Archive | Volunteering

Strangest Animal – Tales with Tails

Strangest Animal – Tales with Tails

Winter of 2016 I found myself on a walk-a-bout. On a personal journey from Colorado to Washington state for several weeks of self discovery. Much of my time I spent with my daughter in the tiny town of Port Angeles, Washington.

With the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the North and the Olympic Mountains to the south I sat in the midst of photography paradise. I wandered down to the water to spy on seals & bald eagles. And up into the mountains for snowy Lake Crescent scenes.

But my heart yearned to photograph pets. Within two weeks I had tracked down the local humane society.

Olympic Peninsula Humane Society is located just on the edge of town nestled in lovely northwest trees and meadows. The OPHS has their own little forest with a groomed walking path that all the dogs know by heart. Near the dog building a rock garden and patio serve as a perfect location to pose adventuresome pups. In a separate building the cats enjoy huge suites and the bunnies have taken over the enclosed back patio.

On each of my four visits I had the honor of photographing whichever adoptable animals needed portraits. I posed a pair of pugs on a flat boulder. A regal pyrenees paused on the forest trail for her photos. An elderly cocker spaniel lounged on the patio for her session. We gathered all the Christmas decorations from the entire facility to create a holiday set for a litter of foster puppies. Kitties of all ages enjoyed rolling around on the soft fabric of my portable table top studio. (Yes on my walkabout my photography gear filled half my Subaru so I was well prepared for any photo adventure.) One bunny with a neurological condition managed to sit still for a few images (she was adopted quickly after that!) And one bunny we decided to surround with real carrots and lettuce for a fun studio set-up.

But the strangest animals I have ever photographed were also at the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society. I consider them strange because I had never personally interacted with one and honestly didn’t even know what it was when I looked at it. With the softest fur in the universe, a long bottle brush bushy tail, big round ears, shiny black eyes, teeny feet and cat like whiskers I had met a Chinchilla. Actually a pair of chinchillas.

According to Wikipedia, chinchillas are native to Chili in South America. The chinchilla is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who once wore its dense, velvet-like fur. Unfortunately by the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare after being hunted for their ultra-soft fur.

Somehow chinchillas became exotic pets. But I wouldn’t recommend them! They are very difficult to care for. Again per wikepedia they need dust baths, low stress, strict room temperature regulation, and teeth care among many other needs.

This pair we learned were relatively wild. The previous owners did not handle them and likely did not 100% know how to care for them.

Only one employee at OPHS knew how to handle them. As gently as possible she cradled one at time in her hands for their adoption portraits. Very fast, small, delicate and unpredictable we decided against letting them go on the studio table set. The first one we used a soft pink towel to wrap her in and concentrated on close ups portraits. The second one was a little more comfortable so she simply held him in her hands. While not the ideal poses we managed to create some extremely cute images of these strange rodents.

Volunteering at an animal shelter brings surprises and challenges. I never know before entering who I will encounter. I will definitely never forget those soft, squirmy, exotic chinchillas.

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 8. Aired November 26, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


Tales with Tails – Seen Equals Saved

Tales with Tails – Seen Equals Saved

For years people have told me “I don’t know how you do it, I would want to take them all home.” Usually said with a sad expression and a sigh of defeat. Well meaning people everywhere can hardly comprehend how I can meet hundreds of homeless animals a year and not want to take them all home.

As a professional pet and people photographer I volunteer my skills each week to photograph adoptable animals at two local shelters. Animal House Rescue and Grooming and Fort Collins Cat Rescue Spay/Neuter Clinic here in Northern Colorado. I’ve also volunteered at Larimer Humane Society in Loveland, Colorado, at Furry Friends in Vancouver, Washington and Olympic Peninsula Humane Society in Port Angeles, Washington.  

Hundreds of dogs and cats have modeled for me over the years. I’ve even had the pleasure of photographing chinchillas, rabbits, rats, ferrets, lizards, pigs, turtles, mice, fish, birds, guinea pigs and ducks. From the youngest puppies and kittens to seniors to special needs. Giant breed dogs to tiny mice. Well behaved to shy to rambunctious. Yes even neglected, abandoned and terminally ill.

So how am I able to look all those precious needy animals in the eye and not scoop them up and take them home? Can I turn my heart on and off? Do I ugly cry after each session? Do I have special powers of resistance?

I’ve decided on my role in their lives and my mission. I strive to take photographs that will speak to potential adopters. That will make someone’s heart skip a beat causing them to stop scrolling through pet adoption pages and introduce them to a perfect furbaby for their family. I am a connector.

I know good photographs make a difference. Recent statistics from found that good photographs increase adoption rates by 60%! Their recent campaign “Seen Equals Saved” urges creatives to use their skills and talents to make a difference in the lives of these animals and to ease the burden of rescue organizations throughout the country.

With the giving season upon us consider how you can give. You don’t have to adopt them all! You can volunteer photography, design skills, social media savvy, fostering, dog walking, litter box cleaning, and more. (Of course all our favorite organizations could use cash also!)

Wherever you are in the world you can make a difference. You could change the world for one animal today just by sharing a social media post, calling the shelter for a cleaning shift or donating time or money from your business. Every effort counts.

For this  holiday season and beyond let’s all #GiveWhereOurHearLives.

Listen to the narrated version on the Tales with Tails podcast Episode 7. Aired November 20, 2018.

Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts and your favorite podcast app.


HeArtsSpeak Guest Post

As a proud artist contributor to HeArtsSpeak I had the honor of being invited to write a blog post.

HeARTs Speak is a nationally recognized 501c3 nonprofit organization that’s uniting art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals.

As a prolific livestreamer they asked if I could help teach other volunteers some tricks. The focus of the blog post is to help animal causes learn live streaming to increase adoptions, fundraising and education.

Follow me to the post Live, Authentic, and Imperfect: The Power of the Live Stream. Where you will learn the before, during, and after steps in creating live streaming content.

If you are running a non-profit, a blog or social media channel or a business you will find golden nuggets of info you can implement this week. Pinky-promise!




Animal Shelter Photography Volunteer Questions

Adoptable Kittens     Adoptable Puppies

Would you like to volunteer your photography services at a local animal shelter? Photographing adoptable animals is super rewarding! Your images can help a pet find a home, event photos can help non-profits in grant applications, and special events can help spread the word about their services. 

Before you walk in that shelter and start clicking away photographing those cute fuzzy kittens and playful puppies there’s some prep work that definitely needs to be done. Here are some tips from my last two years working with several rescues and nonprofits.

Meet with the volunteer coordinator in advance. Every shelter and rescue have their own set of volunteer training, requirements, and guidelines. Training will involve a tour of the facility, including places that are off limits, they will talk about safe handling of pets, and you will be trained on any other procedures specific to that facility.

There are a few key questions you need to ask at either your volunteer coordinator meeting or at your volunteer training.

  1. How often do they expect you to volunteer? Some shelters have an open policy for you come in when you are available and some expect a certain number of hours per week scheduled. How long are you committing to? Some shelters require a 6-month commitment While others just need an occasional photographer.
  1. Will the shelter assign a volunteer helper or do you need to find your own? If you find your own do they also need to go through the volunteer training? This is a very important question especially if you’ll be photographing cats or small animals, you will definitely need a helper!
  1. How soon do they expect images from your session? I find it’s best to submit your images as quickly as possible. I always have images to the shelters and rescues by the end of that day. Some places do have policies in place that you need to have the images to them within a certain number of hours.
  1. What format do the photos need to be? Some sites and web pages need the image cropped to a certain size or aspect ratio. They may need a certain quality size resolution or pixel size. One shelter I worked with needed horizontal 8 x 10 images. Otherwise the images look stretched or squashed and distorted.
  1. How many images of each animal do they need? Some adoption pages can only take one image while others can have several.
  1. How will you deliver their images? All of the organizations I’ve worked with so far are happy to download all of their images from Dropbox. If you’ve created a higher resolution image for a special project you may need to look into another gallery site. If you’ve only taken a few small resolution images you may be able to just add them to an email attachment.
  1. Find out specifically who you need to email the final images or image link to. Some rescues and shelters have several people who need access to the images where others you need to just send it to one person and they will forward it to the appropriate people.

Once you start volunteering be reliable! Everyone is relying on you to be professional, prompt, and consistent.

For more resources video tutorials and handy tips consider joining HeArtsSpeak. This is a community of creatives who volunteer their services to animal causes, rescues and shelters. If you have any questions you are welcome to ask me, I would love to help!