I’ve been a “voluntographer” for animal rescue/shelter projects since 2011. You might be wondering… a “voluntographer” is. We are photographers who volunteer his or her time and offers photography services at no charge to support a cause. Some voluntographers take pictures of premie babies, sick children, needy families, elderly people, military families, goods up for charity auctions, and other great causes. All of these are great, but since I’m a bleeding-heart animal lover (“crazy dog lady”), I take pictures of homeless animals.
When I read in a local paper about a mass euthanization of 60 shelter animals at a poorly run, rural middle Georgia shelter, I was heartbroken and infuriated. I felt the urge to do something to prevent this from ever happening again, but what could I do? I wasn’t really sure what to do because I had no money as a student, but I loved animals and enjoyed photography. I decided that I could use my photography skills to take photos of the dogs to help get them more exposure.
To say that volunteer job was easy would be a lie. After my first visit, I left that 95 degree, foul-smelling, over-crowded shelter feeling defeated, and so very small. I remember sitting in my car and crying, because I felt as if I’d accomplished nothing during the three sweltering hours I spent there, crawling into those dirty pens trying to capture the best of some extremely pitiful, abandoned animals. Until I posted my first batch of photos on the internet to advertise the dogs to rescuers and adopters, I had no clue how important those photos were going to be.
Suddenly, there was a lot of buzz about that shelter. More dogs came in, but they steadily were leaving. Luckily, with the right networking and volunteers (those I affectionately refer to as the “crazy dog ladies”) fewer dogs were being euthanized, and more dogs were going home.
Then I moved an hour away. I started residency, which was a year of half the wages and twice the work, but I missed having a meaningful project in my life. Luckily, I was able to get in touch with the local Humane Society and started photographing their adoptable pets. On my “first day”, I remember the director telling me, “We want good photos. Ones where there’s not a big head and no body, and not pictures of scared animals in cages with blurry faces.” I smiled, and nodded. I knew exactly what they needed.
Shelter workers are often overloaded with tasks. They are busy cleaning, walking, feeding, watering, taking care of all the animals and tons of administrative and customer service work. They don’t have time to stop and take good quality photos of animals. It’s nothing against them, or their photography, but to get a really good photo of a dog or cat is more than just a click of a button. They move, wiggle, squirm, jump, bark, roll, sit, beg, lay down, blink, and sometimes tinkle with excitement. A dog’s intake photo may not be the greatest.
When a dog is in a shelter (or a cat, for that matter) they aren’t going to “look” like themselves. They may be scared, or a little dirty, or not really happy. It is my job to take extra time with the animal, to capture their personality and spirit in a photograph. Then, people on the outside can see a photo and say, “Hey, that is a great looking dog, I think I want to go meet him/her” instead of “That poor dog, it looks so pitiful.” With the help of a volunteer photographer (a “voluntographer”), the Humane Society is able to advertise their pets using more appealing photos, capturing the best of the animal.
Poor scared little Ringo was just a pup, discovered in a box with her siblings stranded beside the road.
If you get inside the pen with her, though, she opens right up and is ready to play. There are no wires or cages between the potential adopter and pet. It’s like she’s right there, happy and smiling. 😀
When you get her in the light, you can see her coat is a rich brown color, and she has beautiful brown eyes! Hey, now they see it — she’s actually a Dobie mix!
Ace looked a slight bit nervous in his intake photo. He might be looking at his potential adopter, but he’s not real sure about that.
Poor Drucella. You can’t even see her eyes. I’m sure adopters were thinking “That scruffy grey mix of a dog looks so sad.”
But in fact, Drucella is a Scottish Deerhound. Her coat is unique; it is filled with browns, greys, whites, and tans. Her eyes are a stunning caramel color. As a favorite among volunteers, Drucella is a lovely lady. Her new adopted family saw that immediately after finding this photo on a display board at a local pet supply store.
Hunter, the sad sleeper, waiting by himself in his crate for somebody.
But when a little girl saw Hunter’s “new” picture on the Facebook page, she saw a happy smiling Hunter. He looked like he could be her best friend. And now he is.
It’s pretty amazing what you perceive about these animals looking at the two different photos. It’s almost like night and day to us; but for those animals, it is the difference in sadness and happiness, homelessness and having a warm bed… and in many cases, life and death
If you are a photographer, consider donating your time to a local shelter/rescue group (or any other great voluntography cause, for that matter!)
One click of your shutter can make a difference!!
Note: All “After” photos taken by Brooke Butler, using Canon 6D and 50mm f/1.2L or 24-70mm f/2.8L II. Before photos were taken by different people working at the shelter. They don’t have the time or resources to put together professional photos. This post is in no way trying to insult them or insinuate they aren’t doing a good job. They do a wonderful job and deserve much praise!