TORONTO - After photographing his grandmother for her 100th birthday, Pete Thorne was inspired to explore the idea of aging by turning the lens on other senior subjects — albeit of the four-legged variety.
The Toronto-based photographer started putting up posters around the city, in veterinary clinics and pet stores to find elderly dogs and their owners.
Thorne says he was "blown away" by the number of responses he received, and what was intended as a visual project took on even greater significance.
"People started sending me incredible testimonials when they'd contact me trying to convince me to photograph their dog," says Thorne, a native of The Pas, Man.
"I really didn't need all that much more encouragement. ... But when I read these testimonials, I realized that photographing the dogs was one thing, but these stories were incredible, and I needed a way to put the two together."
Thorne created a Facebook page as a way for individuals to see images of and read stories about the dogs. The project has since evolved from digital to print with the release of his new book "Old Faithful" (Harper Design).
Thorne packed up his gear and hit the road to photograph older pooches in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Ottawa and Montreal, as well as dogs and their owners who came to Canada from Seattle and Maine for shoots.
The book features 75 portraits of dogs from a variety of breeds, backgrounds and ages, encompassing everything from diminutive miniature pinschers to a fawn Great Dane.
Thorne wanted to illustrate telltale signs of dogs growing older — white eyebrows, chipped and missing teeth and foggy eyes — which he says, in a way, mirrors the aging process experienced by humans.
Adding to the emotional heft of the images are the loving anecdotes shared by owners.
Lisa Evans shares the story of Sam, her 17-year-old chihuahua, who was rescued from a puppy mill and had been in poor health. Expected to live for just three months, Evans still took the dog deemed "unadoptable" into her home, and he has far exceeded his life expectancy.
"It've been five years now, and he is the most lovable old man imaginable," she writes. "A mother's love can heal all, but I think Sam did some healing on me."
While owners recount tales of pet illness and death, the unyielding affection they have for their furry friends reverberates throughout "Old Faithful."
"His heart disease is taking its toll," mother of three Tamara Taggart writes of Stanley, her 11-year-old Airedale terrier, whom she describes as calm, loving and "the sweetest boy I know."
"My boy is aging fast and it breaks my heart. I need more time to stare into his kind brown eyes."
Thorne says the owners are obviously aware the end is coming for their dogs, and saw "Old Faithful" as an opportunity to honour them.
"It's really given me an insight into how important these animals become to the family, and some of these animals have been with them since they're puppies," says Thorne, a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
"I think like anybody going through and looking at these pictures and reading these stories, whether or not they have a dog, they'll find out something about caring for others and sharing experiences with other people. There will still be something that resonates."
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