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Episode 3: Darlene Woodward and the art of handing out snacks

    Show Notes

    Learn how handing out snacks as a flight attendant makes Darlene Woodward a better pet photographer. Meet the beautiful human behind Pant the Town Photography, covering Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, with the most incredible dog photography on the beaches of the Atlantic Coast. Darlene is a master of the silhouette and the human-dog connection.

    Darlene is also the host of our next episode, featuring animal communicator Laurie Blomer.

    Find Darlene:

    Pant the Town Photography

    Transcript

    Angela Schneider 

    Hi, welcome to Episode 3 of the first season of One Last Network. When I decided to launch this podcast, I wanted to ensure it brought together ideas and services around our aging or ill pets from a variety of sources. It’s why I picked some of the best content creators I know in the professional pet photography business. Not only are they wonderful photographers, but they’re also well connected in their communities. The breadth of subjects we’ll be able to create around the support and services you need is unlimited.  

    Today I’m speaking with one of those founding members of One Last Network, Darlene Woodward of Pant the Town Photography, serving Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Darlene, whose website is panthetown.com, is a master of the silhouette, and has a special knack for finding the joy in a dog lover’s eyes. Let’s find out how she got into pet photography and how handing out snacks in her former career as a flight attendant makes her a better dog tog.  

    Hello, Darlene, how are you? 

    Darlene Woodward 

    I’m doing good. How are you?  

    Angela  

    OK, we’re giggling a little bit but we haven’t even started talking and you’ve already got me crying? 

    Darlene  

    Yes. I’m the one who just is not afraid to show tears.  

    Angela 

    We cry every time we talk. So it’s not an easy thing to get me all emotional, but you go ahead and do it. So Darlene, let’s get started by you having by having you tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and where you live. And all the interesting bits about Darlene Woodward. 

    Darlene  

    The interesting bits, right? So yeah, I’m Darlene. I live in Georgetown, Massachusetts, kind of lived the life of travel for years. So I’ve moved all over the place, spent 16 years as a flight attendant, traveling and then when I moved up here, met my husband, we dated a few years, got married, got the dog who was my project dog, who then got me into dog training and a dog walking business … learning everything there was to learn about dogs. And that led me into a career of now pet photography full time. So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell. 

    Angela  

    That’s quite the journey. Um, how do … I have known some flight attendants in the past and I think travel is very addictive. How did you get the addictionout of your system? 

    Darlene 

    Yeah. So my life of travel was interesting. I actually going back to school and what I went to school for I studied to be a math teacher. I had wanted to be a math teacher ever since I was 10 years old. I had the best math teachers ever. Thank you, Mr. Rogers. And that’s what I wanted to do. And then I taught for two years, I actually was 24 years old and was diagnosed with an ulcer. And I learned that I could not leave the lives of my children at school, I took home the emotion, I took home everything that they went through, I didn’t know how to separate it. So I made myself sick. And I remember the doctor telling me you either need to get it together, or you need to leave.  

    I thought I was taking a year off. And I’m like, oh, American Airlines is hiring. Let me go check it out. And let me go fly the world for the year. And I’ll come back and teach and they had my position if I wanted to come back. I left. I moved to Chicago from North Carolina. And I just fell in love with the travel and the just going and experiencing new places and that lifestyle for a bit. So I got sucked into that. But it was meeting Pete and marrying him that made you want to cut it off for ya.  

    So after I got I didn’t have a dog obviously there During those years of travel, it was impossible. Yeah, I call it a little bit of selfish time in my life. Yeah. And that’s OK. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And then I remember actually see, Pete and I had been together for years before we got married, we got married, we got the house. And we had talked about getting a dog. I was still working for the airlines, and then fell in love. I found this little puppy picture of Kota from Arkansas. She was a stray and everything. 

    It was like I need her in my life. And within a couple months after we got the house, we got her, and she was not an easy dog. And I went through a couple of dog trainers who used punishing methods on her as a puppy. That broke my heart. I shed a lot of tears over that. And I said I want to learn everything there is to learn about dog training. And that’s what I did. I got certified to train at that time. And yeah, I became a homebody. I loved spending time with her.  

    My husband loves doing road trips now. Like, we’d go to Lake Placid, New York, we would go to the mountains and do the road trips, and I just loved being home. Oh my goodness. Since I’ve been out of the airlines. I’ve only hopped on a plane once. And it’s been almost eight years now. 

    Angela 

    You went five years without getting on a plane. Yeah, I read that on your blog. And I’m like, how … wow. 

    Darlene 

    I lived on airplanes. I knew how to sleep on airplanes. I knew how to go from red eyes to early morning flights to every type of place. 

    Angela 

    Wow. That’s like cold turkey stuff right there. Like completely changed. How much fun was it to go through puppy years even though Kota wasn’t the perfect puppy. 

    Darlene 

    She was amazing. Fun, so much fun. And that time I was a big runner, and having a husky high energy. So our first trip that she did with us, we took her to Lake Placid. I did the Lake Placid half marathon. And it was so much fun. You know here’s a little puppy and it was neat. So she actually taught me to love winter. I wanted to have a northern breed dog and it’s snowing. sleeting whatever it’s doing outside. You are out there and you are with them. And you better enjoy it. You better learn to enjoy it. 

    Angela  

    Fast forward to today. You are in the phase of “appreciate every day with your dog because it could be the last,” right?  

    Darlene 

    Yes.  

    Angela 

    And you had a big moment last fall. Tell us about that day. 

    Darlene 

    A big moment last fall. Yes. So I was walking Kota, we were doing our usual walks and we were down the street from us and she collapsed. Just all her joints collapsed. And she fell to the ground. She wouldn’t get up. And I sat there with her and the interesting thing  — I actually do not bring my phone walking and I had my phone that day because I just like to shut down and not have the phone — I had my phone. I couldn’t get her up. She was very growly when I went to get her up. I call my husband he was actually picking up dinner. And so he was going to be on his way home. So he came with the car. Nobody said I was disappointed. Nobody stopped here I am sitting on the road with Kota and nobody stopped. I’m trying to see if we’re OK. And so Pete got there, she still wouldn’t get up right away. I thought she’s telling me it’s time like she was … she’s done.  

    I was able to pick her up and put her in my husband’s vehicle. I said, “No, don’t go home. Let’s just go for a quick drive.” She jumped up and was walking around the back of the vehicle like everything was OK. I’m, like, I don’t know what is this, it’s just absolutely crazy. I don’t know what’s going on. She seemed perfectly fine. I remember talking to my holistic vet … I called her right after and I said I think she’s telling me it’s time to go. We met with her and everything checked out fine. She’s had some liver enzyme issues over the years that we’ve been treating.  

    We’re more about quality over quantity with her and that she’s been responding well. But I remember my holistic vet said, she said, Darlene, she’s just done walking. She didn’t want to walk anymore.” 

    I lost a piece of me. Because for 10 years, twice a day rain, sleet, snow, whatever it was we walked. That was our routine. That was my schedule. That was our bond that we had. And for me to think she just doesn’t want to walk, what do I do? Like, I felt like I was losing her. So that was just a tough time right there to go through with her because like, I feel like I lost a little piece of her. But today, she’s doing OK. Today, you know, we take it one day at a time. And we have this beautiful fenced-in backyard, she can stay out there all day, every day and watch the deer. She’s happy and content. And that’s what it’s all about. I want to make sure that she is happy. And if it was time for her to go, yes, as hard as that was gonna be. I get that the importance of that. 

    Angela 

    So you know me, I’m a big believer that our dogs, our pets teach us and change us. When you look back over the last 12 years with Kota and see the changes that have come through your life, what are some of the most important things Kota has taught you? 

    Darlene 

    Oh, my goodness, Patience. Patience is always a big one. And really living every day. And just being grateful for what each day has to offer. We all have our good days, we all have our bad days. And it’s really just that quality and enjoying every moment that we can. And especially with her I mean, she’s our child. We didn’t have children. She’s our baby. And so loving now. So yeah, that’s our first-born, our only child. And as, you know, challenging as she has been, we were attacked by a dog when she was younger, so she is not dog friendly. We haven’t been able to do a lot of things like we don’t go on vacation, because we can’t leave her anywhere. She doesn’t love other dogs. So a lot of those things, but I would not trade her for anything in the world. The joy that she brings us and even walking her — even though I was the one to do 90% of the walking — she’s so bonded with my husband. They’re like two peas in the pod. But isn’t that how it goes? 

    Angela 

    My husband complains about Bella being more attached to me than anything. So I didn’t get that.  

    Darlene 

    You didn’t get it? I sure did. 

    Angela 

    So, the more you see Kota age and appreciate who she has been and who she is in your life, how does that translate into what you do as a pet photographer.  

    Darlene 

    Even now, with Kota getting older, I am more obsessed even with getting pictures of her and documenting everything even video, even though I don’t do a lot of video. Just pulling my phone out and getting her howling at the coyotes during the day, just those little moments. I just want to take it all in like I don’t want to think there’s an end.  

    Then when it comes to my career and photographing dogs, I just want people to realize … I want people to experience that joy with their pets, those moments before it is too, too late. Like because we don’t know when things can take a turn. Three years ago when Coda was diagnosed with a … she was never diagnosed … we didn’t know if it was liver disease pancreatitis, they wanted to do surgery with her then with her liver enzymes. And that was not an option. She’s not an easy dog.  

    So we didn’t know if it was going to be a day, a month or a year. And the fact that we’ve had her three years right now is just … I’m so grateful for that. I want the world to know that when it comes to your dog, we just don’t know when things can take a turn so do everything you can memory-wise to get that? And hold that? 

    Angela 

    Yeah. If you were standing at a booth at an event and somebody said, “Why should I get photos of my dog done?” what would you say?  

    Darlene 

    Relating it to me, our dogs, our family, they are our world, it’s no different than having family pictures. I don’t think of children. I mean, that’s family and that bond that our pets share with us that connection. I love capturing that I want the moms and the dads involved in that relationship. I want that story to be told through those pictures. I want people to have the album that sits on the coffee table where they can look at it, shed those tears about those moments and those memories because they’re family. It’s as simple as that; they are family just like anyone else. And I feel like they’re more so family because they don’t judge us. They’re always happy to see us. And we spend more time with them than I think we do any other relatives. 

    Angela 

    One of one of your favorite quotes, I think is by Anatole France, who said until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains the unawakened. How does Kota awaken your soul? 

    Darlene 

    So Kota was that … when they say soul dog, heart dog, she is that. I had my dog growing up. And that was great. I was younger, I loved having the dog. I’ve always loved dogs. I’ve loved animals. But the experiences that we went through together, the challenges that we went through, and that we constantly moved forward, and I never, I never gave up on her like she was a dog, a puppy who would have been euthanized. I just would not give up on her. I did everything for her. And in the end with that quote, it’s like that joy that she has brought me. Yeah, that completely awakened my soul and realize that, wow, they’re amazing. 

    Angela 

    Do you bring her with you to sessions? And I don’t mean physically. I mean in your heart. 

    Darlene 

    Yeah. I think that physically would have been like bringing a Cujo. Yeah, she just is always in my heart. 

    Angela 

    Hard to be away from them, like any minute of the day, I totally get it. So tell me about your memory sessions. And how maybe those have changed for you in the last little while, as you face your own aging days with Kota. Has it changed any how you approach your memory sessions? 

    Darlene 

    Has it changed much? The interesting thing is one of my very first sessions when I started pet photography six years ago happened to be a memory session. They found me on the internet. And I’ll never … and it’s gonna sit with me forever. That one experience is really how important memory sessions are. Because I remember, the woman contacted me, we scheduled the date for a Saturday, I said if anything happens, call me if you feel like you need to do it sooner. And that’s how I do the memory sessions. We’ll schedule a date. If it has to be done yesterday, you know, meaning as soon as possible, we’re gonna do it as soon as possible.  

    I remember she called me Monday morning. And she said he’s not doing good. They scheduled the euthanasia for that day. She said, “Darlene, is there any way you can come now to do the pictures?” She was about an hour away. And I said, “Let me just put my camera in the car. Everything’s ready and I’m gonna head over.” So I headed in, it was probably the coldest day ever in New England. It was January. It was a little jog. And you know, I got to the house and the whole family was there. The grandparents came, like, the entire family came for this.  

    We took some pictures outside, we took some pictures inside, we took pictures of the dog bed with the toys, like everything. And we cried, and we laughed. And it was absolutely amazing. And I went home, and I knew they were leaving right to the vet’s office that day, which broke my heart.  

    Now, after the fact, no matter what part of what I do, I want to share those moments and look at the pictures with people. And whether or not it takes tomorrow, where you say, hey, looking at the pictures is going to help me grieve. We’re going to do it then. If you need six months, and you don’t want to look at the pictures yet, we’re going to. But we’re going to do it together, we’re going to sit together and we’re going to talk about the memories and talk about the joy that dog brought you. So she contacted me six months later, she said I’m ready. I went to her house and we looked at the pictures together. And we told stories and laughed and cried, and it was beautiful. And we created pictures, like we got a beautiful, she did want a nice framed print to have, we created prints and an album. We just created something beautiful. And that being one of my very first photo sessions ever, that to me was like, “This is what I want to do. This is where my heart is.” And that is what is so important for people to experience and, yeah, have those memories. 

    Angela 

    It’s definitely a different line of work for a lot of people where, you know, I have 13 years in marketing, and I’m pretty sure I hated every day of it. But the photography, you know, brings me to a place where I can feel and be comfortable feeling because people allow me into their space, and they allow me to see the way they love their dog so it’s really more than just creating photographs, isn’t it?  

    Darlene 

    Yes. It’s about sharing anything for other people just to be able to share their love that they have with their pet with someone nonjudgmental, nonanything, just who appreciates all that they are for us is so important.  

    Angela 

    And so how do you treat memory sessions differently than a regular session? Aside from, you know, moving them into your schedule at the last minute. 

    Darlene 

    Yes, I move them in as soon as possible into my schedule. And I don’t spend a lot of time with a regular session where we do a planning call, like we’re doing everything … planning from what to wear and location and everything. And that is cut really short. It’s more just like a couple of questions to learn a little bit about the dog, you know, a quick kind of call to get it in as soon as possible sort of thing. Yeah, and get it sooner.  

    But I still like to do things like my regular sessions, like I was saying where I get together to look at pictures and share all that. One of my products that I would call the specialty product with the memory session is a special album that I do. I find albums are the best way to tell that story and to have those pictures and you know you can take it out when you want to look at it or if you need a break, you can put it away.  

    I don’t overbook my schedule. With photo sessions I take my time to spread things out with my regular photo sessions anyways. That way, you know, it’s never usually too much of a challenge to get them in within a couple of days. But I highly recommend people to just do it sooner rather than later. 

    Angela 

    One last question.  

    Darlene 

    Yes.  

    Angela 

    How did giving out snacks on a plane make you a better pet photographer? 

    Darlene 

    You know, that’s gonna sound like bribery. For me, it’s so funny because and I actually, I’m a dog person who loves people too. I laugh because there’s the dog people out there who are like, “oh, yeah, people, so I started working with dogs.” But you have to love people. If you spent 16 years in a little tiny box of an airplane, you know, daily, you have to.  

    I wish I wrote a book. I honestly wish I journaled about flying and the experiences that I went through with people on the airplane, but you learn patience, and you learn that rewarding good behavior works for people just like dogs. So the same way if people … you know  … good behavior, maybe you’ll get a cocktail or two, or maybe you’ll get some extra snacks with that delay. Or if you’re giving up your seat so a family can sit together, I’m going to give you the world. So it goes along the lines of positive reinforcement, which goes right into my working with animals and dogs and treats. All of that just comes into play from the patience and yeah, rewards. 

    Angela 

    So like if you stayed seated, here’s a whiskey. 

    Darlene 

    It’s so true. Oh my god, that number of times, I remember opening up that liquor card.  

    Angela 

    And it’s the same way with dogs. It’s just wieners and cheese. 

    Darlene 

    Exactly, exactly. And that’s what I try to do photo session, I’ll bring some of my favorite like the liver treats, the dehydrated chicken. I’ll bring you know, as long as the dog doesn’t have allergies … I’ll bring that high value stuff. It’s all about keeping things positive and fun and joyful because that’s what dogs do for us.  

    Angela 

    Yes, we want them to be dogs.  

    Darlene 

    So everyone out there if your dog can’t sit or doesn’t sit or won’t sit, who cares? Because they’re dogs and they’re animals and we want them to be that way. 

    Angela 

    Half the time I don’t want my dog sitting in the photos. I want the Power Pose that says, “This is my world, dammit. I’m in it and you better love it.” 

    Darlene 

    Exactly. Let them be who they are. Yes. 

    Angela 

    Awesome. Darlene, it’s been awesome talking to you. Thank you so much. Is there anything else you’d like to tell the world? 

    Darlene 

    No, thank you so much. Just give your dogs the biggest hug today and … if they’re huggers, my dog needs space. But make sure you take a little bit of time every day to appreciate your dog. Be grateful and do those little things and keep the joy going. 

    Angela 

    Thank you.  

    Angela 

    Since we recorded this episode, Darlene said goodbye to her soul dog. A trip to the vet revealed liver levels so high, the doctor said it was time. Beautiful Kota was laid to rest on August 11 2022, after 11 years as the only child to Darlene and Pete. The house in Massachusetts is a little more quiet now. And Darlene runs are a lot more lonely.  

    Kota lives on in the beautiful images Darlene has created of her over the last decade and in the stories she will forever tell about her boisterous little sled dog.  

    Kota love forever.  

    I’m Angela Schneider, owner of big white dog photography in Spokane, Washington, and your host at One Last Network. Signing off to go get some Bella snuggles. Listen to One Last Network on whichever podcast platform you prefer. We’re on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Music and Amazon Music. Don’t forget to hit follow or subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. If you have a friend who might be interested in our content, make sure you share us with them. Thanks for listening. 

    3 thoughts on “Episode 3: Darlene Woodward and the art of handing out snacks”

    1. Thank you so much, Angela. I cried. Happy tears of memories of Kota, too!!! One Last Network is helping me grieve and I’m grateful to be a part of it! Looking forward to each podcast and learning. xo

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