ANIMALS IN NEED: CAN A PHOTO SAVE A LIFE?
Imagine having to leave your home. Imagine leaving your friends and family and your everyday life behind. Imagine being thrown into a world full of strange people, unfamiliar smells and sounds, and surroundings unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Imagine not knowing if you’ll ever see your family again… Doesn’t sound very nice, does it?
That’s pretty much the experience that a rescue dog goes through when they arrive at a shelter, in need of re-homing. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their arrival, they’ll probably be feeling confused, anxious, stressed out and completely overwhelmed!
So it’s no wonder that the shelter volunteers – who are already completely rushed off their feet feeding, walking, cleaning and looking after all the animals in their care – can struggle to get good photos of the dogs that come through their doors. These incredible people work their fingers to the bone and dedicate their lives to the animals in their care, all with limited budget, time and resources. There simply isn’t enough time in the day for dedicated photo shoots, especially when the dogs are probably feeling anxious enough already!
But in a digital world of scrolling endlessly through news feeds and skim-reading websites, it’s becoming harder to stand out in the crowd. And for a shelter dog, standing out in a crowd – even for a moment – could be the difference between another year alone at the shelter, or a loving forever home with a brand new family. It could literally save their life!
And so that was the challenge I set myself when I started photographing dogs at Animals In Need. I knew I needed to get people to stop in their tracks when they scrolled past my photos in their Facebook feed. I needed to treat my shelter shoots just like my client shoots – using the best possible light, the best possible locations, and the same vibrant editing techniques.
But it’s not enough to take a shelter dog to a scenic location and snap away. These dogs are often scared, wary, stressed out, and sometimes visibly distressed. Some of them are reactive to other animals, while some will freeze in fear at the sight of a passing car or cyclist. I once met one Romanian pup who was terrified just by having to walk on tarmac or concrete, presumably traumatised by life on the street. It’s heartbreaking.
It’s super important to me that the dogs are as comfortable as possible in front of my camera – but not just to make sure they have a positive experience during the shoot. I want the photos to help potential adopters visualise each dog in an everyday scenario – an excited pup down at the park or a happy hound out on a family walk. I want to banish that image of a sad, lonely dog cowering in a kennel. I want adopters to see just how amazing these dogs can be, given the chance to just be normal, regular dogs!
So I take the time to get to know each shelter dog I photograph. They get to have a sniff of the camera (and me!) and I have plenty of treats on hand in case a little
bribery motivation is needed. They also get regular breaks if they start to look a little stressed. It’s as much about creating a positive experience as it is getting a good photo. Giving them opportunity to stretch their legs and experience something a little bit different is a great form of enrichment for a dog that would otherwise be sitting in a kennel or run.
It’s not always easy. And sometimes I doubt myself, and wonder if I’m actually making a difference with my photos. But then every now and again I’ll hear from somebody who adopted a dog, and they tell me that it was my photo that made them stop and take notice. And I think what might have happened if I’d never taken that photo… It may be hard work, and I might not get to do it as often as I’d like to, but I’m convinced that a good photo can definitely save a life.
You may have already guessed, but all of the photos featured in this Journal post are the before and after shots of dogs I’ve met at Animals In Need. Last month I organised a volunteer day where we photographed a record 30 dogs! These are just some of the results, and hopefully they show how much of a difference a photo can make. And I couldn’t possibly end without saying an enormous thank you to all of the volunteers who came out to help me on the day – without them I’d never be able to do this, and they deserve just as much credit for their hard work and dedication!
If you’re interested in joining one of my volunteer days in the future, you can subscribe to The Journal to stay up to date with the latest news and upcoming events – I’d love for you to join in the adventure!
PS. All of these dogs are currently available for adoption (at the time of writing). If you’re interested in meeting one of these gorgeous hounds, visit animals-in-need.org for more info.