An emotional photograph showing the close bond between a dog and its owner taken by a Preston snapper has won a national competition.Advertisement
Esta has been caring for Dale, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of six, and is captured sitting by his side as the sun sets in the background.
Michael Higginson, who is Dale’s older brother, took the picture and entered it into the Kennel Club’s photographer of the year awards.
He came first in the Assistance Dogs and Charities category. His partner Cat Race came second in the puppies category. The pair run a dog photography company based near Samlesbury.
The photo competition received more than 13,000 entries.
Read more: How one Preston woman has turned her passion for dogs into a business
Below is the story behind Michael’s picture in his own words:
The winning photograph was taken especially for Dog Photographer of the Year and was inspired by the bond between my youngest brother Dale and one of my parents’ dogs Esta. Esta was born into a litter of 8 puppies and Dale, only four at the time watched her come into the world unaware of the role she would take in his life. They’ve always spent considerable time with each other and their bond grows stronger every day.
When Dale was just 6 years old he was tragically diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent life saving surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. This isolated him from the world he knew and changed his life forever – he was now left with brain damage. He lost the ability to walk, talk, swallow, move and communicate. When Dale was 10 years old he relapsed and to our horror, had to go through it all again. Slowly, over many years of physio, he learnt to walk short distances and use his wheelchair for longer distances. It took five weeks but his speech eventually came back. He now has problems with balance, memory, growth, epilepsy, learning and much more.
Esta has been his unwavering companion and supported him through his really tough life. Just before Dale was diagnosed, he disappeared along the river where we lived. Luckily my parents’ dogs had followed him. My mother was franticly looking for him until Elsa, Esta’s mother found my mum and lead her to Dale – Esta was by his side as always, protectively watching over him. When Dale first came home from the hospital, it was Esta who very gently sat next to him, offering him comfort and support. She became his best friend and Dale would often talk to her about his problems. He missed her terribly when he was in hospital; he would ask if she could please be brought in! The feeling was definitely mutual.
Once Dale was well enough to sit in a wheelchair, he began to join Esta on walks again. She would stay close to his chair, never running too far ahead and regularly checking that he was all right. As his balance developed, Dale had a trike built specially for him to help aid in his recovery. This gave him some independence and to this day he loves to ride his trike on the park with Esta by his side. The connection they share and the loyalty Esta has for Dale may have even saved His life.
A few years into Dales recovery, my parents had gone out for the night, leaving my Auntie to look after him. He was asleep in bed and Esta, completely out of character started to bark. No matter what my Auntie did she couldn’t stop her, so she decided to go and see if the noise had woken Dale. Dale was awake and a minute later he had a massive seizure. An ambulance was called immediately and he was admitted to hospital. If Esta hadn’t barked that night and raised the alarm, Dale wouldn’t have received the medication he needed. I dread to think what could have happened.
Esta still helps Dale when he’s lonely and treats him with great love, loyalty and respect. She never judges him as a disabled 14-year-old boy. To her, he is just her pal. I wanted to capture this special connection for my Dog Photographer of the Year entry so my Mum agreed to meet me on the park with Dale and Esta in an attempt to do just that. After a few hours of crafting shots with Dale and Esta in the park, the sun had started to set. I was already in a good position to make the most of the light and contemplating my next set up when Esta voluntarily sat next to Dale and Dale began to stroke her. I couldn’t have directed them any better myself as Esta looked up to the light, protectively watching the horizon.