When people think about volunteering at an animal shelter or pet rescue organization, they typically imagine walking dogs or playing with cats. All of which is great fun, and if you want to spend your spare time walking dogs and playing with cats (and who doesn’t?), I strongly encourage you to talk to the volunteer coordinator at your local shelter or rescue.
But shelters and rescue organizations can use more than just dog walkers and cat entertainers. There is a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work that has to be done to make sure that the organizations run smoothly, and you probably don't realize that what you consider to be 'basic' skills make you a Shelter Super Hero. Do you have mad filing skills? Do you type 100+ words a minute? Do you design and maintain databases for fun? Do you like coordinating schedules and organizing things? Do you like being an administrator on a Facebook group? If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, you have the makings of a Shelter Super Hero; office work is essential for any rescue organization, and you still get all of the joy of knowing that you are helping adoptable animals find their ‘fur-ever’ homes. If you want to donate your time and skills, go call or email that volunteer coordinator immediately! Go on. I’ll wait. Seriously; I'll still be here.
Welcome back! Personally, filing is not my thing. As for typing, well, spellcheck is my friend. And while I do design and maintain databases for a living, it’s not my passion; when I come home at the end of the day, I want to take photographs of my pets, I don’t want to build databases. I am, however, related to people who build databases for fun, as well as people who build new computers out of spare parts. Luckily for me, shelters and rescue organizations also need photographers; with the importance of Petfinder, and Facebook and Instagram and Twitter in matching pets with owners, a great photograph of an adoptable animal can vastly increase the chances of a pet getting adopted quickly.
After some research, I found the perfect match for me - the Salt Lake County Animal Shelter is a high-volume, no kill animal shelter, fairly close to my day job, and always looking for photographers to help them out. I completed the volunteer training and recruited a friend of mine to be my photographer's assistant, and once she completed her volunteer training we were ready to go.
My first shoot at the shelter was last week, and it was a fantastic experience. Because my assistant and I were new volunteers, we had a dedicated staff member to make sure we were comfortable with the entire process, a list of dogs and cats, a bag of treats, and a squeaky toy, and we went to work. All of the animals at the shelter are taken out for multiple play sessions and enrichment sessions during the day, and the photography sessions were a 'bonus' session for the animals. Since we were new to the animals (and the animals were new to the shelter) we worked with the animals to see what commands they knew, and we got to discover their personalities.
Our first dog was Nisha, a shy red Australian cattle dog mix. Because Nisha is a little shy, she has been working with one of the on-site dog trainers. With some treats and some one-on-one attention she was able to relax and investigate the camera.
Next up was Wes, a very handsome chocolate Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix. Wes has strikingly gorgeous eyes!
Then we got to meet Nena, a gorgeous Pibble. Nena found the camera fascinating, and I found Nena fascinating, so we had a mutual admiration thing going on!
After Nena, we moved on to a couple of little dogs. While my dogs are of the medium-sized variety, I have a special affection for little dogs. The first guy we met, Hershey, is very cute and very endearing - and with a bit of an underbite, he is very Muppet-like!
Our final dog of the day was Ziggy. Ziggy is a bouncy bundle of energy, and trying to get her to sit still for a 'glamour shot' was a bit of a challenge, so we worked with her strengths!
I enjoy photographing pets, and I'm consider myself very fortunate to be able to donate my time and skills to helping adoptable animals find their perfect families. If you want to help homeless pets, I encourage you to identify your skills and figure out what you really enjoy doing, and then check out your local shelters and rescues and work with the volunteer coordinators to find the perfect match for you. If you need any more convincing, volunteering really is good for your mental health, and you get to spend time with dogs, cats, and fellow pet-lovers! What more could you ask for?
Update: as of this posting, Nisha and Hershey have found their fur-ever homes!