In a world where the daily news brings horrific headlines and distress at a pretty steady clip, Sandi Swiridoff finds a way to warm hearts and make people laugh out loud. Just when you think there can’t possibly be anything cuter than the puppy’s antics in her imaginative photographs, she adds a towheaded, bespectacled little boy to the mix. Capturing beautiful moments between the two, she had no idea what a wild, and philanthropic, ride she was about to take.
In Oregon alone, more than 8700 babies, school age children, and teens are in foster care. These kids, often victims of neglect or abuse, need healthy relationships and a nurturing, safe environment. On average, these children will spend almost a year and a half in foster care. The ultimate goal, when best for the child, is to reunite them with their birth parent or another family member.
Known as Dee Dee to the two young brothers her daughter and son-in-law fostered several years ago, Sandi says she learned a great deal by being a foster grandparent. One of those lessons? You can’t hold back. “You can’t not go all in,” continues the former nurse, “because the children in your life may leave and go on to live with another family.” One of the cutest grandmothers I know, Sandi believes you are doing yourself, and the foster children, a disservice if you don’t want to get too attached. At the risk of hurting more, you must make yourself vulnerable.
The plan all along was for Sandi’s daughter and son-in-law to provide a family for the two toddlers temporarily and assist in finding an adoptive home for them. Sandi – and I – get slightly teary-eyed when the kind woman with the quick smile says she knew the boys would be leaving, and she also knew it would be tough for all concerned. Although moving on to a wonderful waiting family, it was still scary for the boys to make the change. “With them living very near us for 18 months, we knew it was going to be hard for all of us,” reflects Sandi.
Sandi and her husband tried to determine how they could make this difficult transition easier for themselves. They needed something else to focus on, think about – something else to love. “Although dogs cannot replace people,” the Southern California native thoughtfully explains, “they can certainly distract.” And so – a fiercely lovable, adorably fluffy Australian Labradoodle puppy entered their lives.
Now known to people all over the world, 4-year-old Reagan is definitely cooperative and well-behaved (Is he? Sandi wonders) and engaging. Though it is easy to forget, he is also a very normal dog. He barks when the doorbell rings and whimpers to get attention. He often plops on a chair without permission, and he sometimes chews his sturdy toys to bits. And, of course, he will do just about anything for a treat.
Reagan proudly sporting a taste of Nashville – Go Predators!
As I sit on the floor stroking this sweet pup, Sandi tells me photography has long been a passion, and her camera is always close by. She belongs to the small group of women I envy – those who neatly organized their photos and made scrapbooks for their children each school year. She lights up when she explains her photography was good enough for friends to notice and ask her to take portraits of their own families.
Sandi was having a grand time taking picture after picture of her cute new puppy and posting the creative shots on social media. When her grown son and daughter suggested she get Reagan his own Instagram account, she initially thought it was a crazy idea. However, @Reagandoodle and the photos of the cuddly pup wearing overalls in a pumpkin patch, watching for Santa in colorful pjs, and sleeping with his very own teddy bear made people smile and laugh. With witty captions in Reagan’s own “voice,” word spread fast about the Labradoodle eating popcorn, drinking a latte, and riding a bike. And the cuteness caught on.
Eleven-month-old Little Buddy (not his real name) came to live with Sandi’s daughter and her husband in January 2015. Placed with the couple on a temporary foster care basis, Sandi says watching Reagan (about a year old then)) and the tiny blonde toddler meet for the first time was magical. Bonding instantly, their relationship was special from the very beginning. “Like brothers, one would grab the other’s toy and run with it,” Sandi remembers with a laugh.
“I wanted to show their bond through my photos,” Sandi tells me. Because Little Buddy was in the foster care program, she needed to find clever ways to capture their connection without showing his face straight on. One day Sandi dressed them in matching shirts and snapped a photo from behind. Because people loved the photo and the response was overwhelming, Sandi continued with the “twinning.”
Besides features in the UK’s The Daily Mail and the NBC Nightly News, loads of people, papers, and shows want to do stories about this touching duo. Sandi’s 2018 photo calendar, the third, featuring Reagan, Little Buddy, and Baby Girl – currently in foster care with Sandi’s daughter and husband – has raised $24,000 for Embrace Oregon and Foster Parents’ Night Out. She seems like she cannot believe what is happening – the impact she and her photos have. “People are hungry for something good, not negative. Reagan is a bright spot in their day,” she remarks.
With the calendars’ success and a specialty photo book due out in October, Sandi is definitely learning to “dream bigger.” Two illustrated children’s books are on the way next year. Pinching herself every day, this appreciative lady says it feels wonderful to give back. Like the calendars, the proceeds from the books’ sales will benefit children in foster care.
I wonder if giving her 356,000 Instagram followers a daily photo is ever a chore? “Some days I just run out of ideas,” she laughs. But then something always comes along. Like most things in life, when she lets go and doesn’t try to force things, moments – and photos – happen.
This story became even happier when Little Buddy was officially adopted by Sandi’s daughter and her husband at the end of last year. Her photos now show Little Buddy, beaming straight towards the camera, dancing, hugging, and sharing an ice cream cone with his furry pal. “I am immensely proud of what this has become,” Sandi shares quietly. “It’s not me, it is them – it is the public’s response to Reagan and Little Buddy. I am just the lucky one who gets to capture it.”
Tags: Embrace Oregon, foster care, FPNO, giving back, pets, Photography, Reagandoodle, Sandi Swirioff
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Loved this very inspiring and touching story! Thank you so much for sharing!
What a touching story! Glad Reagan made letting go of the foster – grandchildren a bit easier. I’m glad “Little Buddy” found his forever family with Sandy’s daughter and her husband.
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