Concerned for displaced and abandoned pets, these artists help dogs by photographing, drawing and painting them to open hearts and homes.
With a needle in one hand, a veterinary technician was about to euthanize a dog, when she glanced at a photo that Nanette Martin had taken of him in the photographer’s effort to help dogs find homes.
The technician put the needle away and later told Martin, cofounder and executive director of Shelter Me Photography, that he simply couldn’t kill the dog after looking at the photo.
Artists throughout the country and around the world are focusing their skills on shelter animals. By taking pictures of them outside the walls of the shelter, by drawing them and by otherwise capturing their personalities in beautiful images, they hope to help dogs get adopted as quickly as possible. In other words: they save lives. Here are six heroic artists using their talent to help dogs move out of shelters and into homes.
Shelter Me Photography
This photo of Scooby by Nanette Martin was the reason the veterinary technician couldn’t bring himself to euthanize him.
Just after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Martin was taking photos for People and was horrified by the number of homeless animals. She began taking pictures of them, hoping they’d be rescued. When she later learned that rescue never came for the animals, Martin’s life would be changed forever. She decided to devote herself to helping animals, and she founded Shelter Me Photography. Martin takes photos of shelter animals outside the cages so that prospective adoptees may be more likely to adopt them. “One pit bull’s online picture was originally taken through the front cage with his mouth open, and he looked really scary,” Martin says. “We took him outside and took a new picture and he got out within 48 hours.” Shelter Me Photography travels by RV through the country taking photos and teaching workshops so that each shelter has the tools to continue taking better pictures to help dogs. On average, it costs her about $1,500 to shoot a shelter and to teach a workshop, but they don’t charge anything if the shelter can’t afford her services.
An Act of Dog
Mark Barone created 5,500 paintings for his organization, An Act of a Dog, representing the 5,500 dogs that are euthanized daily in shelters.
About 5,500 dogs are euthanized daily in shelters, so that’s the number of dog portraits artist Mark Barone created, intending to put the souls of the dogs back into the shelter dogs. He also doesn’t want the dogs to die in vain. He and his partner, Marina Dervan, created the charity An Act of Dog to use art to help dogs. The end goal: create a museum of compassion where these paintings will be housed, and provide an international education center for students to create purpose-driven art. The project started about five years ago when Barone’s dog died and Dervan began to look online for adoptable dogs. They realized many shelter dogs are euthanized and decided they needed to take action. Art was their means of making a difference. Barone paints each dog portrait on 12”x12” canvases, and each has a name and date of death. He even names the dogs that were given only numbers. Barone painted 10 of the dogs on larger 8’x8’ canvases. These were the more tragic cases, including Batman, a senior dog who froze to death, and Oreo, who survived being thrown out the window in New York and was euthanized even after adoption offers. An Act of Dog also has a shop that gives 100% of proceeds to 100 rescue organizations that help dogs find forever homes.
Hard Luck Hounds and Natalie Zimmerman
Natalie Zimmerman’s scratchboard portraits help the 10 percent of dogs who typically are the first to be euthanized.
The pit bulls, the older dogs, those who have special needs or just need some extra person to take care of them are always the dogs that linger at the shelters. These are the last 10 percent, the dogs who are first to be euthanized. Hard Luck Hounds is a program at the Austin Animal Center that has a waived adoption fee, and they work with artists like Natalie Zimmerman, whose scratchboard portraits give these dogs an extra boost that can save them. “I wanted to do scratchboard portraits of shelter animals, especially those that were difficult to place, because I am an animal lover and a big supporter of animal rights,” Zimmerman says. “My goal is to be an advocate by presenting these overlooked dogs as the potential loving companions the volunteers know them to be.” One thing Zimmerman never does as an artist? Disguise the “imperfections” of a dog. “I learned early on that it is the special markings — often called imperfections — that people remember most about their pet — and come to expect in their pet’s portrait,” she says. “It’s the personality of the pet that people fall in love with, and I think artwork in general highlights the personality of the dogs in a way that can make people see past breed prejudices.” Eventually, when the dogs are adopted, the new owners receive the artwork that Zimmerman donates.
Sophie Gamand’s Flower Power photographs focus on pit bulls, who have an unfortunate representation of being ferocious.
After she was mauled by a dog as a child, Sophie Gamand was apprehensive around large, energetic dogs. And the fact that pit bulls are banned in France, where she’s from, didn’t help her overcome her fear of that breed in the shelter where she volunteered. “Then one day, I realized my feelings were not based on personal experience but rather on a mythology I had read and heard over and over again,” Gamand says. She created a photo series to help dogs and to get to know them better, and when the series went viral, she decided to use Flower Power to rebrand the pit bull image and to help dogs of this breed become adopted. So far, Gamand has photographed about 550 pit bulls, some wearing flower crowns and some not if they don’t like the accessories. “There is no better feeling than this, when your art is able to touch so many people in so many ways and slowly make a small difference,” Gamand says.
When she met and adopted her four-legged soulmate, Iggy, in 2009 Lisa Fishler of Poughkeepsie, New York, was inspired to do more. “I discovered there was a disconnect in shelter marketing that seemed to serve as an unnecessary roadblock to animals finding homes, and I felt moved to find a solution,” Fishler says. She began photographing animals for local rescues and shelters — but she’s just one person. So Fishler created HeARTs Speak, a global network of artists which currently consists of nearly 600, of whom 95% are photographers in 47 states and 19 countries. They collectively provide more than 15,000 hours of service per month for more than 25% of animal welfare organizations, photographing more than 32,000 animals per month in the United States. “Our mission is to unite art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals,” Fishler says.
Determined to do something about the euthanasia problem in shelters, Shannon Johnstone originally began taking pictures of the euthanasia process itself. But instead of getting people to spay and neuter their animals in an effort to help dogs and to halt so many unnecessary deaths, the result of her initial photography was to anger. So she tried a different approach: take beautiful photos of the dogs alive, enjoying life. “Not only does this make the image more appealing, but it also gives the viewer a chance to change the course of the dog’s life before it’s too late,” Johnstone says. She takes a picture of each dog on a landfill because this is where the dogs will end up if they don’t find a home. Each dog she photographs for Landfill Dogs has been homeless at least two weeks and faces euthanasia. So far, she’s photographed more than 150 dogs. Of those, 140 have been adopted, 15 have been euthanized and 10 are still waiting. “I hope for two things,” Johnstone says. “First, I hope to create a conversation about animal overpopulation and, second, I hope to help the individual dogs who are affected as a result of it.”
What animal rescue organizations inspire you?