Since time immemorial, storytellers have passed down tales about the enduring relationship between canine and man. There are countless in our more recent history: Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, The Call of the Wild, and even the real-life story of the loyal Hachikō. But little art has dedicated itself wholly to exploring the relationship between women and dogs.
Photographer Kristen Kidd set out to change that with her book, Woman’s Best Friend. A collection of photographs and stories, the 100-page coffee-table book celebrates the special bonds between women and their furry best friends, canine life coaches, and slobbery supporters.
Kidd recently released the second volume of Woman’s Best Friend and dedicated it to the Brandywine Valley SPCA. The profits from the sales of volume two raised $10,000 for the organization. In 2019, proceeds from the book’s first volume raised $7,000 for Harley’s Haven Dog Rescue, a nonprofit saving lives in the greater Philadelphia area. Kidd said the book has another goal: supporting women throughout the emotional journey of loving a dog.
“Other people, and often other women, need to hear these stories because it normalizes the human experience and helps eradicate stigma. It tells women, ‘Look, you’re not crazy for how much you love your dog. You’re in good company,’” Kidd said. “We often don’t talk about the things we love as much as we want to because we’re afraid it’s a burden to the people around us.”
Throughout Kidd’s book, the lifesaving power of the bond between women and their pets is present on almost every page. Take the story of Rachael and Grit, whose bond began amid a time of great grief for Rachael. In fact, Rachael sought out and brought home Grit because she knew she needed the support, understanding, and positivity that only a dog is able to give.
This is an especially familiar story as people worldwide continue to grapple with the chaos and sadness of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past year, owners turned to their pets like never before, and a stunning number of households adopted pets of their own for the first time. This is likely because of the massive grounding force of pet ownership, which is evident throughout Woman’s Best Friend.
“Dogs want nothing more than for me to be who I am. That’s it. That’s something you cannot get from any other human. We have human relationships where people want for us to be ourselves, but dogs have no expectations other than for us to be with them and for them to be who they are,” Kidd said.
Most of the women in the book recount their dogs’ roles in their lives during times of seemingly insurmountable challenge, and many of these dogs helped them through personal loss in particular. When Gheri and Ragnar’s picturesque homelife was shattered, Ragnar had only been part of his owner’s life for a few months. But after Gheri realized she had Ragnar’s support, and that he too was grieving, it empowered her to pick up the pieces and move on with him.
She treats stories like these, in which women describe the loss of a partner or parent, infertility, and divorce, with care and sensitivity. Owners are often unflinchingly honest and enthusiastic when talking about their dogs, and we see them at their most vulnerable in Woman’s Best Friend. In return for that vulnerability, we receive stirring stories about the inextricably linked lives of women and dogs.
Similarly, in return for their dogs’ unconditional love, these women offer their homes, hard work, and hearts. While the joy and support that Brie and Gray bring one another is reciprocal, Brie adopted Gray because she knew he needed her. With time and trust, Brie successfully helped Gray blossom into a happy, confident dog.
Like Gray, many of the dogs featured are adopted, and they clearly come from a wide range of beginnings, including the Brandywine Valley SPCA and Harley’s Haven Dog Rescue. However, the book doesn’t linger long on the dogs’ own hardship or suffering before they enter their owners’ lives. Readers may appreciate this narrative style if they can’t stand the thought of what many dogs go through before they reach rescue. (One exception is the story of Laura and Dutch, which details Dutch’s adoption as a stray from the streets of Azerbaijan.)
Woman’s Best Friend features a beautiful mix of dogs of all shapes and sizes. Given that many of the owners live in and around Philly, there are plenty of the city’s favorite breed: pitties. But there are hounds, shepherds, and toy breeds, too. The personalities of dog and owner alike truly shine in Kidd’s expert photographs. For Kidd, creating images that capture the relationship between dog and owner is a key part of the project. She said women need to be able to see themselves with their dogs – and the love they share for one another – in a photograph.
“It’s a breathtaking honor every single time someone trusts me to share their most vulnerable moments in life and to capture what it is they love most,” Kidd said, adding that she doesn’t pick up her camera until she feels she has come to fully understand the relationship between her subjects.
The book focuses on women from many walks of life, and each woman is impossible to describe in just a few words (much like their dogs). Their struggles are unique but at the same time share common themes relatable to many women. The way they overcome these challenges with their dogs by their side will move anyone.