Rachelle and Zoey have a special story to tell.
Zoey has played a key role in Rachelle’s recovery from triple negative breast cancer.
Having successfully battled cancer, Rachelle need a catalyst in her life. Enter Zoey.
Together, the pair have curated a beautiful Instagram profile as Rachelle successfully ventured into pet photography.
They’ve already grown their fanbase to nearly 13,000 followers – and it’s easy to see why.
Rachelle shared her inspiring story with us as well as shedding light on the positive impact that her Cavalier has had on her life.
We also learn about some of Rachelle’s tips on how to take better photos of your dog.
You can follow Rachelle and Zoey’s adventures on Instagram (@zoeymycav).
1) How did you hear about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels?
I was looking for a small dog for companionship, and googled “best small dogs for emotional support”. On that list was a picture of a Cavalier. I immediately clicked on that adorable face and fell in love with the breed.
2) What attracted you to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed?
I started to read everything I could about the CKCS breed, the more I learned, the more in love I fell. The breed is described as gentle, graceful, easy to train, adaptable, with a sweet, gentle, melting expression emanating from large round eyes. This was my dog, I thought.
3) Can you tell us how you ended up with Zoey?
The AKC description also lists the health issues common for the breed, due to their history and near extinction, I knew I had to find a reputable breeder. Almost an entire year later, I was still researching. I had watched every video I could find, but was still on the fence and couldn’t make the commitment. I was full of fear. Would I make a good dog mom? Can I train a puppy while living in a condo on the 6th floor with an elevator? What if the cancer came back? Is that fair to the dog? So many What if’s. Once I decided to GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO LIVE, I arranged with the breeder to pick one from the next litter.
4) How would you describe Zoey’s personality?
Zoey is as independent as she is attached. She is never not cute. She is always happy. Watching her sleep, or prance, play, train, pose for our shoots, always brings me joy and happiness in my heart.
5) Can you give us an idea about your inspiring backstory?
In 2018 I was diagnosed with TNBC (Triple Negative Breast Cancer), the most aggressive and most likely to recur type of BC. During treatment, I focused on 1) Sleep, 2) Blood Flow (exercise) and 3) Hydration (lots of water). I gave it 100%, but put it to the side and kept working and kept shooting Photography was my healing art. In June, for example, about mid way through 16 rounds of chemo, I challenged myself to see how many sunrises on the beach I could photograph. Fort Lauderdale beach is lined with 20+ lifeguard huts, that would be another project. (See my landscape photography @ Rachelle_Vance on Instagram. During my “survivorship appointment with my Medical Oncologist, she said, “your body responded beautifully to treatment, you are free to go back to life’. I remember blurting out, I can’t! I am not the same person. I can’t just “go back”? I told her, the 4th person on the team is missing. The Oncologist did her job, the chemo worked, she was done. The Breast Surgeon did her job, the tumor and lymph nodes were out, she was done. The Radiologist did his job, he was done. But there is more to being human than our body, and I was now different. I looked different, and even thought differently. I was definitely NOT the same person as pre diagnosis. I was not able to easily adapt, and was referred to a psychologist and back to my PCP. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I felt lost, unsure of how to start to create a new normal. I felt I was playing with house money, given a new lease of life, yet I fell into a deep depression and isolation was my best friend. Life is amazing, and the world is so beautiful, and I was on the couch watching it all pass by. I needed to do something, I needed a healthy change. I believed a dog, a Cavalier, would be just wanted I needed to recover. I needed Love, Laughter, a way to meet new friends, and structure. A purpose.
6) How did Zoey help with your recovery process?
Zoey was the key and catalyst in my recovery. It’s impossible to be sad or in a mood around Zoey. She is always happy, always playful, always loving, always social, and never not cute. She has become the mascot of our condo building bringing a smile to all our neighbors. Strangers stop me to ask IS THAT A CAVALIER?! Cars have pulled over to ask about her. I love watching every human smile when they see her. SHE is the definition of Joy. After treatment, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and getting ZOEY was the best medicine. She gets me out of the house, and I can have lots of small talk conversations with anyone, which is just the right amount of socialization.
7) Can you explain the bond between Zoey and you?
As a photographer, I have always been drawn to portraits as my favorite genre. But I never photographed pets before. Zoey is a photographers dream! I started training her from Day 1, I was over the moon by her expressions. I focused on SIT, STAY and Look at Me as the most important commands, and we still practice in the house daily. Before any cute tricks, I needed her to be safe during our shoots. What I learned as time went on, is that our Photography sessions had created a bond between us of trust. I learned to pay attention and respect what she was comfortable with. I use Organic Cheerios as treats, and they are reserved for photoshoots only. Now, at 1.5 years old, when she sees a “perch”, she happily does a Paws Up, or SIT and patiently waits for me to set up. We usually draw a bit of a crowd in the parks, as on lookers compliment her constantly as she “poses during our shoots”.
8) How have you and Zoey found travelling around in your RV during COVID-19?
Our 1999 Chinook became the perfect Pandemic Mobile, as we were safe, isolated, and able to quarantine in forests and parks. Chemo affected and changed by ability to tolerate heat, and our county was one of the top HOT spots in the nation. I packed us up and headed north, and we landed in the Endless Mountain Region of Pennsylvania. We stayed 100+ days, and would have stayed longer, but as fall was becoming winter, we had to head back south. Zoey loved hiking, she can hike for miles! She loved kayaking, as she would jump up on her spot before we even pushed off. She brought me so much joy watching her at the edge of the river playing with the rocks.
9) How do you hope to inspire other dog moms to do the same?
As a Solo Female Dog Mom, there was a bit of adjusting to full time RV life, and there were fears in me that I needed to work through. I looked within, and journaled daily. I was able to find the root of my fears, and then choose whether to hold on to that or let it go. In the end, I tossed all the fears out, turned the ignition key, and just did it. I didn’t have much experience with camping or how RV’s worked, but I knew I would figure it out.
10) Do you have any tips for amatuer photographers looking to step up their photography game when taking snaps of their pets?
I started a Camera Club DM group on Instagram, and a few of my best tips are 1) train your dog to SIT and Stay, before the shoot, and practice daily at home. And 2) get a 50mm lens and practice shooting wide open. I love sharing what I’ve learned over the years as a photographer, but the bond that will develop between you and your pet as your photoshoots become part of your daily life, will not only astound you, but enrich both of your lives so much.
11) Do you edit your photos and if so, any tips for dog owners who want to enhance the colors in their photos?
I use Lightroom and Photoshop to edit my images, but 98% of my editing is all done in Lightroom. I am self taught, and use all the resources on the internet to continue to improve and keep my editing skills current. Right now, I am doing a 30 Day “learn photoshop” by Aaron Nace, PHLEARN on You Tube.
12) Would you recommend Cavaliers to a first-time dog owner?
When I am asked about the breed, I always recommend Cavaliers as being the best breed. Not only are they super cute to look at, but they are so expressive, understanding, adaptable, quiet, sweet, soft, loving, easy to train, and love to sit on your lap or by you to cuddle. I take Zoey with me almost everywhere I go, she is just the best companion. And best listener.
13) What comments or questions does Zoey get out and about?
I often say that if I had a dollar for every time someone said OMG IS THAT A CAVALIER!?, I would be a millionaire by now. The most common question is: “Does she shed?” Yes, she does. That is the ONLY box she doesn’t check. She is not high maintenance as far as grooming, she’s never been to a groomer, I bathe and brush her myself at home. But she does she a lot. There will be dog fur on your clothes, blankets and car seat. And it’s all worth it. Get a robot vacuum and call it a day.
14) What’s your favourite memory (or post) with Zoey?
My favorite memory or post of Zoey would be the very first. She was a natural in front of the camera, and I was about to discover a beautiful and engaging dog community on Instagram.
15) What other Cavalier accounts would you recommend?
Cavaliers are perfect, and they are imperfect. They do tend to have some health issues, so researching reputable breeders is a MUST. There are quite a few accounts on Instagram that focus on SM, a common Cavalier issue, I would recommend pupnamedaria, she does weekly posts that discuss health issues that cavaliers are prone to.
16) What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you first got Zoey knowing what you know now?
If I could go back and give myself any advice to the day I got her, it would be to get. Two Cavaliers, not just one.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Pros And Cons
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Pros
Easy to train, adaptable, small breed, sweet, soft, quiet, gentle
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Cons
No street “smarts”, cannot be trusted off leash if she sees a bird, lizard, or leaf blowing in the wind. Very attached to their human, she follows me everywhere. She will wake from a dead sleep to follow me in the bathroom. SHEDS.