Shep was a rescue.
He came to me through a friend, seeking a new home after his family split up in a raw, bitter divorce.
She couldn’t handle such a big dog in a city condo with two young boys.
He was an oil rigger, often away from home for weeks at a time.
When I set my eyes upon him the first time, I was nervous. He was such a big dog. And me, always been single and carefree, how could I keep another creature alive?
But I did.
For 10 years.
And he was a happy dog, Content to exist with me in one-bedroom apartments around Calgary, move to British Columbia for work and bounce around the back roads of Western Canada, looking for adventure.
Our eyes tell a story
When I looked into his eyes, his deep, soulful, chocolate-brown eyes, I knew he loved me as much as I loved him.
I gave him a home when no one wanted him.
I rescued him.
But he rescued me. (See my story about Shep from last week.)
Rescue work is vital in giving homeless dogs a safe haven, finding them secure, loving homes where they might have existed years without one.
I wanted so desperately to help rescue dogs with my camera when I first embarked on this dog photography venture in Spokane.
I soon learned I wasn’t strong enough.
The right picture can save a life
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Many of the dog photographers in my worldwide network got their start by taking pictures of shelter animals.
As far back as 2011, the Dallas CBS station ran a story about their local pet photographer, Teresa Berg. She told the TV network the way people saw the animals changed entirely after she started taking beautiful studio images of them.
I think you have to make that dog look like a potential member of the family.
~ Teresa Berg
The shelter she volunteered at started seeing a 100 percent increase in adoption rates.
More famously, there’s Kaylee Greer of Dog Breath Photography who wants to “give a voice to the voiceless by volunteering her time to local shleters and photographing the abnadoned and homeless animals who lie in wait for a second chance.”
I wanted to help like this.
After volunteering for SCRAPs in Spokane, I know it works. That pink-snouted pitbull up top? I took a few photos of him, they posted him as pet of the week, and he was adopted the next day.
Ultimately, I failed.
I failed because I couldn’t stop looking into the eyes of those dogs behind bars and thinking I needed to save every single one of them.
And in dog photography, the key focal point of an image is the eyes. I couldn’t not see the pain and loneliness in the eyes of every dog I met. Countless of them I saw looking at me with hope only to have me break their hearts as I walked away to the next kennel.
My breaking point came when I encountered a Great Pyrenees cross.
He hunkered himself at the back of his kennel, glanced at me with those same soulful brown eyes Shep had, and dropped his head, seemingly in desperation that this was what his life had become.
You see, as a Maremma mama, I know a livestock guardian dog does less well in shelter situations than any other genres of dog. Their lives depend on trust and, when that trust is broken, so can they be.
I blinked back tears, signed out of my volunteer shift, and made my way to the car where I collapsed in a sobbing, heaving mess.
“Maybe there’s other ways you can help,” my husband said, when his distraught wife arrived home and threw herself in to the comforting fur of Bella’s neck.
A project highlighting Spokane rescue
I’ve learned how super difficult their jobs are.
From rescuing full litters to taking in a dog a family can no longer support.
Finding good foster homes to qualifying good, secure furever homes for their animals.
Paying for all this to doing the fundraising.
That’s where I try to help now. If any rescue needs a photo shoot, done. For free.
If a rescue needs a donation for a silent auction, let’s talk about it.
If a rescue needs a little promotion to spread the word, I’m on board.
Because I’ve looked into the eyes of women like Caitlin and Stephanie and I know their hearts are made of gold.
I’ve looked deeply into the eyes of dogs who needed help.
I’ve looked deeply over and over into Bella’s eyes and pledged my love and devotion to her.
So in 2019, I’m running a promo dedicated to people who have had their lives changed by their rescue dogs, like mine was with Shep.
For a small reservation fee of $99, you get a one-hour portrait session, two social media-sized files, and one mounted 8×10. Just the portrait session and 8×10 typically run $169 with me. You also get featured in a blog post right here on NosesandToes.com.
There are 15 spots to fill and four are gone already after announcing this on Instagram and Facebook on Tuesday.
What do you learn about yourself when you look into your rescue dog’s eyes?
Has he taught you about life and love?
What story do you see in his eyes?
I want to hear all about it.
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All around the circle
P52, or Project 52, is a weekly blog circle challenge. Dog photographers around the world are blogging about eyes this week.
I know I took a solid left turn with my interpretation of The Eyes Have It, chatting with you about Spokane rescue work. Go see what everyone else is writing about and when you find yourself back here, you’re home.
Your next look is at Kim Hollis, who owns BARKography. She photographs dogs in the greater Charlotte, N.C., area and other cities around the United States and Canada.
Wait … what? Canada! Yeah, she did a retreat for dog photographers at Banff last August. Why wasn’t I there?!?!?!