Embracing our Animal Companions

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2009 © Stephen Bruno

Several years ago, I was running an errand, when I decided to stop by unannounced at a new small service business in town that had recently opened. The owner was interested in my participating in the open house a week later. I had communicated by email about meeting with the owner, but we had not set up a specific date.

I drove to the address which was on a small residential street and looked like a home business. There was an ‘open’ sign on the outside near the front door surrounded by a delightful small courtyard. I pushed lightly on the front door which stuck a little, so I pushed harder to enter. It was common that time of year for doors to expand and require greater effort to move.

I walked into a quaint looking homey living room with cozy country style curtains, closing the front door behind me. I didn’t see any customers sitting on the comfy looking couches or overstuffed chairs. I noticed business cards and brochures on a round wood table in what would be the dining area.

After a few minutes of looking around the living room waiting for the owner or an employee to appear, I walked near the table in the dining room area and called several times toward the kitchen which was around the corner.

Since the kitchen area may be private, I stopped by the table and called out again several times thinking that they may be the backyard. There was no response. I turned to look once more around the living room to see if any new customers had arrived since a bell was not attached to the front door. No one else had entered.

I thought it was prudent to be patient. I walked away towards the middle of the room, and I heard something behind me coming from the kitchen.  I turned casually expecting to be greeted by the owner or employee.

I came face-to-face with a very large dog who came casually walking around the corner stretching and yawning from probably a long nap. Then, the dog realized I was standing there. I suspect that we both had the same expression being startled by each other’s unexpected presence. The dog raised one eyebrow up in bewilderment. It was almost comical to observe the gradual realization of its facial expressions. Time appeared to stand still while we both waited to see what developed. I almost bent down or kneeled in a greeting ritual in front of the dog, and then slowly extending my hand to be sniffed. Under the circumstance, I thought it wise to refrain from that behavior.

Then, the fur on its tail bristled with the tail held high in alertness with large, fast wags. It was inevitable that something was soon about to happen. The dog and I cautiously eyed each other as I began talking calmly, softly yet firmly in a positive voice.

And then, another even larger dog walked into the living room and stood slightly in front of its animal companion. We each stood motionless while the new dog began to process what was happening. Within moments, both dogs’ erect ears faced forward with attentiveness. A ridge of hair bristled down their backs. Their lips now retracted exposing glistening large, long and pointy canine teeth.

Viewing me as an intruder, I knew to prepare for an imminent attack, and without the business owner, I had to manage the dogs myself. Their size and desire to protect their territory suggested that it could be a rather tenacious attack in tandem.

I drew on my many experiences with wildlife including black bears and Mountain Lions as a wildlife photographer out in the wilderness where my process is to photograph them and not be intrusive. And above all, to leave wildlife unharmed by my actions of being in their territory.

I stood in the middle of the living room; the only exit was the front door behind me which the dogs could easily reach faster. They might also block my path to the door during an attack.

For survival, I glanced around quickly while the dogs were deciding what to do to see if I had any means of protecting myself using a kitchen chair, umbrella, walking stick or something. While finding a few objects that would work, I summarily dismissed this option as I wanted to leave without harming the dogs.

I knew an attack was nanoseconds away. Under the circumstances it was inevitable. This much I accepted. Just like with my experiences with wildlife in a threatening situation I was surprisingly calm and focused on how to get out the front door with minimum harm to myself and no harm to the dogs.  I stood slightly sideways making me a narrower target while keeping the dogs in my peripheral vision.

Both dogs began to emit deep, low growls and inched forward toward me.  I stood up straight to look as big as possible (something I learned with Mountain Lions in the wild), and I kept my mouth shut as bared teeth may signify aggression to a dog.

I began to slowly back towards the front door as the two dogs walked closer, each of them keeping a steely eye on me. I knew it was important to remain calm and to talk to the dogs quietly.

I was still away from the front door when the largest of the two dogs suddenly leaped towards me initiating the second dog to do the same. I was immediately bitten twice in my leg which was in front of me as I backed up towards the door. I could tell from the pain that each dog had taken bites which had punctured the skin through my jeans. I remembered to protect my face, chest, and throat and to keep my hands in fists to protect the fingers.

All I could think about was how to leave without harming the dogs as it was not their fault that they found me in their territory and they only wanted to protect the area. I was committed not to strike them with anything including my hands and feet. If only I could reach the door and somehow back out to the front yard, I could then safely close the door escaping with few further injuries.

The dogs continued to bite at my legs. Throughout the attack, I kept myself calm while not creating a sense of anxiety to minimize the dogs’ aggressiveness. I recalled an experience with a protective mother Mountain Lion and her two kittens at Lake Powell, Arizona on top of a ledge when I was jogging alone. But that’s another story.

Still talking in a relaxed, soothing voice the dogs crowded towards me and backed me against the door which opened inward towards the room. I grabbed the doorknob and pulled it in leaving me just enough room to slide out into the front yard and then I carefully closed the door.

I didn’t know where the owner was. It was clear that I needed to get to the VA hospital and have them inspect my lacerations and provide treatment which I quickly did.

I still have the physical scars of the dog bites but no emotional ones. I’m very pleased that my primary focus was to reasonably protect myself while not in any way harming the dogs which is what I accomplished.

One reason I decided to post this story now is that I have had numerous questions about my soon to be published personal and spiritual process book that discusses concepts including responding rather than reacting. I was asked to give an example of what I meant, and this experience came to mind.

 

 

 

 

Quincy, a Dachshund Co-Therapist

Many people have wonderful stories about their animal companions which are sometimes about how the actions of the cat, dog or another animal saved their life. Here is my story about my animal companion, Quincy, a miniature Dachshund.

Many years ago, I provided psychological counseling through private practice in my office and sometimes in my home. One day, I received a referral from a psychologist at a local school district about a male high school student. The psychologist told me that the individual was very resistant to therapy and refused to communicate in any sessions, so they decided on referring him to me.

In the first session in the home office, I briefly greeted the young high school student who sat on the couch facing me while I sat in the recliner. Quincy chose that day for the first time to climb up on my lap, with my help, and he appeared to fall asleep quickly.

I briefly discussed confidentiality and the therapy process after the introductions. The teenager was rather a nonresponsive fidgeting with his hands and looking down and mumbling single word responses. I began formulating a therapeutic plan to reach him on a more meaningful level so that our sessions would make a difference.

While I was seeking areas of his life to exploring, I asked some appropriate questions mentioned by his school psychologist. I asked him if he used any drugs. He did not immediately respond, so I asked again. After a long pause, he finally said no as he continued to look at the floor.

Just as he said no, Quincy looked up and stared at him and gave a loud moan like someone would say when they doubted your honesty. Since he never did this before I wasn’t certain how to interpret the noise. The student gave it no attention.

I asked why the psychologist believed that he was using drugs. With barely a shrug of the shoulders, he gave no other response. After moving on to other things, I decided to try once again by asking if he was using drugs. After a few moments without looking up, he mumbled no.

Once again, Quincy opened his eyes raised his head and looked at him and made the same exact sound he had made previously. By now my curiosity had gotten the better of me, and I was beginning to think that Quincy was responding to what was said but only when the response was untruthful.

I left the questions about drugs and talked a little bit about my therapeutic approach and my involvement with the school district. Then, I asked if it was true that he had been disruptive in one of his classes. A few moments later he mumbled no and then immediately looked up at Quincy who returned the look with the same doubtful noise and then appeared to return to his slumber.

I couldn’t contain my chuckle watching him see if Quincy caught him in another untruthful statement. He looked up from Quincy curiously after hearing my restrained laughter. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He shrugged as well and began his contagious laughter which I eagerly joined in.

From that time on we engaged in a thorough and effective partnership in his sessions. Notwithstanding that he continued to look at Quincy before answering any difficult questions.

Quincy continued this behavior with a few other people who tended to be less than truthful. Since he was my co-therapist, I rewarded him with his favorite Mighty Dog food after each productive session.

I named Quincy after the Quincy, M.E.  American medical mystery-drama television series from Universal Studios that aired from 1976 to 1983 on NBC.

I’ll share more stories with my animal companions in the future.

Meeting with the Russian Defector

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Representing the Russian Defector 2017 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago while in my late 20’s, I held a Special Projects Specialist position at a community services non-profit agency in Phoenix, Arizona. The Director was a former Jesuit Priest. One day he came to my office, sat down and said that he had something he wanted to share with me. The Director said, given my background, that there was an interesting man he knew that I would like to meet and that it was non-work related.

I was given the time off from work to meet with the person. Curious, as always, I agreed. The only stipulation by the person, he added, was that the meeting must take place that day at Church’s Chicken in Phoenix, Arizona.

I wondered who this was and why he insisted on meeting at Church’s Chicken fast food restaurant which I had never visited. When we met,  the man introduced himself to me as Aleksei (not his real name), and it was clear by his name and thick accent that he was Russian. After a hardy handshake with both hands, Aleksei immediately said that he was defecting to the United States as he watched to see my reaction.

It was clear that this was going to be an interesting meeting.

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Continuing Photography Adventures

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Great Horned Owl 2015 © Stephen Bruno

This is a wonderful time of year for amateur and professional photographers to photograph wildlife and nature. During my numerous walks and hikes along the many Northern Arizona trails and sometimes, bushwhacking, I observed much wildlife. Some of these are in plain sight and most of them require practiced observation. Sometimes, simply being present allows one to see wildlife. Frequently, I watch people who walk under around and nearby interesting wildlife. They do this without even noticing what was there. When it seems appropriate, I point out the wildlife.

Some of my knowledge and skills in wildlife photography is the result of watching predators searching and tracking prey. This combined with my naturalist curiosity and knowledge has led to many fascinating experiences and wonderful photography opportunities.

In the future, I will write a question and answer article about photographing wildlife and then, posting it on this blog. This will include questions posed to me over the years. Other questions are what I learned are essential for photographing wildlife.

I am taking names again for those of you, who want to learn how to find, track and photograph wildlife in Northern Arizona. The Field Wildlife Photography Workshop, based on my many professional years’ experience as a wildlife photographer, is on Saturday, March 28, 2015. It is $45 cash for about 4-5 hours not counting travel time. We can car pool if not in Prescott. The last time I recently took a couple of people out (not a workshop), we found and photographed a Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron, and American Coots within the first hour. Please send me an e-mail to stephenbruno@yahoo.com. You can call 928 458-5737.

This week, I will be visiting Bearizona again to take more wildlife photography. I am looking forward to taking some creative and dramatic photographs of the wildlife. It is always wonderful when I can connect with and photograph their essence. I will upload the images on my photography website listed below and post a link on my Stephen Bruno Photography Facebook page.  Like and follow this Facebook page to receive notifications of future posts. Additionally, during the next few months, I will be photographing wildlife at the local Northern Arizona lakes, rivers and creeks. In the near future, I plan photography at the Grand Canyon. Most of these photography adventures I will do on my own and some, I open to others.

http://www.stephenbrunophotography.com/

Book Review: Arizona Highways Photography Guide

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I understand that creating a great photograph requires the process of numerous elements happening with synchronicity. I recently read this revised “Arizona Highways Photography Guide.” As a primarily wildlife and nature photographer, I agree with the information this book presents on how to take great photographs. Recognized internationally for their exceptional photography, the Arizona Highways Magazine highlights wonderful photographs in each issue. Currently, one of my photographs of an Osprey in-flight is accepted in the Arizona Highways Magazine’s 2014-2015 7th Annual Arizona Highways Photo Contest. Here is a link to the photograph.

I have taught many people, in my photography workshops and classes, how to use their camera to create powerful photographs. In this paperback book, there is quality information about digital and film photography and the essential elements necessary to prepare your camera for the best possible photographs. It also covers filters, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, tripods, exposure, lighting action shots, artistic dimensions, packing your camera bag and more.

Several chapters cover different types of photography including landscape, close-up, depth of field, wildlife, architecture, and travel. You learn the difference between taking a snapshot and creating a photograph. Developing the highest quality photography requires practice. Many hours of practice applying different skills and approaches. This book offers you diverse exercises to improve your skills and encourage them to become second nature.

I have lived in many different states and have purchased similar books created by photographers who are familiar with the best places to take photographs. These have saved a lot of time scouting new locations and offering their expertise in the time of day, settings and other important information. Perhaps the most significant part of this book, tailored for people who live in Arizona or plan to visit; the book describes a number of terrific locations to photograph. These include the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Navajoland, Red Rock Country of Sedona, Mountain Country and the Sonoran Desert.

Whether you are an amateur or professional photographer you will find effective tips and recommendations for when and where to photograph. There is additional information about settings. I have photographed wildlife, architecture, and nature in many of the locations presented in this book. You will find concise and informative content that will make you a better photographer. Many of the recommendations are what I have found to be true by trial and error on my own photography adventures. You do not need to be Arizona resident or even visit the state to find the concepts and tips of value to apply wherever you are.

I have read numerous books on different aspects of photography for many years. Some are very complex books covering in-depth concepts. Others offer a focus in specific areas. I am completing my own book focusing on wildlife photography based on my many years sharing time in nature with a variety of wildlife. I find the “Arizona Highways Photography Guide” to be a general approach to photography with an emphasis on Arizona locations. Whether you are amateur, intermediate or professional photographer this book will offer you guidance in becoming a better photographer.

Prescott Wildlife, Nature and Landscape Photography Workshop

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Snowy Egret 2014 © Stephen Bruno

I am offering another 4-hour Prescott Wildlife, Nature and Landscape Photography Workshop to be held on September 27, 2014, from 9am-1pm, at Lynx Lake in Prescott, Arizona.

From this South Shore initial location, I can sometimes see one or two Bald Eagles sitting atop a tall tree or flying low over the water. Other times, there may be a Great Blue Heron or a Snowy Egret in the small lagoon. I have also photographed Osprey fishing in the same area. Red-tailed Hawks often fly overhead. Nearby, there are many smaller birds including Acorn Woodpeckers, American Robins, and Hummingbirds. Walking around the lake I have photographed squirrels including Albert’s Squirrel, a variety of chipmunks, Red-eared Slider turtles, Tarantulas, Red Skimmer Dragonflies, Tarantula Hawk wasps, Tule Bluets and Cicadas to mention just a few subjects. Although I have not photographed them yet at this lake, there are sightings of Cougars, Mule Deer, and Javelinas.

The fee is only $25 cash, which you can pay the day of the workshop. Since the fee is so small, I am not asking for a deposit. I want to offer this workshop so that it is affordable to most anyone who wants to learn how to track birds and animals and get close enough to take wonderful pictures. This is much less than my all day photography workshops. You can click on my http://www.stephenbrunophotography.com/ link to view my portfolio to see the quality of photographs that you will learn to take.

This definitely is a hands-on workshop where we all will be photographing and discussing each photo shoot with different approaches, styles, and settings. I will post the images that I take on my photography website.

As I have shared before this is not primarily a technical workshop, I will show you how to use your specific camera to photograph wildlife up close without being too intrusive and how to take beautiful nature and landscape photography. I will share many photography tips that I have learned over the numerous years as a professional photographer.

Any camera will be fine. Bring the manual of your camera if you have one. Tripods are not necessary but feel free to bring one if you like.

Please confirm by sending an e-mail to stephenbruno@yahoo.com if you are interested in attending the workshop and I will add you to the list. This is a limited enrollment to keep the group small enough for individual instruction.

http://www.stephenbrunophotography.com/

Curious Naturalist: The Art of Observation

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Bald Eagle 2014 © Stephen Bruno

Over my many years of nature and wildlife photography in numerous locations, I have become a curious naturalist. I know a lot about birds and animals because I have studied them for years. Whenever I photograph something new, I return home to my study and thoroughly research them.

I find it interesting that frequently people are in such a hurry to walk through the forest, country, and desert that they appear to miss so many opportunities to observe nature and wildlife. Visit my photography website and view a slideshow of my photography. http://www.stephenbrunophotography.com/.

Once I was photographing a large tarantula when an older couple walked by and the man quickly took a twig and scooted the tarantula off the path and into a pile of leaves. The woman glanced at my raised camera and me and asked if I was photographing the tarantula. I lied and told her no, that I was just observing it. It did not seem to matter much to explain how he interfered with my observation and photography.

Another time I was photographing an Osprey that I had tracked around a lake to a tree high above a well-worn path. Just as I had raised my camera with a telephoto lens and was focusing in on the Osprey eating a rainbow trout, a family walked rapidly passed me talking loudly as they neared the large tree with the Osprey. Unfortunately, the bird became nervous and flew to the other side of the lake. Although disappointing that I had missed the opportunity to photograph the bird that I had pursued so vigilantly, I was amazed that the family never even noticed the Osprey.

There is so much to see when we are in nature if we have the patience and presence to observe. Most people now have a cell phone with reasonable photography capability or a compact camera. If you are not a photographer or prefer to draw, sketch the wildlife that you see and note the location.

Walk with someone who can point out things of interest in the field and explain simple, useful identifying characteristics.This is one reason why I offer photography workshops. http://www.stephenbrunophotography.com/Photography-Workshops

People who view my wildlife photography frequently ask how I get so close to photograph wildlife.

Below are a few of my approaches to photographing wildlife close up:

  • Shifting between my vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
  • Stopping at the nearest desert, forestry office or interpretive center to pick up brochures, trail maps, and wildlife checklists. Asking about any recent wildlife sightings.
  • Following my intuition. If the hair on the back of my neck stands up, wildlife could be near!
  • Being mindful of recent weather and knowing that temperature, sunlight, and precipitation all factor into reading tracks and wildlife behavior.

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