A picture of a boxer adorns the wall of volunteer coordinator Ginny Sims’ Southern Pines Animal Shelter office. The dog’s warmth radiates from the 8-by- 10 frame and strikes curiosity in visitors.
Photographed by the members of the Southern Pines Animal Shelter Pet Photography Project, Hurricane Hercules smiled down as Ginny Sims recounted how a once isolated boxer found a home and embodied the photography project’s goal.
“He lost his owner in a traumatic way, and he was a behavior case,” Sims said. “We took this picture of him because he is happy and relaxed, and you can see him after the struggles. The response was huge. Before he came to the shelter, his other option was euthanasia in a boarding facility.”
Like Hurricane Hercules, many animals at Southern Pines whose pictures have been taken through the Pet Photography Project resulted in adoption. The group, established independently of the shelter on Sept. 8, 2011, set out to demolish the “arms of an angel” Sarah McLachlan guilt tactic for adoptions–such as in commercials that show abused and sickly animals–and started photographing happy, relaxed potential pets.
Sims, a former member of the Pet Photography Project, explained that the organization wanted to photograph the animals out of their cages.
“They didn’t want the bars to be in the way,” Sims said. “They wanted people to be able to picture the animals as pets. They would get to know their personality (and) photograph them in a way someone can visualize that pet in their home.”
Founders of the project Gus Bowering, Dorothy Ricks and Beth Bice conceived the idea and brought it to the shelter. The group started garnering attention from local photographers through word of mouth. Now, more than four years later, approximately 30 photographers and animal handlers compose the group.
Amanda Rester, Pet Photography Project chairperson, said the goal of the group was to photograph animals in a positive way and change the way people approach pet adoption.
“I liked the idea that the group didn’t focus on taking photographs of animals that looked like Sarah McLachlan should be singing in the background, but instead the animals (were) playing and interacting with people naturally,” Rester said. “I’ve seen firsthand how this group has changed the way people view shelters and adopting animals from shelters.”
Photographers and handlers observe the animals’ personalities by playing, walking and interacting with the potential pets before photographing them. Once the animals are relaxed and happy, the handler helps pose the pets while the photographer shoots.
Sims said the Pet Photography Project produced great results.
“Every animal on the property had their picture made,” Sims said. “All of a sudden, the animals were happy, and so people were happy to look at more pictures. At any given time, (the animals) were getting viewed by hundreds of people on Facebook. It gave the animals a new outlet to be showcased.”
Paige Odom, a senior biology major and member of the Pet Photography Project, said that it was nice to be able to help animals, especially those in shelters.
“Lending a hand to the shelter, even if it’s just holding a puppy for a picture, brings me so much joy,” Odom said. “These animals just want to be loved and to love someone in return. If having their picture taken helps them find a home, then I’m happy to have been a part of that process.”
The Pet Photography Project cultivates the idea that shelter animals are not always battered and abused animals. The photographers’ efforts allow the animals to expose their personalities on an intimate level. The project gives second chances to animals like Hurricane Hercules.
The Southern Pines Animal Shelter Pet Photography Project is recruiting more volunteers. For more information regarding volunteering for the project, visit the Facebook page or email volunteer@ southernpinesanimalshelter.org.