How My Photo Became an Internet Meme

Wallace Refused to Tip Toe

Let me start by saying: I am a published, full time, professional photographer, complete with amazing prizes to name.

My work can be found on my website(s), can be purchased through Getty Images, has been in various magazines, on newspaper front pages, and is hanging in the homes of countless strangers. It's all part of the job. You take a photo, someone connects to it, and they want a version for their own enjoyment.

Just recently one of my favorite images, and one with some personal meaning (might I add) has become an internet meme.

My pug, Wallace, has been a challenge since day one. He is the only dog I've ever met who would actually crap in his own crate - crate training? HA! He screams like a monkey being boiled in hot oil if you touch his feet or his face. He has been known to forcefully and spitefully evacuate his bowels if you try clipping his toenails.

He's also had five-figures worth of surgeries in the last two years.

It all started with a regular winter morning, taking my dogs out to go to the bathroom - only Wallace wasn't peeing. He was trying, but nothing was coming out. This is a bad sign. So, I took the bugger to my vet (who is also one of my BFFs). A quick x-ray revealed he had a bladder full of bladder stones - more specifically, the crystalline type that aren't dietary related, but genetic. After further testing, it was revealed that he no longer had use of his penis - a crystal had caused a permanent stricture.

So, surgery. He had his bladder taken out, cleaned out, flushed, and replaced. And they tried and tried to clear the blockage in his urethra. No go. He wound up having a "mangina" installed (it's also known as the man-hole for more sensitive ears/mixed company) - essentially they cut a hole through his lower groin, and cut another hole in his urethra, and then stitched it all open so it would heal into a new and improved pee-hole. In his groin. My dog urinates through a hole in his groin now.

This mean weeks of him with a catheter, which meant wrapping the end of the catheter in a maxi pad, and then wrapping it all up with vet tape, then securing it all with a doggie diaper - all of which had to be changed multiple times a day (and night - just like a baby) because the catheter leaks urine NON-STOP.

A year later we were back to the vet to have his first dental - at the age of five. And hey, eye surgery too - because he was going blind. His lower eyelids were curling in and rubbing on his inner eye, causing a keratin layer to build up. It's a thick, brownish/purple layer on his eyes. So, while he was unconscious, he had his little eye surgery, and a whopping SIX extractions.

Wallace was SO naughty trying to get the stitches out of his eyes that he had to come home in a Cone of Shame- and pugs being dramatic little creatures this drove him further into his neuroses.

I spent the next few nights with a pug on pain meds who refused to sleep, wouldn't lay down, couldn't be trusted without his cone of shame, and had to be carried around like a baby or he'd scream and cry and fuss.

Over the next two weeks I tended the expensive little bastard, and spent a LOT of time soothing his whining ways. It was during this period I found a lump on his side.

When Wallace went to have his stitches removed 14 days post-op, I had my vet check the lump. By then he had two. They were mast-cell tumors, a type of cancer. He needed another surgery, that week, to remove them.

Wallace went in for surgery a few days later and wound up having a piece of skin and tissue removed that was a little over an inch wide and about six inches long - it started at his groin (right above the manhole!) and ended near his back - like he'd been cut in half by a shitty magician. He had a third spot removed from his chest, that wasn't as invasive. The amount of tissue removed was so massive that he required a drain to remove the fluid from his abdomen during healing. Which meant, you guessed it, more maxi pads and more diapers and more vet tapes and more sleepless nights with a very sick dog.

I am not wealthy. I live a good life, but I am sure I make it by on a lot less than you might think. I just make the best of what I have and live in an affordable city - and I don't dwell on how broke I am between paychecks.

I did not have the money for these surgeries lying around - I had to put them on credit cards and have a bit of a heart attack every time I whipped out a MasterCard. Friends chipped in the first surgery, raised about $1500 for me. But that was only a percentage of the bills.

So, why did I keep him alive, through these expensive surgeries I couldn't afford? Well. There are myriad reasons. One, he's MY dog. I took him home, raised him, trained him, have loved him since he was a week old and I first met him. It's no one's responsibility by my own to take care of him, whatever that means. Two, he's the baby in the house - my other dog would be devastated if I didn't bring the "baby" home. Three, I could have surrendered him to a breed-specific rescue, let them take on the vet bills, but I couldn't imagine handing over MY dog and wondering for the rest of my life if he were happy in his new home and as loved as he is in mine. Four, every problem that has come up has had a finite solution - problem X requires solution Y, and bingo, no more problem. It's not like he's on crazy medications daily. Five, I got my dogs after my husband died and I have a real attachment to them, they've gotten me through a lot. Lastly, the little bugger would save ME if he were given the chance. (And maybe it's just because I feed him...)

Regardless of the "whys" - he's my dog and I fixed him even though I couldn't really afford to. I started threatening him that his next surgery would be taxidermy. That I'd turn him into a whimsical beer coozy or something. And shortly after having his drain removed from his cancer surgery, I took him to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn, Oregon, for a good romp in the flowers. I took a photo of Wallace that day, running free and happy and smiling, leg still shaved from his surgery...and that's where it all started.

Followers of my blog know that the image won the Grand Prize in the Travel & Leisure magazine 2012 photo contest - I went with my fiance South Korea for a week on vacation, courtesy of T&L and their sponsors. But imagine my surprise when I started getting emails...and facebook messages...that my photo, titled, "Wallace Refused to Tiptoe" had been turned into an internet meme and shared tens of thousands of times.

pug tulips meme photo by Jenna Van Valen

pug tulips meme photo by Jenna Van Valen

There are more. He's been pinned. Repinned. He's been shared. Posted. Emailed. My expensive little pug is EVERYWHERE.

Meanwhile, this image is for sale through Getty Images (yes, I licensed it) and not once has it sold. Not once. This image is for sale through my etsy store - cheaper than I usually sell things for - and not a bite.

But he keeps cropping up - all over the world. The short end of the stick is that yes, I won a major award thanks to this image. But it doesn't pay his medical bills. This photo was a celebration of our trials together, and now it's some trivial, faux-inspirational meme for the world. *Sigh*

But that's the way the internet works and there's nothing I can do about it - unless I find it for sale somewhere, then I have my lawyer fiance get to business. But the internet is so weird - that my happy little man can be everywhere, while he's laying on my pillow farting, and not making me a dime...amazing.

So, do me a favor. You come across this meme, send them this way. Let them know who took the photo. Please?