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An Afternoon with the Owner of Lifestory Edinburgh, Susan Doherty, and her Thinking Dog Rufus


He’s got strong beard game and a look in his eye as if he’s trying to figure you out by staring deep into your soul. I passed the initiation process and was accepted by Rufus into his stunning home. Like most Mini Schnauzers, he’s confident, inquisitive and very much in charge. I had the pleasure of photographing him at his Portobello beach home, together with Susan, the owner of Lifestory which is one of Edinburgh’s gems and best Scandi homewares shops. As you can imagine, Susan’s home, which she shares with her other half Tom (and Rufus of course), is tastefully minimal, with the odd statement treasure. This calm, bright and well-designed space is Rufus’ happy place.


We begin our shoot playing, and Rufus excitedly leads me out onto the patio. It’s a space that continues effortlessly out of the bifold doors as if the living room was spilling outside. It’s a shade of Rufus grey, and as he guards his favourite grey and orange soft toys, I realise how perfectly the three of them camouflage into their surroundings. In and out. In and out. We repeat this motion while we play. Eight year old Rufus bucks up and down at the possibility of me stealing his toys but knows full well that he won’t be defeated. Susan tells me about his routine and his very important garden guarding duties.

His self-assigned ‘jobs’ for the day include watching out for this one magpie that likes to come and sit in the garden, or the pigeon that perches on a chimney that’s in his line of sight from where he lies on the couch. These two birds bother him terribly. We joke that a flock of ducks could land in the garden and he wouldn’t see them, but once this particular pigeon turns up he goes crazy and tries to get through the glass doors to it!

With all that excitement, it’s not long before Rufus is slowing down and he has a cuddle break with Susan. I’m told he’s a bit of a comfort fiend, spending 90% of his day lazing around the house, moving from the floor, to the couch, to the bed, even rearranging cushions and pillows for the ultimate napping spot.

These days he gets up after us. I wake him and he usually comes in to our room to have a second sleep while we are showering/making tea/trying to wake up. He does his morning stretching - he’s religious about it! And sneezes 5 or 6 times then he is ready for the day!

It’s while Rufus is sitting on Susan’s knee that I notice how full of expression he is. He’s so still, with his fluffy brows accentuating a look of intrigue in his piercing eyes. It’s a cautious look but at the same time one that tells me he’s really chuffed to be having his photo taken. Susan calls him her thinking dog, and I can’t think of a more suited name for him. It seems this pair have a pretty tight bond and Rufus has a good way of communicating with his mum.

Whenever he wants anything he’ll let me know by barking and pointing (nose or paw) at it e.g. his toy, the door, the cupboard that holds his treats, our bedroom door if it’s closed and he wants to get to our bed. He’s a reactive dog and has the bark of an animal much bigger than than his size. When anyone comes to the door they must think there is an Alsatian inside. It’s taken the postman a few years to lose that worried look from his face whenever he has to knock!

While shooting, I notice Rufus keeps motioning a very sophisticated shake a paw. Susan tells me more about this sweet little gesture.

He knows that in order to get a treat he might be asked to do something like give his paw. So often when a new person is around he’ll adopt this cute post with one paw almost imperceptibly raised from the floor in a kind of limp handshake offer - he’s trying to shortcut the process to get the treat, he’s not waiting to be asked!

It seems Rufus is quite food motivated and if you’ve got a treat, you’ve got a fast track to his heart. There was a particular moment when Rufus was a puppy, where his appetite got the better of him …

One hot day in the Edinburgh meadows, when Rufus was around 6 months old, he caught the aroma of a freshly cooked sausage and suddenly he ran off to a random BBQ. He snatched a sausage off and made for the hills, only to realise that it was scalding hot. That didn’t stop him though, he treated it a bit like a basketball dropping it and picking it up over and over while running on his short little legs, until Tom and the sausage chef caught up with him both in fits of laughter.

As we near the end of the shoot we head back outside to catch the last stream of light before the sun goes down. Unlike before, Rufus is still, sitting in his favourite spot while observing his garden.

He will sit in one spot in the garden for absolutely ages surveying what’s a round him - me at work or the plants moving in the breeze.

Susan scoops Rufus up for one last cuddle. But now with the advantage of height, he spots his pigeon rival in the neighbouring trees. Again I see Rufus’ charming little personality as he remains on standby in case the pigeon dares to trespass. The sun eventually dips behind the house, turning Rufus’ grey garden, golden. The pigeon is cooing and the seagulls of Portobello beach are squarking in the distance. It’s a very calm and serene space. And from the look on Rufus’ face, i’m pretty sure he knows he’s one lucky little dog.

If you’re interested in having some forever photos of you and your little pal, and your story featured on the Pet Stories blog, get in touch or visit the packages page.

For more info on Susan’s lovely shop, visit the Lifestory website.