustable pegs) so Jenny and I could train together for our own Grand National.

Looking back, I’d say that Jenny was a fixture… if not a pillar… of my childhood. She was endlessly patient with my antics. She would follow me anywhere. She was the one waiting at the door after school every single day, excited to see me and undoubtedly wondering what kinds of silliness we’d be engaging in that afternoon. She was more than happy to be my horse, and, though she never had the chestnut coat or flowing mane and tail, I knew deep-down that she was and always would be my most special girl.


Jenny was faithful through my childhood and often-challenging teenage years, keeping her place by my side as I moved on from my horse obsession to typical teen things: sports, friends, and boys. And the summer after my freshman year at college, I stood beside my dad and held her head in my hands as she passed. I walked out of the vet’s office that day without my 35 pound heart-of-gold Grand Champion, poignantly experiencing the downside to the risk we all take in loving so deeply.

Last week as I was teaching camera camp, we passed by a lady walking her small, black-and-white English Springer Spaniel around town. The kids begged me to let them take its picture, so I asked the owner who gladly obliged. This sweet dog looked so much like our Jenny that I had to swallow a lump in my throat as they walked away… and even found myself looking back over my shoulder for one last glance as they made their way around the corner and out of sight.

From where I stand, your family’s dog is one of the most important things your child will remember long after their childhood has passed. Dogs are with us for far too short of a time, but the years we have with them are richer as a result of their love. Laying in bed that night last week, I found myself wishing I had better pictures… wonderful, authentic pictures… of my sweet Jenny. It wasn’t a thing back then… but it is now. If I had pictures of her, I would certainly have had them in my hands that evening to enjoy… to get lost in… and to remember. They would have been a balm to my heart, which was still aching a bit after the chance encounter we had in town that day.


Dog sessions are coming up in August… the 17th and the 24th. I’m not charging very much for them because I know this is a tough session to justify and I really want you to consider it… believe me when I say that you will never regret signing up and taking a quick hour out of your Saturday to do this one very important thing.

We will play. We will have fun. And we will celebrate the life, love, and spirit that makes your dog so special to you and your family so you can hold onto those memories forever. Here’s a link… I hope to meet your dog soon!