Sandi Swiridoff and Reagandoodle – Bringing Awareness and Support to Foster Care
In a world where the daily news brings distress at a steady clip, Sandi Swiridoff found a way to warm hearts and make people laugh out loud. When you thought there couldn’t be anything cuter than the puppy’s antics in her imaginative photographs, she added a towheaded, bespectacled little boy to the mix. As she captured beautiful moments between the two, Sandi had no idea what a wild and philanthropic ride she was about to take.
More than 8700 babies, school-age children, and teens in Oregon are in foster care. These kids, often victims of neglect or abuse, need healthy relationships and a nurturing, safe environment. These children will spend almost a year and a half in foster care. When best for the child, the ultimate goal is to reunite them with their birth parent or another family member.
A Foster Grandparent
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, “just because the children in your life may leave and go on to live with another family.” 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 was for Sandi’s daughter and son-in-law to temporarily provide a family for the two toddlers and assist in finding an adoptive home for them. Sandi gets teary-eyed, remembering she knew the boys would leave, and she also realized it would be tough for all. 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 would be hard for all of us,” says Sandi.
Sandi and her husband pondered how they could make this difficult transition more manageable. They needed something else to focus on, think about—something else to love. “Although dogs cannot replace people,” the Southern California native explains, “they can distract.” And so—a lovable, fluffy Australian Labradoodle puppy entered their lives.
Now known to people worldwide, four-year-old Reagan is cooperative, well-behaved, and engaging. Though it is easy to forget, he is also a normal dog. He barks when the doorbell rings and whimpers to get attention. He plops on a chair without permission and chews his sturdy toys to bits. And, of course, he will do almost anything for a treat.
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 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. They asked her to snap portraits of their own families.
An Instagram Account for Reagandoodle
Sandi had a grand time clicking picture after picture of her cute new puppy and posted the creative shots on social media. When her grown son and daughter suggested she get Reagan his own Instagram account, she thought it was a ridiculous idea. However, the Instagram feed of the cuddly pup sporting overalls in a pumpkin patch, watching for Santa in colorful pjs, and sleeping with his 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, the tiny blonde toddler and Reagan bonded. Their relationship was special from the 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, Sandi discovered clever ways to capture the connection without showing the child’s face. One day, Sandi dressed the pair in matching shirts and snapped a photo from behind. People loved the image. So Sandi continued with the “twinning.”
The Public Takes Notice
People, publications, and television shows reached out to do stories about this touching duo. I discovered Sandi, Little Buddy, and Reagan on the NBC Nightly News.
Sandi’s third photo calendar, featuring Reagan, Little Buddy, and Baby Girl (currently in foster care with Sandi’s daughter and son-in-law) has raised $24,000 for Embrace Oregon and Foster Parents’ Night Out. Sandi cannot believe the impact her photos have on people. “We are all hungry for something good, not negative. Reagan is a bright spot in peoples’ day,” she says.
“I am adding joy to people’s lives, and they are adding joy to mine because I know I am adding joy to theirs.”
With the calendars’ success and a specialty photo book due in October, Sandi is 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.
A Very Happy Ending
Is giving her 356,000 Instagram followers a daily photo 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 Sandi’s daughter and son-in-law adopted Little Buddy at the end of last year. Her photos show Little Buddy beaming straight into the camera, dancing, hugging, and sharing an ice cream cone with his furry pal.
“I am immensely proud of what this has become,” Sandi says. “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.”