When a photographer's beloved pit bull got sick, she decided to take him on one last special trip so he could make a few more beautiful memories.
Zhenia Bulawka spent almost a decade with her cherished rescue dog, Mr. Dukes. But after falling ill, her pit bull found himself in the last stages of Grade III mast cell cancer last August, according to a blog post she wrote for The Dodo. While Mr. Dukes' favorite activity was swimming in pools, the canine had never been to the ocean. So for his final adventure, the photographer and her boyfriend decided to bring Mr. Dukes, along with the couple's other two dogs, Ruby and Violet, to see the ocean for the first time in Assateague, Maryland.
The trip was captured in a moving photo series.
Bulawka and Ruby in the ocean.
"[Mr. Dukes'] initial reaction seemed to be intimidation -- as if he was confused by this endless 'swimming pool' which made so much noise," Bulawka told The Huffington Post of her pooch's first response to the ocean, but noted he became fascinated by what he saw. "He was transfixed. Perhaps he was mesmerized by the waves."
Bulawka's boyfriend, Christian Valiente, sharing a dog-safe sandwich with Mr. Dukes.
Sadly, Mr. Dukes died a month after the trip. The photographer recently decided to share her photos series in a memorial blog post.
"Every moment spent with him was the best -- he was that cool ... Cherish every moment spent with loved ones -- be they two-legged or four," she told HuffPost in an email. "The memories created will be with you, always."
Bulawka holding Violet, one of her dogs.
While losing her best friend was hard for the photographer, she says that photo project was a necessary undertaking. She wanted to both commemorate Mr. Dukes, while smashing the negative stereotypes regarding pit bulls.
"With so much stigma surrounding pit bull-type dogs, I just wanted to convey something that portrayed them in a positive light," she said. "They don't deserve mistreatment and are worthy of human love and kindness."
Mr. Dukes and Ruby, who had their ears cropped before Bulawka rescued them, with Violet.
Bulawka taking her dogs for a walk on the beach.
It's been a few months since Mr. Dukes' death, but Bulawka says that the memories of his big personality will never fade.
"Dukes loved life! He was the most eager to get the day started -- always on a mission," she said. "Dukes had so much purpose. He never let a second go to waste."
(Photo series continues below.)
The view along the beach.
Valiente relaxing with Ruby.
Violet at the door.
Bulawka's bracelet, featuring two dogs modeled off Mr. Dukes and Ruby.
Bulawka on the beach with her three dogs.
Valiente and Mr. Dukes on the beach.
To see Zhenia Bulawka's photo series in its original form, click here.