Thursday, April 12, 2012

Photographing Shelter Pets

One thing that you learn in any job these days is the importance of a strong online presence. People shop for everything online: cars, clothes and yes, even pets!

Now, I don't mean those that are online shopping for the purebred golden retriever or those that are looking for a 'designer dog' to match their furniture. I am talking about the everyday person that is looking to bring a pet into their home and yes, those people that are looking to adopt. 

Every day, I hear comments like, "I don't want to go to the shelter to look at dogs, they all look so sad and it makes me feel terrible."

Well, I blame the ASPCA for giving shelter pets that reputation! We all see the commercials of the sad puppy or the dirty kitten looking pathetic, with a note asking for your donations.. but truly, those commercials are a face for stealing your dollars under false pretenses. The ASPCA spends a large sum of those 'donation dollars' on high-salaried executives while shelters across the nation suffer because people envision walking through a prison of depression and loneliness when they visit a shelter... 

So, I am on a mission to change that image. Of course, I will always continue to paint, it is my passion in life, but I am also slowly branching out into photography. My 'adopt me' series of photos will focus on adoptable pets at my own shelter, particularly the cats (we have some amazing photographers working with our dogs). 
Available for adoption through The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.
The Williamson County Regional Shelter is an amazing animal shelter. Last year, they had an overall save rate of 94% in dogs and 82% with cats. This means that of ALL animals entering the shelter, 94% of dogs were saved and 82% of cats were SAVED! These numbers are outstanding for any shelter (the average American shelter saves around 45% - 55% of animals) but for an open admission, rural shelter, these numbers are the result of hard work and dedication to the animals in their care.

As with any shelter, there are areas that need help. Not by fault of the staff, they work their tails off (pun intended) for these pets, but because there are only 24 hours in a day. One area that almost every shelter can use some help and expertise is in photographing the animals.

When potential adopters visit a shelter's website, the photo is the first (and sometimes only) impression those potential adopters are going to have. With any business, great photos and descriptions are absolutely key to drawing in those customers... but in the shelter business, a lack of customers costs lives. A change in the photo quality can mean the difference in that pet being adopted. 
Available for adoption through The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.

Take Lucky for example. I spend plenty of time with Lucky, she is one of my sweet babies that is staying at the Petsmart location near my house while she waits for her forever home. Lucky is a love-bug to the extreme! I can't walk without tripping over her as she curls around my legs. As soon as I sit down, she is in my lap, showering me with cuddles and 'making biscuits'. But... would you know any of that by looking at her original photo that was taken at the shelter? I don't think so... I would scroll right past her, and I am one of those extreme animal lovers! Now, look at that smile in my photo... what a HUGE change in perception a photo can make....

I'm not bragging about my photography skills (I am new to the photography game myself),  but even those that can barely hold a camera can get a better photo than the original one featured here. I am sure that the shelter staff is doing their best, but they do have so many other worries when it comes to the health and care of these pets that photos do usually get pushed to the back-burner. Volunteers are key and taking photos is a great way to give something back to your shelter! With a little time commitment, and a willingness to be patient in order to get a good photo... you can make a huge difference by updating pictures for your shelter. 
Available for adoption through The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter

Note the difference in Rhema above! Before she looked scared and a little mean. The gloves in the background could give the idea that she is sick and getting medical care, something that would make any adopter hesitate. Now, look at her new photo. This is a beautiful cat, with bright eyes and a confident look... this is a cat that any potential adopter would love to visit with! This is a photo that could change her life!

Now, on to those pets that seem to have the worst photos and, according to many, the worst adoption rates as well... Black Pets! Now, I LOVE black pets. I have a black cat that is one of my best buddies (he even gives me a massage every day while I am at my desk working)! But, often black pets get overlooked because their photos are boring. It's true, there is nothing special looking about black pets. But, that doesn't mean that their photos need to be boring! I want to encourage shelters to showcase their black pets by accenting them with color in their photos... put a bright bandana on black dogs, or a glittery collar on the cats. Simple eye catching photos with contrasting colors make an appealing look for pets that are solid. Note how Basil pops out with the brighter background in this photo. :-)

Available for adoption through the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.
My hopes are that more individuals might be able to take some time out of their schedule to update photos for your shelter. Our shelter pets are not the pathetic individuals that those ASPCA commercials portray them as... they are happy, loving pets that just need the perfect family to come get them. Photos can get those adopters into your shelter and ultimately save more lives! Who wouldn't want to be part of that??

Oh... and just for smiles... a big perk of volunteering is getting to love on these little guys and girls! :-)



Stephanie Conrad
The Pet Studio | Owner | Artist

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