Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Don't fight the Help!

Lou, adopted through WCRAS.

As a volunteer for an open-admission shelter, my job of photographing animals can seen daunting and never ending. Luckily for me, I volunteer with a shelter that truly appreciates every single volunteer that offers their time and talents for the greater good of the shelter pets. Unfortunately, across the country, this is not always the case. 

As a member of several artist-based organizations, including one called Hearts Speak (Artist's Helping Animals), I hear the sad tales that come out of these shelters. Not necessarily the sad tales of the animals themselves, but of how shelters will alienate those that want to help. I hear the stories of egos getting in the way of life saving changes and stories of volunteers being banned or turned away when they make suggestions on how those shelters can improve their save rates and continue to help more animals. 

Each and every time I hear these stories,  I realize how wonderful the city of Austin truly is for homeless animals. My heart also breaks a little with each story as I know first hand how stressful and heartbreaking this work can be. It makes me wonder how any person involved in animal welfare can blatantly disregard programs or simple suggestions to help the animals in their care.
Reba, saved through WCRAS.
Due to the welcoming environment of the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, I happily donate my time helping not only with photographing animals, but with occasionally helping with marketing on social media. It's where my skill set lies, as I am constantly marketing my own business and artwork. I love being able to help in this way, but it also gives me personal insight into the types of images, stories and shelter happenings our supporters really respond to. Knowing these things helps us plan our marketing and reach new goals and audiences to share our shelter pets. Positive marketing for our shelter is priceless when it comes to bringing in adopters, and isn't that what it's all about? 

Just this week, I heard a story from a fellow photographer who donates her time in the same manner that I do. Her frustration lies with the shelter staff, as they continually post low quality sad shelter photos over her beautiful, cheery photos. The staff justifies this by stating that they want people to 'see  the sad animals and want to adopt them'.  After taking a peek at the shelter photos vs those that my friend has taken, I am horrified that the shelter staff even thinks there is a chance the 'sad' photos would get more attention. Over  the past 7 years, as Austin has become the largest No Kill city in America, I have learned many things, one of those being this; having a positive image for your shelter and animal welfare organizations brings in your community. No one wants to see sad things, and sad shelter photos keeps potential adopters, fosters and volunteers at bay. Not only are the photos depressing, they can give the image that your facility is dirty, your animals are sad and sick and that you don't care to put in the effort to ensure they are happy, healthy animals waiting for their forever homes. 
Professional photo shoots are priceless to shelter animals. A before
and after shot of a shelter cat named Mufasa, who was adopted shortly
after his new photos were added to his online biography. 
At almost any given time, you can look at our shelter website and see cheerful images of dogs and cats just waiting for the perfect family. After all, as a shelter, we are competing with breeders in our area, who no doubt are showcasing the adorable 'puppy in the window' image. The effort our photography team of 6 puts into our shelter image is incredible. We speak almost daily, with one volunteer putting together a list each morning to send to us, highlighting the animals that need updated photos, including where in the shelter they are located (in the dog adoption area, stray hold, etc). This helps us maximize our volunteer time and keeps everyone in the loop so we do not duplicate photos and end up hurting feelings by uploading images over another photographer's shots. The team work is beautiful and I know that we are all working together for the greater good of these shelter pets! 

A shelter with positive, bright photos is welcoming. Your website is often the first impression the public will have of your shelter. If you have low quality photos of animals up, how do you expect to be perceived? They say a photo is worth 1000 words, but I say, a photo can truly be the difference between life and death for shelter animals. 

If you have a photographer that wants to donate their time, welcome them! If you have a blogger who wants to write a story on a special dog available for adoption, invite them to tour your shelter! Volunteers give new life to charities and they have the passion and drive to truly help save lives! 

Stephanie Conrad

Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist