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Another Way to Look at It: Saving Dogs and Cats Through Photography

By Jasmin Singer — February 28, 2012

It’s really sad that marketing needs to play any kind of role when it comes to adopting shelter animals who would otherwise be needlessly killed. But that’s the case, and even I found the recent photos that fashion and portrait photographer Richard Phibbs took for the Humane Society of New York to be “awwww”-inspiring.

According to MSNBC, Phibbs — who usually spends his time snapping shots of celebrities and politicians — tapped into his passion for animals, and turned the camera onto some gorgeous dogs and cats. The goal was to turn “their adoption center homepage into a gallery of glamourous shots that contrast with the photos normally taken for display.”

Photo by Richard Phibbs

Funny thing: When I first glanced at these photos, and hadn’t yet read the article, my initial reaction was disgust, since I was sure these were animals from puppy mills, breeders, etc. available for a high price to those with a weak moral compass. When I found out that the animals are, indeed, in need of homes — many are victims of abuse or neglect — my heart warmed and my hope sailed. Though I think the bow-ties and ribbons in which the animals are adorned in their photos are a bit much (reminds me a tad of a 5-year-old beauty queen with bright pink blush), the fact is, it works. No doubt that if you’re reading this, you are probably just as touched, moved, saddened, and intrigued by the type of photos of shelter animals that we’re more accustomed to seeing: the ones where their desperation, anxiety, and neediness seep through. Perhaps they’re too thin, too dirty, too rough around the edges. Yet they’re perfect. And if you’re like me, you want each and every one.

But a lot of people don’t look at the “un-cute” photos with the same sense of longing as self-described “animal-lovers,” not to mention animal activists. So that’s when the polished photos come in handy. The issue of shelter animals is so profound — millions of adoptable animals are just waiting for their new families, but they will be left unclaimed, and their horrid fate will then await them — and we really need to reach the mainstream, tug at their heartstrings, and get them to take home a rescue. It is literally a matter of life or death. And if that means that we have to put a polka dot ribbon on Fluffy, then so be it.

And now for the obvious: This kind of activism is easily replicable. If you have any kinds of skills or interest in photography, then contact your local animal shelter, get yourself a backdrop and a decent camera, and go take stunning photos. Post them on the shelter’s website — or create a blog or website for them — advertise the heck out of it, and save some lives.






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(6) Readers Comments

  1. Stephen Lukas
    February 28, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Like they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. After scanning the adoptee portraits, you can't argue against the fact that a single compelling image can spark magic in the imaginations of potential adopters. A dash of colour, a little scarf, necklace or necktie - really convey a sense of personhood and individuality. Yet another inspirational idea for those that love animals and want only the best for them. Thanks for posting this - it was a lovely way to start my morning!

  2. February 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Here is the blog of a Connecticut photographer that does similar admirable work: http://tyfoster.com/blog/ It's great to see people using their skills and talents for the animals. As always, thanks for your awesome blog posts.

  3. amy brown
    February 28, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    This is truly amazing and i hope the concept of professional photographers partnering with shelters and animal control agencies goes nation wide. Would love suggestions / feed back about how to convince the shelter / animal control directors and staff to let the animals live long enough for adoptors to respond to the images of pets by coming in to adopt them.

  4. February 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Wonderful article. It makes such a difference with professional photos, giving these animals a better chance at adoption. I've been doing it for over three years with my company, TylerDog Photography, with local rescues and shelters, traveling where I'm needed, and have people saying "We've had to turn people away because all the animals were adopted!" The photos make a difference! There's also a wonderful organization of which I'm part called HeARTs Speak, where several of our members are doing the exact same thing -- providing professional photography to rescues and shelters all across the world.

  5. March 1, 2012 at 10:54 am

    What a phenomenal idea! I'm absolutely contacting my local shelter (where I adopted my beautiful kitten) about doing something similar. I love that this is something that I can do to help the dogs and cats that need loving homes, and so easy and FUN!



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