Doggies for Dementia by Carmen Davailus

Family portraits—man’s best friend included—create priceless memories, spur conversations about dementia.
Featured Image: Carmen Davailus, founder of Doggies for Dementia Foundation and Chief Canine Officer, Sparky.
Carmen Davailus, founder of Doggies for Dementia Foundation and Chief Canine Officer, Sparky.

Please describe the Doggies for Dementia program and how you do what you do within the dementia community.

Doggies for Dementia is a program whereby volunteer photographers capture images of families who have been impacted by dementia with their family dog. This program, as part of the Doggies for Dementia Foundation, increases awareness around dementia; the highly popular images that include dogs help to drive conversations about dementia by sharing images and stories.

How it works: Families are gifted the professional photography session, prints of their choice, and a video slideshow highlighting the day. We design unique sessions and get to know each family and their dementia journey and honor each family in special ways.

We have photographed in blue bonnet fields, at the family home, with ranch animals, in memory cares, and beyond.

Alongside these portrait days, Doggies for Dementia Foundation also produces educational, inspirational, and behind-the-scenes posts, blogs and videos and offer caregiver resources.

What initially inspired you to grapple with dementia?

As a former nurse practitioner specializing in care of those with dementia, I began the Doggies for Dementia program as part of my portrait photography business in 2017. This idea came after noting the importance of documenting stories with photography and the value of including family dogs while writing my book, Just See Me-Sacred Stories from the Other Side of Dementia. Doggies for Dementia Foundation became a 501c3 in March 2020.

How has the work been received?

One might think that documentation of such a difficult time would not be wanted or valued. We questioned this in the beginning, too, until we experienced the photo sessions and saw the expressions on families’ faces as they reviewed their images. 

The photo experience with their loved one is also an incredibly special time. Families are pleasantly surprised how easy the photo sessions are since our photographers are familiar with dementia. They are most amazed at what a touching experience it is and just how “priceless” the images are to them. They love highlighting and honoring their loved one and journey publicly knowing they help others.

Find more information on Doggies for Dementia Foundation on Facebook and Instagram as well as on its website

What is a Spotlight?

The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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