One of the reasons I joined non-profit group HeARTs Speak was a desire to use photography in support of dogs. When I was in the process of looking for my own dog and sorting through photo after photo on rescue sites, the vast majority were (not to be mean but) really poor quality photos of dogs with odd expressions, taken from weird angles, blurry, or in ugly environments. I really can't remember seeing a single photo that allowed me to simply concentrate on the dog and getting a feel for its personality.
Instead, I was often distracted by the depressing room or kennel it was sitting in, or wondering exactly what size or shape the dog was but couldn't tell because of the awkward angle from which it was photographed. It was clear very quickly that the rescues putting some energy into their photos would have more people responding to ads about their dogs than rescues that took cell-phone snap shots of dogs still in the vet's office. Unfortunately, it is a reality that too many rescues quite literally don't have the time or resources to focus on taking professional-quality photographs of their images. That's where photographers come in, like those who are part of HeARTs Speak.
In the very short time I've been working with a local rescue, we've already seen a success story. The very first dog I photographed was adopted this weekend, and I got some of the best feedback I could ever ask for. Her case manager emailed me to give me the news:
She went on saturday and will now be living in Calistoga on acreage with another GSD and a work-from-home human. Your pics made a huge difference. Tansy's adopter saw her because of an ad in the Marina times using one of your beautiful photos. A friend saw the ad and brought it to show Tansy's new mom and the rest was history.. :)
That is one of the best rewards I could possibly ask for -- a wonderful dog found a loving forever home and my photographs helped make that happen as quickly as possible. It meant less stress on the dog being in a temporary home, less of a burden on the rescue and the foster parent caring for her until she was adopted, and hopefully it also minimized the stress on the person who was out searching for a new canine companion to bring home.
We are visual creatures and yes, packaging matters. Having a beautiful photograph that tugs at the heartstrings -- rather than one that leaves you asking more questions about the animal instead of simply falling in love with it -- makes a huge difference for dogs, cats and other critters looking for a loving home. You can see more before and after photos of rescue animals to better understand the impact.
So, just how important is a good photograph in changing a life? There are few better examples than the stories of dogs, cats, horses and other animals who are photographed by professionals donating their time and talent to rescue groups. I have heard some incredible examples of the power of a good photo. For instance, there is a rescue on the east coast is acually getting animals adopted out so quickly thanks to the high quality photographs taken by a HeARTs Speak member that they're pulling animals from other nearby rescues and helping to adopt them to forever homes as well.
And in one of the best stories I've heard to date, a photographer recently did a shoot with a boxer that was in the shelter for two years. She photographed the dog on a couch with a lovely backdrop, and a colorful scarf draped around her neck. The very next day, the dog was adopted with the new owner saying that the instant she saw those endearing images, she knew that was the dog for her. The photographer said the saddest thing was knowing that the boxer had to sit in a shelter for two years all because of a bad photo.
That said, even great photos don't guarantee a dog will be adopted. It is a team effort, and the incredible dedication of the rescue staff, the media resources that help to advertise the animals, and volunteers at adoption events all help the cause.
Another dog I photographed, Scooter, is still waiting for his forever home. If you happen to know someone who is looking for a loving lapdog, show them Scooter!