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On Mother’s Day and Doing Something

May 13, 2011

Do you have room in your heart and home for me?

This is Willy, he’s a boxer mix who’s up-to-date on his shots and good with kids and dogs. He was first rescued from Miami Dade Animal Services, where there was distemper in March and the chosen solution was to kill all of the dogs. After a brief battle, rescues were given a short window of time in which to pull the dogs and they did. Willy is one of those dogs. He was taken in by Comfort Kennels in South Florida, which then abandoned its dogs shortly thereafter and he was re-rescued by South Florida Recycled Dog Rescue.

South Florida Recycled Dog Rescue is housed in a 5,000 square foot facility about 35 minutes south of me. Though I did once try to volunteer, Sky in tow, within five minutes that revealed itself to be a terrible idea. How much can you get done at a rescue when you’re supervising a 10.5 month old human? Not surprisingly, the same amount you can get done at home when you’re supervising a 10.5 month old human, which is to say, practically nothing. And definitely nothing of quality.

For Mother’s Day, my husband stayed home with Sky so I could help at the rescue. I wanted to be able to do something. And that something was walk a bunch of dogs and transport a handful from an adoption event. It wasn’t much, but the point is that I’m not in a position to go down there on a Tuesday and do what needs to be done for the dogs. But I do have a car, and I do have a free babysitter (his name is Dada), and without transportation to events each weekend the 40 dogs at the rescue will likely never get adopted.

A neighbor of mine said, “Yeah, but they’re just 40 dogs, and if they ever even get adopted there are 40 more right behind them.” Part of veganism is respect for the individual. And regardless of breed or the situation they came from, each of these individuals deserves a loving home. And you might be surprised by what you can contribute. Check out the Wish List of your local rescue. They might need towels and blankets. Got a bunch you’re not using? Maybe they’re having a food drive. Got $20 for a big bag of food? Some need office supplies or cleaning supplies. Some need washable dog beds and maybe you have a handful too many (like I did, but was irrationally thinking I’d be betraying Charles if I gave away his beds).

If you can foster, add your name to the Charlie to the Rescue database, if you want to make yourself available for transport, Yahoo has a Dog Transport Volunteers Group, and if your Facebook page looks anything like mine, every day you see opportunities to transport animals to and from homes, rescues, fosters, and even vets. The couple of hours you have on a Sunday afternoon to drive someone to the airport or across your state could be the one piece of the puzzle necessary to save that individual’s life.

But back to Willy. The founders of the rescue prefer not to have photos of the dogs in kennels. It’s depressing and they look like they’re in jail, they believe. Or maybe, depending on the breed perhaps, the bars make them look mean to some people. Others think that the kennel shots tug at heartstrings and are preferable for that reason. We all see so many snapshots of animals, and for some reason we look twice at some of them and not at others. I know there might be a variety of reasons for this, and I know that readers of this blog aren’t representative of the general public, but I’m going to ask anyway: What are your thoughts regarding images of animals behind bars, assuming the photo quality is the same as that of an animal not behind bars?

–Photo by Mary Martin, who needs to get some fun photo software and welcomes ideas.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Denise permalink
    May 13, 2011 9:12 am

    The reality is that they live behind bars, regardless of where they are being kept until they are adopted. People don’t want to see the reality, they want to see the dogs playing in green grass just as happy as they can be so they don’t have to face the reality that they live in concrete jail prisons. I believe showing how they live day by day should be a reminder of the need for adoption.

  2. May 13, 2011 9:30 am

    Truth is harsh. They live a short time behind the bars or what ever, because we humans have made it that way. I have seen many photos taken by people who use the fences and bars to the animals advantage. A frame for a being that just wants to love and be loved.

    Behind bars or not, they all need homes, and the more people that see their faces (bars or not) the more likely someone will connect with them and bring them home.

    Thank you, from all the Willy’s out there, who just want to love someone, unconditionally, for taking the time, the effort, to help. One dog at a time until they all have a home.

  3. May 13, 2011 10:58 am

    I do the Petfinder.com pictures for my rescue. I try so hard to get pictures that capture each animal’s individual spirit and make them as pretty and presentable as possible. Good pictures mean good adoptions, and I get comments all the time about how people saw a beautiful picture are were drawn to a dog or cat because they could see the personality shining through. It’s harder to capture that when your pictures are of a dog or cat staring wide eyed behind bars, scared and stressed.

    The truth is harsh, but there is little to no evidence that sad pictures of sad animals really encourages people to get out and adopt. Many people see those pictures and do not want to come to the shelter because it’s sad and they will feel sad. And it is sad. It is horrible and sad and depressing, but we don’t want to scare people away before they ever get there. Will some people see those sad shots and have an emotion response and actually react by adopting an animal? Yes. But those people who are adding an animal to their family not as a spur of the moment decision seem to prefer other types of shots, in my experience.

    Of course, if it’s a choice between pictures of animals in cage and no pictures at all, pictures are better every single time.

    • May 13, 2011 11:19 am

      @Jennie – You raise an interesting point. I have a very difficult time going to a shelter/rescue. Violet Rays was brought to us, Emily and her baby Lars were adopted at an event at a PetSmart, and Charles was brought to us. I did go to several shelters and rescues and tend to avoid it at all costs. My husband refuses to go. Even the best kept rescue, for me, is terribly depressing. This is why getting out into the community to have events is so important. And I think this is also why pictures that aren’t depressing are probably preferable. The spur of the moment decision based on pity is another important point you raise. With the Miami situation, many people responded to the pathetic photos captioned *URGENT-THIS GORGEOUS BABY WILL BE PTS* and ran to the shelter to adopt dogs only to surrender them to rescues days later because they weren’t actually looking for a dog or they didn’t think it through or they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

      • May 13, 2011 11:42 am

        Exactly. People who have an intense emotional reaction and adopt an animal because of a sad picture are sometimes simply not really interested in long term care. I’ve been there, when the most important thing is just that the animal not die, but there’s no real plan beyond that. Plans are important! Look at the rescue that took Willy, then abandoned him. That happens too regularly in high emotion situations.

        We try hard not to make our rescue depressing. It’s a no-kill, which helps with that. I spend a lot of time taking pictures of the dogs outdoors, often in their playgroups, where they are happy happy happy, in the hope that someone will say – that could be MY dog playing in MY yard with me. I bring the cats out of their cages and into the conference room and spend time loving on them before taking their pictures. Quite honestly, I find it peaceful and relaxing to spend time with them and I hope people see that in their photos.

  4. Marji permalink
    May 13, 2011 11:35 am

    I don’t think pictures of dogs behind bars serve us well in terms of adoption for the average adopter. I think they have their place in advocacy campaigns, though, and maybe they are useful for rescues or fosters who are taken in by pleading eyes and baleful glances (that may not have come across as I intended, which was meant positively).

    But your average dog adopter wants to see a dog who is doing normal, dog things. Like playing with other dogs. Chasing a ball. Sitting happily and staring into the camera. Hanging out with children. They want to be able to visualize that dog in their home. I don’t think that is feasible when the picture shows a frightened or sad animal.

    For photo editing software: Corel PaintShopPro is a cheaper alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop. And Adobe’s Lightroom is relatively inexpensive (for photo editing software, that is). I use the first two but loved some of the features of the third one.

  5. May 13, 2011 11:43 am

    Adobe Photoshop Elements is another cheap one. GIMP, which is free, is also decent. And free!

  6. May 13, 2011 11:52 am

    That’s a good question, Mary – are the photos of dogs at their best or the photos of dogs that look like they need lots of help more effective?

    My initial inclination is to say that the very carefully photographed dogs probably have a higher rate of adoption. I always point to the Nevada SPCA (http://www.nevadaspca.org/) as having some of the best animal photography. It’s very effective (though I have no statistics to back that up).

    Then I look at some of the “to be killed today!” postings on Facebook, etc. of dogs that are on death row, taken inside cages with poor lighting, and the dogs not looking all that great physically. It tugs at the heartstrings and, in a lot of cases, is all that a shelter may be able to (or be willing to) provide. I think there’s some subliminal affect that makes these dogs seem less adoptable by the way they’re visually presented. While certain types of people might be drawn to these types of photos for the sadness (and, yes, reality) that they invoke, I’d be very curious to see how good photography along the lines of the Nevada SPCA would increase the adoption rate of “death row” animals.

  7. May 13, 2011 12:49 pm

    Thanks for the input and suggestions! This is a new thing for me–taking photos of the dogs–and I know that when I see greyhound photos they’re almost always happy (as happy as greyhounds can look, anyway). The rescue groups don’t use photos of the dogs muzzled, and they’re almost always muzzled while playing or being transported in groups because they’re nippy and their skin tears so easily. When you see a photo of a muzzled dog it’s striking–and not in a good way–although when it comes to advocacy it reminds you of what the dogs are made to do (race while muzzled, and often even sleep muzzled).

    The Nevada shots are fun and sort of campy. Definitely not depressing. The dogs I’m photographing are at a no-kill rescue, so it’s not as if their actual life depends on being adopted, which is good, yet not as urgent. I like the idea of being able to imagine the dog in your life because of the picture. I’d definitely have to spend much more time with the dogs to get a feel for who they are and how to best try to photograph them as individuals. For now, I’ll continue to get the best shots I can and spiff them up with some of the recommended software and get them out there. (The above photo and all others including bars aren’t being used.) Thanks!

  8. Celeste permalink
    May 13, 2011 2:18 pm

    I take lots of pictures at the shelter, doing this and networking saves lots of lives, I also video.. I feel YES the photo needs to be taken of them in their kennel.. that is their true being in there, they are not out walking around and happy.. they are stuck in that little area, that is how they live in there day in and day out.. I think how I am doing it is fine and true and WORKS to get them out..
    Thank you!!

    • May 13, 2011 2:23 pm

      It is one thing when they are behind bars and another when they are at a sanctuary. Celeste’s photos are some of the best and they do work. Not all the dogs look sad and forlorn, but she is right, that is where they are, at that moment in time.

      Many times you cannot get them out of their runs to be photographed. It depends on the shelter. As mentioned above, any photo is better than none. Their eyes don’t lie, ever.

    • May 13, 2011 3:05 pm

      *shrug* What little research there is suggests that people prefer the happy photos. We all already know they are in a shelter and need to be adopted. We want adoption to be a happy and nice experience for people, because the average American doesn’t want to subject themselves to something unhappy or unpleasant, even to save a life. That’s the cold hard truth. Vegans already know this. Make adoptions easy and happy while never forgetting to remind people that adopting is the right thing and these animals NEED out, and animals seem to be adopted faster. How is taking a dog out of the kennel to a run or a yard any less true?

      If you can’t get an animal out of a kennel, of course, that’s another story. I sometimes photograph cats inside their kitty bunkers if I can’t coax them out. But I would still go out of my way to open the cage or step inside the run to avoid showing the bars.

      And I wasn’t suggesting their eyes “lie”. But you must realize that the eyes of a scared or stressed animal look different from the eyes of a relaxed animal. It’s a physical fact.

      This isn’t hard to achieve: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shesautomatic/5681969107/

  9. May 14, 2011 7:10 am

    Interesting note on FB this morning about the photographer who was fired from Manhattan’s ACC for taking pictures of the animals with humans snuggling, etc… I have to run to the rescue so I don’t know the entire story yet, but here’s the link:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/urgent-part-2/effective-immediately-no-one-will-be-taking-pictures-or-sending-pleas/222345784458631

  10. May 14, 2011 3:02 pm

    I recently wrote a blog entry critiquing the Green environmental movement from a Marxist perspective. It covers the locavore and organic foods movement, deep ecology, permaculture, lifestyle politics (veganism, freeganism, etc.), ecofeminism, and “radical” environmentalism (Green anarchy, veganarchism, and anarcho-primitivism).

  11. May 14, 2011 3:03 pm

    I’d be interested in hearing your feedback.

  12. Olivia permalink
    May 14, 2011 11:55 pm

    I know someone who for the past few months has been videotaping the shelter dogs at Brooks in San Antonio. As a volunteer, she has to do the filming from the hallway.

    In February a local TV station, KSAT, did a story on her (http://www.ksat.com/news/26920756/detail.html). Today the same station started promoting all of the kennel’s Last Chance Dogs, as she calls them, on its home page: http://www.ksat.com/lastchance/index.html. Notice how she tries to interact with them as best she can, and how she tries to tell their stories.

    The dogs she features may not be prancing about on a lawn or hugged by a human, but they ARE getting some much-needed attention — and thus more are being rescued, thank goodness.

    • May 15, 2011 12:32 am

      Wow, the synchronicity there is great. Yes, any way to get them seen and pawsitive energy going to them.

  13. May 15, 2011 5:05 am

    Does anyone have experience with a well-run, private no-kill facility? I have some urgent matters to ask about and I have no experience in this area. I’m at mary@marymartin.net and appreciate any contacts.

    Thank you.

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