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Who's a good boy? Portraits of aging dogs come to Estacada Library

You don’t have to love dogs to love the photos that will soon be on exhibit at the Estacada Public Library. Dutch photographer Pauline Zonneveld’s moving photographs celebrating dogs in their golden years may have even the most dog-indifferent person falling tail over paws.

The photographs are part of Zonneveld’s project called “Good Old Dog.”

She has taken more than 250 photographs of elderly canines during the five-year project. Her shows have many fans and the “Good Old Dog” project was even written up in “O,” the Oprah magazine.

“My goal is not to focus on the decline or the illness, but to pull out the dog’s personality, the joy, happiness, goofiness and strength of these dogs,” she said. “I want to remind the owner of the better times with the dog.”

She was inspired by a frail old dog in her neighborhood negotiating the outdoors on a cold winter day in 2010.

“She was sniffing around her yard, stabilizing herself at every step,” she said. “I immediately fell in love with her grey muzzle and gentle demeanor. As a photographer, I felt compelled to document her special beauty, to honor her courage at this advanced age. Since then, I am smitten with all senior dogs.”

Zonneveld said she was touched, and thought of her neighbors, the old dog’s owners.

“What a difficult time this must be for them.”

She began photographing good old dogs, allowing their owners to have a special memory of their pet.

“I enjoy meeting the dogs and their owners and seeing the love that happens between them,” Zonneveld said.

Her photographs capture and celebrate each dog’s fortitude, grace, wisdom and unique personality.

The portraits are accompanied by a haiku poem by former Estacada resident Cherie Lingelbach. Zonneveld talks about the dogs with their owners and the haiku often incorporates words the owners use in describing their dogs and their lives together.

“We make sure each dog receives a worthy haiku.”

Zonneveld notes that the dog owners attending the “Good Old Dog” exhibits often will stand back as gallery goers discuss the dogs in the pictures, “and when the time is right, they will step up and say ‘that is my dog.’ They are so proud.”

Zonneveld, who has lived in Oregon since 2007, thinks Oregon is a dog-friendly place.

“People here love dogs,” she said, while doting on her goldendoodle named Maggie.

The portraits touch a tender spot in people, who think of pets they have lost, but also of people aging and our own mortality. “It translates into our own human life. We have people in our lives that are becoming more frail,” she said.

Zonneveld said in her description of the project, “The portraits are a testament to survival and finding meaning and joy in life while facing physical limitations and challenges. In essence, the project is about celebrating life, endurance and pure love.”