Saddle Up for a Literary Ride: My 7 Must Reads for Niagara’s Dog and Horse Lovers

Saddle Up for a Literary Ride: My 7 Must Reads for Niagara’s Dog and Horse Lovers

Welcome to the end of 2023! Man that went fast, didn’t it?

Once the Christmas madness is over, you deserve to take some time for yourself and relax. Any of these books would be an excellent excuse to curl up with your best friend over the winter.

It’s an eclectic collection of books that have stuck in my brain from years gone by, are recommendations from friends and clients, and even a recent random find that will be my holiday read, as I put the camera down and take a little break! When the new year starts I want to be refreshed and ready to capture pet portraits for Niagara dogs, equines and their humans!

1. The Art of Racing in the Rain
Written by Garth Stein. An all time great storyline  that is both gut wrenching and uplifting. Told through the eyes of an aging dog named Enzo, telling the story of his life with an up and coming race car driver. I read it a number of years ago and have decided to get another copy and read it again… it was that good.
2. Waiting for Gertrude
Written by Stephen Leacock “Medal for Humour”  winning Canadian author Bill Richardson. Truly delightful, it’s set in Paris’s famed cemetery “Père-Lachaise Cemetery” the final resting place of many famous artists including Maria Callas, Jim Morrison and Proust. The twist in the story is that the feral cats in the cemetery have been inhabited by the spirits of the souls interred there. It’s  charming and fun.
3. Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience Of Horsemanship
This book is a real eye-opener, written by brain scientist and horsewoman, Janet L. Jones. The book shines a light on how horses think, feel and perceive, and explains how to work WITH your horse’s brain instead of against it. So much to learn. I’ve got this on audio book but would love to get the hard copy  as well. This book comes highly recommended by a number of horsewomen in my world, and me!
Available at Chapters Indigo  and I spied a copy at Beamville Greenhawk too! 
4. All Creatures Great and Small
I absolutely adore the series on PBS and it got me remembering how much joy these books brought me when I was young. I voraciously read each and every one. They were surprising, funny, charming and heartwarming. The perfect gift for any person, young or old, enamoured with our four-legged friends. I highly recommend these beautiful stories, from a time gone by!
5. Sea Biscuit. An American Legend.

Lauren Hillebrand documents the story of a onetime bicycle repairman who becomes an overnight millionaire, hires as his trainer – a mysterious mustang breaker from the Colorado plains – and purchases Seabiscuit for a bargain-basement price. The trainer hires as a jockey, a failed boxer who was blind in one eye, half-crippled, and prone to quoting passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I mean, what could go wrong? Or what could go right! It’s an incredible story of ups and downs to legendary.

Seabiscuit an American Legend, book cover
6. The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation

Elizabeth Letts tells the legendary story involving what could be categorized as misfits!  Against all odds and some of the most expensive thoroughbreds alive, a horse rescued from a truck heading to the slaughterhouse, and a Dutch immigrant ascended to the apex of the sport of show jumping. This one was emphatically recommended to me by one of my equine portrait clients.

Available at Chapters Indigo , at Greenhawk Beamsville, as well as Amazon
The Eighty Dollar Champion book cover
7. Lily and the Octopus

My winter read is Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley. I was sold by this review by the Washing Post: A national bestseller combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, “Lily and the Octopus is the dog book you must read this summer”. I’m looking forward to curling up with the boys by the Christmas tree and diving in over the holidays!

The Eighty Dollar Champion book cover

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books, and please let me know some of your favourites too, I’m always looking for another good read!

Cheers and wags,

The Canadian Tulip Connection

The Canadian Tulip Connection

Tulips, history and photography come together

This May I was thrilled to be able to photograph dogs and also horses in the tulip fields at TASC tulip farm in Fenwick. As Canadians we have a a fascinating history with the Netherlands. If you don’t know the story of why tulips are a such big deal in Canada (and also how my dad fits in to the picture) please read on!

Following the Nazi Invasion of the Netherlands in the second world war, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands took refuge in Ottawa with her two young daughters, Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene.

While in exile, Princess Juliana gave birth to her third daughter, Princess Margriet. In order that the new princess could hold Dutch nationality exclusively, a section of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was declared Dutch soil. Ottawa also helped to celebrate the princess’ birth by flying the Dutch flag at the top of the iconic Peace Tower. Ottawa ultimately played home and safe haven to the Dutch royal family until the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945.

When she returned to the Netherlands, Princess Juliana wanted to express her gratitute to Ottawa and the Canadian people. Among several gifts – the royals sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa. Since that time, the Dutch royal family has sent tulip bulbs to our capital every year – the gift is known as the “Tulip Legacy”.

The black and white photo below was taken on May 6, 1945, in the town of Amersfoort, a day before the war ended. Skip forward to the 50th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe), in 1995. The photo appeared on the front page of an Amsterdam newspaper. Dad had never seen the photo before, but a war buddy of his mailed a copy of it to him.

That’s my dad (she says, bursting with pride), Captain John Black of the Ontario Regiment, leaning over the “Scout Car” to offer the little Dutch girls candy. With him were his driver, and an “Oranjes”, a Dutch freedom fighter (bottom right).

So in a way, this is my delayed celebration of VE Day. I wanted to share this story with you along with a photo of lovely Dutch equestrienne Roos Dystra and her stunning throroughbred gelding, Quartz, among the tulips!

Hope you enjoyed discovering this “colourful” piece of Canadian history!



senior dog looking up at camera

Five top tips for snapping pawfect pet photos!

Five top tips for snapping pawfect pet photos!

Hey there, fellow dog lovers! Do you ever marvel at how easily our four leggers can brighten the day with a wag of the tails and those puppy dogs eyes? Plus their crazy antics are fodder for those of us who are snap-happy with our smartphones. 

If you wonder why your photos are a little meh, read on to find out how you can up your game.

Here are my top five tips to help you capture snaps that that will actually impress your dog’s fan club!

1. Laying Low

Get down to their level. With dogs that means either you get low… like, ground level low – which with some dogs is realllly low. Or you get them up higher, on a bench, a rock or a log. It’s easier on the old hips and knees by a long shot, and gives a totally different perspective to your photos!

2. Treat Me Right

You can’t seriously expect your sweet pup to work for free! Instead, have a pocket of your dog’s favorite treats on hand to keep them engaged. Unless you have a Lab. In which case definitely keep the treats out of sight until afterwards LOL, unless you like slobbery photos!

3. Light is Magic

The right light can make or break your photos. Don’t snap away in harsh midday sun as it casts ugly, hard shadows – if mid day is the time you want to take photos, then look for open shade, you’ll have far better results. Soft early morning or late afternoon light are the ideal times for capturing keepers that showcase your best friend’s star power.

4. The Sunflower Principle

Think about your subject as a sunflower – girasole in Italian, turns with the sun. You want to have your pet’s face facing the direction the light is coming from! Now that you know the best light to shoot in (see tip #3), don’t stick your pup with his back to the sun and expect to see that sweet little face shine in the photo. Turn him around to face the direction the light is coming from. Even on a cloudy day, you can make this work. (Make sure you aren’t making him squint into the light though, ouch!)

5. Safety in Numbers

Ever think you got the greatest shot and then later look at it and see that your dog’s eyes are closed, doh! In the days of digital, one is never enough and it costs you nuh-thing to overshoot! Take several photos so you don’t miss the über adorable moment that always comes 2.5 seconds after you put your phone down. Trust me it’ll increase your chances of capturing that insta-worthy moment!

Bonus tip
6. Focus on what’s most important

To use a way overused expression, the eyes are the windows to the soul. This definitely applies to our fur kids too! As long as the eyes are in focus, you’re golden, you’ve got a winner. You’ll get so much more satisfaction from seeing their little personality shine through those eyes. Most smartphones allow you to tap on the screen to focus on a specific area, so make those puppy-dog eyes sing!

senior dog looking up at camera

I hope that these tips will help you to create beautiful, insta-worthy photographs while you’re out and about in dog-friendly Niagara!

Cheers and wags,


Top 10 Gifts in my 2022 Holiday Gift Guide

Top 10 Gifts in my 2022 Holiday Gift Guide

My top 10 gift ideas for dogs and their humans: the 2022 edition.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… because I get to head out to shops and boutiques, and comb the internet for my favourite things. All in order to bring you the top ten picks for my 2022 Pawliday Gift Guide!

My goal is to find things that are predominantly local, but I found a couple of things from further afield that particularly tickled my fancy, so I shared those too!

Hold on to your toques…


1. Vineland Estates: Wine Bottle Stuffy

How fun are these Vineland Wine Bottle stuffies! With one of these, your pup can be the new whine influencer in town. 

Bonus, these are eco-friendly toys with recycled filling, and are squeaker free. A portion of sales even goes to the SPCA! Yay Vineland. 

In addition to the Wine Bottle toys, there’s lots of other dog themed merch that you can splash out on for yourself or your friends (and wine!).

Available at the winery – $19.95

2. and 3. Little Chief & Co.

I found a couple of fabulous gift items from Little Chief on St. Paul in St. Catharines. Well, truth told, I could have done the whole guide with their fun products. 

2. My go-to gifting treats are the Bocce line. They aren’t new, but dogs love them. They are soft and chewy and irresistibly good. New this year though, is this fabulous Christmas cracker packaging. All my favourite four-legged friends are drooling in anticipation!

For the naughtier dogs on your list, go for the Lumps of (delicious) Coal. But follow it up with something more positive sounding, like Figgy Pudding treats, to encourage your pups to aspire to Santa’s “Nice” list! 😉

Bocce Treats

3. The Shark Snuffle Mat, by Injoya. I got one of these for my guys. It’s sure to provide loads of mental stimulation for them in the colder months, when walks are shorter and there’s less time for sniffs. Instead, they’ll be rooting around in the mat for goodies stuffed into the folds and the shark’s teeth.

Fabulously helpful tip from knowledgeable staffer, Grace! I was worried my guys would cut to the chase and chew their way through to the treats. She suggested that I start them off by sprinkling the treats on top in plain sight. Then, gradually move them into more challenging places to snorf them out.

Lucca is at camp today, so I pulled out the mat to see how Indy would do. I can see this is going to be fun. He caught on fast, but I definitely started with Grace’s advice!

Treats range from $8.99 to $12.99
Snuffle Mat is $38.99

dog exploring snuffle mat

4. Pet Portraits by Desirea Stodart

I stumbled across local artist, Desirea Stodart’s work at Little Chief and fell in love with her work. These adorable acrylic portraits are painted from your photograph onto a wood slice. They are incredibly realistic and absolutely fabulous! It may be too late for Christmas, but this is something to definitely keep on your radar. In fact, you can follow her on instagram so you don’t forget! @desireastodartartist

I just adore these little portraits. In the new year I plan to have one painted of my heart dog, Sammy, who passed in 2012.

Contact Desirea for a quote. 

Examples of paintings by Desirea on wood slices

5. Mo’ Greens

One screaming hot day last July, I ran into a founder of Mo’Greens outside a local pet store. I had to admit, his story piqued my curiousity and I wanted to know more. Based in St. Catharines, Mo’ Greens food and treats are all Canadian sourced ingredients and produced in Toronto. They’re the first pet food company in Canada to embrace plant proteins and use them in every recipe.

For the guide, I’m focusing on their yummy, crunchy, bite size treats. They come in 3 formulas, Energize, Longevity and Calm. I buy the Calm and Longevity for the boys (because terriers are not particularly known for needing extra energy LOL). The formulas are plant based, use only 5 ingredients, and are sustainably made. Calm treats are made with Chamomile and Valerian Root to calm and soothe. Longevity contains anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and joint supporting ingredients, cinnamon and tumeric. I use them for quick rewards and the boys love the crunch.

$10.99 a bag, available on line and in some retailers.

Examples of paintings by Desirea on wood slices

6. 2023 Winery Dogs of Ontario Calendar

Winery Dogs of Ontario Calendar

A shameless plug for my pet project. 

2023 is the fifth edition of the Winery Dogs Calendar! In case you have been under a rock, this calendar features dogs that are bosom buddies with Ontario’s winemakers, vintners, and winery top dogs – each month is guaranteed to bring a smile. 

Need a hostess gift and want to be original? The calendar is 12×12 inches with gorgeous full page images, and lots of space to write on the calendar dates. Dog friendly policies are included for each winery too. This year, a portion of proceeds are donated to Jack Russell Network Canada rescue.

Calendars are available online at They can also be purchased at the wineries listed on the website.

Calendars are $24.95 each

7. BowzerBox

I’ve often though about getting a subscription box, but didn’t want to deal with exchange and duty when ordering from the US. I did a little research and landed on BowzerBox. They’re a Canadian company and have plenty of options for shipments – that’s two big plusses in my books. 

I ordered quarterly shipments and chose the Tough Chew box for the boys. I opted to add an extra toy to each box. That way there will be no disappointed noodles on delivery day. It’ll be arriving any day now!

All treats included are made in Canada or the US, and toys are sourced in North America as well.  (Occasionally they’ll include products or toys from another country if they’re top quality). They strive to support Canadian businesses. So that makes it a home run for BowzerBox!

Different prices. I missed out on this deal, but you can save 25% off the first box with this code when getting a 3 or 6 pack: xmas2022

8. Dog Threads

Forgive me if I’m late to the Dog Threads party, but this Minneapolis company is giving me ALL the feels. Their website is packed with outrageously adorable things for your best friend to wear. And, if you are so inclined, you can match your little (or big!) buddy. I love that they are cool-looking threads, not cheap kitschy stuff.

I adore seeing people have fun with their fur friends and these matching outfits are da bomb! Everything from sweaters and hoodies to flannels, PJs and Hawaiian shirts. Best of all a portion of their sales are donated to rescues!  I’m thinking the boys and I could do matching flannel shirts, or maybe the thermal jammies, and I am not joking LOL.

Different prices. Currently 30% off sitewide. Ships internationally.

Photo is borrowed from website.

9. Modern Dog Mom

Created by a friend and fellow dogtog, Kristy Trick,  Modern Dog Mom offers specially curated, limited edition collections. They’re filled with themed activities for dog moms and their dogs. Each collection includes at least one dog friendly activity. That could be an enrichment game, outdoor adventure idea, crafts, baking, even relaxation activities!

The collections are for dog moms who’d rather share a spa day with their dog than go to a party. Fun, creative, fabulous and, sadly for us, currently only available in the US (but that may change, she’s looking into it). I’m including it here regardless, in case you have a best friend or sister in the US that you‘d love to spoil. It’s an adorable idea that any dog mom would love to receive! 

Holiday Edition Collection $69.95 US

Kristy’s pup Freddy with the fruits of his labour!

10. Canines of London

Canines of London on

If you saw any of my travel images from the UK in May, or Italy in October, you’ll recognize this photographer, Bridget Davey. She’s a hugely talented UK based pet photographer and also a good friend of mine. The images are taken all around the parks, neighbourhoods and landmarks of London. It’s a tour de force of dog photography in this ancient, dog loving city! This page turner will definitely bring a smile on a blustery winter day!

Hardcover edition: $26.99

Canines of London Book cover

I hope the guide provides you with some fresh gift giving ideas for all your four-legged friends (and their two legged companions too) this year.

From my dog house to yours, have a safe, warm, happy Christmas, filled with the pitter patter of paws. I’m truly looking foward to all that 2023 will bring. I hope, for us all, that will include health, happiness and prosperity. Merry Christmas, cheers, and wags from Karen, Indy and Lucca!

2021 Pawliday Gift Guide

2021 Pawliday Gift Guide

Okay my friends! Here it is… my first ever “curated” gift guide.

These are a few things I  discovered this past year that I think would make pawome gifts for animal lovers!  If you’re like me be sure to follow the one for you, one for me shopping rule!

These suggestions support small, local businesses. Heaven knows, the big stores can fend for themselves! If you like this idea, I’ll start earlier next year and make it a little more comprehensive! Soooo, with no further ado, let’s get this pawty started!


Olive & Co handmade collars and bandanas
Instagram: @olive_and_company

I literally have dozens of bandanas from Olive & Company. Indy and Lucca have several each and I have all different sizes for my Deck the Dogs holiday sessions.

They’re so well made, wash nicely and always look snazzy. They have oodles  of patterns that change frequently, I never have trouble finding something to match each of my guys’ individual personalities!

13th Street Winery

Be sure to go to 13th Street Winery (on 4th Avenue) and check out their retail space. It’s chock full of cute pet owners’ items including ornaments and tea towels. These tea towels clearly win the best tea towels in the world award!

I also highly recommend their Pinot Gris for an evening of lying with the pets watching Christmas movies! If you’re lucky you might score some butter tarts too!

The Meadow

I can’t wait to go here with Indy and Lucca.

The Meadow is a private rental, by-appointment, off-lead, dog exercise area on 10 acres of fully-fenced meadow land in Niagara-on-the-Lake. You can rent by the hour ($25) and you and you dog have the place to yourselves. Perfect for a reactive dog who would love to just get out and play with you. Or you and your dog’s best friends can have their own play party in the great outdoors. With a 6 foot chain link fence around the property and a 21 x 41 foot dock diving pool, this is puppy paradise.


Indy modelling with Boreal Treats

Boreal Pet Foods

Indy looooves Boreal treats. Next to freeze dried lung and liverm these are his favourites, the duck & blueberry. They are a little soft which is nice and smell divine everytime you open the bag. Boreal was born and raised locally in Beamsville and continues to branch out taking the world by storm. I really like the owners’ philosophy on pet nutrition and ingredients.

Locally Boreal products are sold at Global Pet Foods, Ruffins, Paul Mac, Maggie’s Pet Boutique and The Dog Spot to name a few!


Mutts are Limited Editions

Redemption Paws

One of my favourite t-shirts is from Toronto’s Redemption Paws, an awesome foster-based rescue that has a secondary web-site that sells merch. Apparel, accessories and drinkware are among their products, and I love the designs. The sayings rotate around through the products so my t-shirt, “Mutts are Limited Editions”, is currently on a coffee mug, but I see a new favourite on the site that I’ll be ordering!  My understanding is that proceeds go to the rescue. Can’t beat that!

Available at The Dog Spot on Main St. in Grimsby.

Carole-Ann Mercuri painstakingly hand crafts these absolutely adorable neck pieces. Bandanas for all, and bow ties for the boys but, I LOVE that she creates pieces especially for the girl canines on your list. Her little collars are the epitome of charming and the little poinsettia velcros onto a collar. It just sent me over the edge, LOL, I adore them!

Winery Dogs of Ontario 2022 cover

2022 Winery Dogs of Ontario Calendar
Available on this website and at participating wineries

The 4th edition of the Winery Dogs Calendar, featuring the companions to winemakers and vignerons at Niagara and Prince Edward County wineries! Twelve glorious months of dogs, plus dog-friendly policies of the wineries included. Lots of space to write on the dates in the calendar too. 

My stock is very low, which is awesome news, as $2 from the sale of every calendar is donated to local rescue, Pets Alive Niagara. Get yours before they’re all gone! Check the link for wineries that carry it too.

windyridge ornament
Windyridge Designs

Windyridge Designs is a family owned laser cut wood designs located right here in St. Catharines.  All designs are made with premium Baltic Birch wood. I gave several of their ornaments last year with dog names on them and they were so well received that I had to mention them here!

There are dog, cat and equine inspired pieces, well, technically there are quite a few more, but these are the only ones that interest little only animal crazy me LOL. Alas it’s too late to take advantage of their awesome products this year, but they have new designs coming out in 2022 including some for home decor!

windyridge ornament

Cards by Christine

Adorable handmade cards made by a local dog mom. Her themes run the full gamut of card sending occassions and, of course, my favourites involve animals! She does custom work as well!

Covid dog nail trimming tips

Covid dog nail trimming tips

Pawdicure – dog nail trimming – tips from a self taught amateur!

Why groomers are not considered an essential service is beyond me. For those of you suddenly thrust into the role of “dog groomer”, I feel your pain and am sharing 5 pawdicure tips this neophyte nail trimmer has learned while in quarantine.

Obviously, nail trims are really important for your dog’s comfort and health. Many years ago, when Samantha (my heart dog, sadly now gone) FREAKED out when I tried to trim her nails, I realized immediately I wasn’t cut out for that kind of drama. I’ve used groomers and the vet for nail trims ever since. I didn’t even bother to try with Indy and Lucca. That was pre Covid-19 of course. Given that Lucca has wicked dew claws in the back that curve into his pad if not trimmed, I simply can’t ignore the need to trim them.

Let me preface this by saying NO, i will not be wrapping my head in saran wrap and smearing it with peanut butter LOL. Not that I’m above it, but I can’t imagine I would be able to see my dogs’ nails well from that angle. Okay, yes I admit it, I’m above it haha.

First attempt. I tried to use a pair of guillotine clippers but i couldn’t get the right angle. I figured I’d better stop before I created a negative reaction to nail trims. So, I reached out to my groomer Colleen at Dogtown Jordan.

Colleen posted a good primer how to home groom your pets during the self-isolation restrictions. She provides recommendations for the tools you need, as well as links to video tutorials. I found the information really helpful. I ordered a pair of what I call garden pruner style trimmers through Amazon and they arrived in a week. Colleen told me to NOT use the cutting guard because it gives you a false sense of security that you won’t hit the quick. As the quick isn’t in the same place on all dogs, I might make a critical error with the guard.

My goal? To successfully take off the tiniest sliver of nail with the least amount of drama. If I do that weekly I will be helping to keep the boys comfortable, not make them fearful of nail trims and avoid blood shed at all costs [insert nauseous face expression here] and when this is all over I can take the boys to the experts at Dogtown for a proper trim!

5 pawdicure tips I picked up when trimming my dogs’ nails at home:

  1. be UBER patient – similar to  my photo sessions, I always tell pet parents to be calm and patient, it will take as long as it takes! Don’t forget, they feed off our energy (read frustration)
  2.  take it one nail at a time to start to see how slowly you need to progress
  3. give them loads of praise and at least one treat per nail. If you only get one nail done successfully, do another the next day and build your way up, try to end on a good note
  4. take off, like, a micron. You just want to start to make your dog feel more comfortable with you doing the trim – you’re not trying to be a professional groomer.
  5. make it a weekly thing, as you both gain confidence in your ability it will become much easier
  6. bonus tip, have some cornstarch on hand just in case you nick that quick, it will bleed. Pack the nail with the cornstarch and then do something your dog likes, like a walk. Shift gears quickly to something nice for them (and hopefully avoid negative association).

One last thought, if your dog is really leery of you touching his paws, try making a scratch board, there are tons of videos out there on how to train your dog to use it. This looks like a good video to start with in terms of teaching your dog what behaviour you want. This method might only get the front nails, but you’re half way there with this fun way for your dog to do stress-free nail care!

Hope that you found my 5 dog nail trimming tips helpful, I likely won’t be at the front of the line when this is over, because other dogs are in more serious need of full grooming, but I look forward to getting Lucca and Indy’s nails trimmed professionally again soon!