I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Every Dog’s Dream

Every year the barrage of consumerism this time of year gets a little more intense than the year before. We need new gadgets, new clothes, new cars – on and on and on. There is nothing sweeter than the idea of a new puppy under the tree, and I am all for giving a pup a home at this or any time of year. The one thing I would urge you to do is to check out your local shelter.

There are so many dogs needing a home that there is really no need to buy from a breeder. Even if you are looking for a pedigreed pup, there are rescues for almost any type you can imagine. You would be stunned at the number of breeders who dispose of their purebred stock by dumping them in shelters when their breeding life is over. I know there are reputable breeders out there, but I have seen too many mill dogs in shelters. I know the struggle older mill dogs go through first hand, my 17-year-old Velcro still shows the signs of neglect and abandonment.

For the last couple of months I have been shooting at an amazing facility, Haven of the Ozarks. It is on about 10 acres and has smart, spacious pens with pools in the summer and shelters in the winter. The place is immaculate, and the staff – well it’s clear that the staff knows and loves their animals.

I’d like to introduce you to some of my new pals from the Haven – I asked the staff to give me three attributes so the personality points are from those who know them best.

If I could take them all home for Christmas – I would. I already have five, four of whom were rescues. There is nothing better than the feeling that you are giving a dog from a shelter or sanctuary a new life, a fresh start. I adopted a pup this summer and he lets me know how thrilled he is to see me every single day. He adds so much to my life, it’s impossible to be sad with a silly smiling mutt staring into your eyes and wagging its whole body. I gave him a home, but he gives me so very much more.

If you are thinking of a Christmas pup, check out your local shelter. If you already have a houseful of pups and want to help consider the following:

  1. Volunteer – just walking a dog every week will get it ready for a home and make it more adoptable. If you have a skill like photography, or writing, or rug making, or basket weaving – contact your shelter and offer to help.
  2. Shop on Amazon Smile – you can designate a portion of every purchase to a participating shelter, even if you are using Amazon Prime and it won’t cost you a cent – you can help The Haven by using this link – Amazon Smile. Many shelters also have an Amazon wish list – it’s so easy to just click an item and send them some much-needed supplies.
  3. Like – Haven of the Ozarks or your local shelter on Facebook. Share their posts because your friends and their friends just might know someone looking for a forever friend!

Shutterbug Notes:

I am always looking for a shady spot when taking photos of white dogs on sunny days. The perfect day is cloudy so there are no shadows or blow outs. Even more important than the light is to have fun with the pups – this is a special time for them too – they get to be the center of attention. Lavish your attention on them – they need and deserve it! 

Merry Christmas – remember this year to Adopt, Don’t Shop!

Enough About Rules – Shoot What You Love

I’ve written a lot about photography and some basic rules – having your camera with you, thinking about light, keeping things steady – but the essence of what makes you grow as a photographer is showing passion in your images. I don’t care if you are shooting with your iPhone or with a full-frame Nikon with a 600mm 2.8 Prime – it’s all just images unless you bring something to or something out of the image. When you shoot something you are passionate about it shows.

Although I strive to get all the technical points right, the highest compliment I get is when someone tells me that they get a sense of the personality of a person or animal from one of my photographs – that a still life evokes a sense of time or place. There’s nothing technical about that at all – and that’s where the magic happens, that’s when a photo goes from being a snapshot to a photograph for me.

I’ve previously posted about a project I have been working on with the local Animal Shelter. I approached them about shooting fun shots for social media in the hopes of it helping to garner interest in their dogs. If we can show a dog’s personality and not just its size, shape, and color – could this increase interest in a shelter dog? I’ve been working with their amazing adoption coordinator who has taken these images and really made a splash locally in social media – people are sharing and following and really caring about the futures of these wonderful dogs. We have had people see the dogs on Facebook and drive several hours to meet them – based on a photo!

So what does this have to do with shooting what you love? Well, I have always loved dogs, but as I get into this project I have found that I really am passionate about them and their prospects for a home. Shooting them is not easy. It’s harder to get a good capture of a dog that it is to get a bugling elk or a cardinal on a tree limb. They move fast! They are super excited to interact with people, especially people who care. I have left the shelter sweaty, muddy, and have ruined a couple of t-shirts – but it’s worth it.

Take a look at some of my pals from the shelter – can you tell that I love these guys?

Be sure to click on an image and scroll through – you’ll see the camera settings and get an up close look at these great pups!

I love how they almost always smile for me. The crazy thing about most of these shots is that apart from the car photos these were mostly taken at the shelter – often in a shady spot on the driveway or in a kennel. Throw down a blanket and you have a picnic! We try to get the dog out and away from the others and spend some time with it so that we can learn about its character, and that’s what always shines through.

You can help with this effort – if you are on Facebook go over and like The Haven of the Ozarks Facebook page – and share if you are so inclined. If you love dogs and love taking photos – contact your local animal shelter about helping out – great photos can really make a difference!

Shutterbug Notes:

  1. You can’t give up when a pup is uncooperative. The shot of Rex in the grass was taken after following him in a large pen for over 20 minutes in the heat and humidity last July. We were muddy and exhausted, but we kept trying to get him to make eye contact – he was so excited by our attention that he was a bit hyper. That last shot was the one. I get a real sense of his playfulness and humor from that shot. I’m glad we didn’t give up!
  2. I use the pronoun “we” a lot because none of these shots were taken by me alone. An Adoption Coordinator, Carolyn, leads, cajoles, tempts, and plays with these guys while I chase them around with a camera. Notice that they are almost all on leashes – if we are out of a kennel, they are leashed for their safety and Carolyn is on the other end of that leash. She also wants great shots and doesn’t let me give up too quickly.
  3. Shooting dogs with white hair or spots can be challenging in direct sunlight – that’s why we shoot in shade to prevent blow outs. If you can get an overcast day then shoot all you can, but in the real world of a busy shelter you have to shoot when the staff has time or when new dogs come in.
  4. Check out my settings – I shoot with the fastest shutter speed I can with the light available. Shelter dogs don’t pose, and you’re lucky if they sit when they are excited to spend time with you. I use the fastest lens I have at a wide to medium focal length. I shot most of these with a 14-40 mm 2.8 lens. Fast glass really serves you well when you want to get the best shots in all lighting conditions.

Let’s Focus on Finding Jagger a Home!

I’m continuing my series on the amazing shelter dogs who need homes available at the Good Shepherd Humane Society in Northwest Arkansas. Photographing them has been such a joy – really getting to know pups like Boots (who has been adopted!) and Shakespeare (who is far too cute to be at the shelter much longer!).

Today I want to tell you about Jagger.

The first time I visited the Good Shepherd facility I noticed Jagger. He seemed focused on me, the visitor to his world. He was in a large shady pen that is more like a small backyard than a kennel. There were two other dogs in that space with him, but he seemed to be the man in charge. He looked to be some type of pit bull mix, with eyes that almost smiled.

I returned the following weekend to photograph the first set of dogs and Jagger was in the pen I was going to use to shoot in. He was easy to handle as they moved him to a temporary location while I shot the others first. As the last on the list on a hot day I was thinking that he was probably like me, a little tired from the morning rush, but he was not at all tired – he had been waiting for his time with me and he gave me the whole show.

Jagger is a dog with amazing focus. He has razor-sharp reflexes.

He is dead serious – about playing.

Jagger fetches and flawlessly catches treats in mid-air. His accuracy is astounding.

His heart is huge.

His need is great.

I recently learned that this gorgeous boy has spent his entire life at the shelter. He has never known a home except for that small yard. No wonder he seemed to be the man in charge. Here’s where looks can be deceiving – yes, Jagger is intense – but he is also gentle, and sweet, and careful. He’s very well socialized and loves other dogs. He loves going on excursions, and he accompanied a staffer to an art show last week. He loved the chance to get out and meet people. He deserves a chance at a real home with a real family.

So if you are serious about adopting a dog who will be serious about devoting his whole life and energy to you – Jagger is waiting to meet you. Don’t make him wait to long, he’s more ready to come home.

You can learn more about Good Shepherd and all the dogs available for adoption here:

https://www.goodshepherd-hs.org

https://www.facebook.com/GoodShepherdHumaneSociety?fref=ts

PS – I am not trying to promote my blog when I encourage you to share, I would love it if you would share this post on your blog or on social media. I need this fella to finally find a home.

Shutterbug Notes:

Jagger moves quickly when playing – I used continuous tracking auto-focus and burst shooting. It allowed me to increase the odds of getting an action shot in focus. I also pushed up the ISO to 400 – on a sunny day the trade-off is a no brainer – very little noise. This allowed me to shoot with a fast shutter speed – 1/800th second. I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. Most of these shots were at f4.

Much Ado About a Little White Dog

My last post was about a new project I am doing with the local animal shelter – I am taking fun photos of dogs in an effort to help them get adopted. I wrote about Boots, and adorable pup who has since been adopted. The idea is simple – take some photos of a dog having a great time and the shelter can use these on social media and promote these pups and find them great forever homes. Those sterile clinic shots just don’t give you the mental picture of a pup fitting into your life, so let’s try some lifestyle shots of dogs at play.

Shooting them was more challenging than I had anticipated. The first dog we photographed was a scrappy fella named Shakespeare. He looks to be a Chihuahua/Terrier mix in my completely amateur opinion. He caught my eye the first time I visited the shelter – he seemed to be the lord of the manor – master of all he surveyed when I captured him in a holding pen.

Much ado about who's the boss!

Much ado about who’s the boss!

My first impression was that he was completely unflappable. He reminded me of my Jack Russell Terriers who pack so much authority into a tiny package. When I learned he would be the my first customer I was pretty excited – I love a dog that owns the place!

What I discovered is that Shakespeare is shy and a little overwhelmed by the larger world. At first he couldn’t get enough of the running and playing. But suddenly he was aware that he was in a very large yard so he carefully came back towards me to check things out. We had some treats and he wasn’t sure about me at first, but after a few minutes he let me pick him up and he was a pure snuggle bug. I loved his energy and sweetness!

If you or someone you know is looking for a friend that will forever be true, the Shakespeare might just be the pup for you.  Contact the Good Shepherd Humane Society and ask about him – he’s a real character!

Also – feel free to share this post. The more people who see Shakespeare, the more likely he is to find a home!

https://www.goodshepherd-hs.org

https://www.facebook.com/GoodShepherdHumaneSociety?fref=ts

Shutterbug Notes:

Shakespeare is small and pretty quick on his feet so I used a fast lens build for capturing the action. I set the ISO up to 400 knowing that in decent light there would be no issues with noise with the aperture open to f2.8. I shot most of these at about 1/1000 second.  I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. My best shots seemed to come after I had earned his trust – so take your time with a more reserved subject. Let them get comfortable and let them to their own selves be true.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Last weekend I got the chance to do something I have wanted to try for a very long time.

Nothing makes me smile like a dog smiling at me.

Nothing makes me smile like a dog smiling at me.

I contacted someone at my local Humane Society after seeing a post on Facebook about getting fun shots of shelter pups that show their personalities. The adoption rates increase dramatically when you see a shot of a pup having fun and enjoying the experience versus a shot on a cold tile floor in a dog run. In my pursuit of wildlife, my favorite shots are those that capture a bit of personality or interaction with the viewer. If I can do it with a blue jay, I thought, how hard would it be to do it with a dog?

Well, it’s a lot harder than I thought. First off, every dog needs to do a sniff test on any new area. We had a large fenced grassy field, but it had held different dogs over time, so every new pup needed time to take it all in. Some of them needed a very long time. One dog never looked up at all in the first 30 minutes, but others made a quick lap and then focused their full attention on their new friends with the camera and treats. It was a blast and the time spent actually helped me to learn a bit more about their personalities.

The Good Shepherd Humane Society is a no-kill shelter. Recently they took on a shelter in a neighboring town that had once been a kill shelter. The added facilities are great, but with this new addition they have to take in any dogs caught in the city and hold them. If they are unclaimed, then they can adopt them out. This means there is a constant flow of new dogs and cats into the facility. They have even sent dogs to other parts of the country that lack adoptable pets. It’s a noble work and I was glad to get to learn more about it – it confirms to me the need to adopt rather than buy a pet. There are so many that need homes.

With that said let me introduce you to one of my new friends – this post is really for the pups and it’s purpose is to get the word out about these terrific animals. I will post about all the pups I met in the days and weeks to come.

IMG_5265

Boots 

Boots is a lovable pup. She has a beautiful brindle coat and is very affectionate. She is submissive to other dogs and is a high energy puppy. She was torn between running for joy and sitting close by to see if there were treats on the menu. We were glad to see her enjoy both!

Be sure to scroll through to see camera settings and to check out Boots’ amazing eyes!

If you or someone you know is looking for a companion that will adore you from the minute you meet and will enrich your life by sharing hers with you – then Boots just might be the pup for you, Contact the Good Shepherd Humane Society and ask about her – she’s a keeper!

https://www.goodshepherd-hs.org

https://www.facebook.com/GoodShepherdHumaneSociety?fref=ts

Shutterbug Notes:

Boots is active so I decided that I would photograph her in the same way I would shoot a bird or a deer – I used continuous tracking auto-focus and burst shooting. It allowed me to increase the odds of getting an action shot in focus. I also pushed up the ISO to 400 – on a sunny day the trade-off is a no brainer – very little noise. This allowed me to shoot with a fast shutter speed – 1/1000th second. I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. Most of these shots were at f4.

You are my Sunshine

I live in that wide swath of the country that was hit by arctic storm Cleon. Funny, I didn’t know that they named winter storms, but I guess they do. Anyway, I have been housebound since prepping Wednesday night. I worked from home as a layer of ice blanketed the roads on Thursday. By the end of the day I thought the storm might be a bust – just some sleet and freezing rain. I felt silly for getting out the Carharts and putting the survival kit in the Jeep so early – after all it is still autumn. Cleon raged on Friday and by noon there was a foot of snow over that ice. I would work at my computer for a few hours and then I would have to get up and pace up and down the hallway – the signs of cabin fever were beginning to show. I was out of bread, apple cider, and chocolate. I stepped outside over my lunch hour and shot some birds during the flurries (I’ll save those for another time) but as I passed the 48 hour mark my mind was on all the things I didn’t have. A trip out to the firewood pile to restock was about as much fresh air as I had gotten and I was feeling a bit stir crazy.

Well, this post isn’t really about me (although it sounds like it so far – right?). You see, I live in the Stone House with 4 dogs – 4 very active dogs. Three terriers – Kirby, Velcro, and Squeegee – and a lovely Goldendoodle named Sunshine. I have written posts about all the terriers and their journey to the Stone House, but I’ve only written a dog shaming piece on Sunshine and that is a shame. You see, Sunshine is a very special dog and deserves his own story.

Sunshine is the last dog to be added to my pack. I never imagined that I would own more than two dogs, but then I saw sad Velcro at and adoption fair. After one of my pups was killed by uncontrolled dogs and Kirby came to live with us I began to think about the safety of my terriers. They say that a terrier is a big dog in a small body, but the truth is that when a big dog approaches aggressively these small dogs are scrappy but no match. I started thinking about what kind of dog would blend in with my pack, have a significant size, and would be gentle enough not to harm the smaller pups. I began to research Labradoodles and Goldendoodles. I had made a few calls to breeders and was considering a drive north to look at some dogs. The reputation of the doodles – crosses of Labs or Golden Retrievers with poodles – is one of gentleness, playfulness, loyalty, and they are supposed to be hypo allergic to boot.

I was talking one day with some friends when I mentioned that I was interested in looking at some doodles, but that I was hesitant to buy a dog from a breeder. I really prefer to rescue pets if possible. Someone told me about a group of Goldendoodles that she was fostering. The story was that their owner had died and they had been left unattended to when they were still nursing puppies. He was shy, tall, easily frightened, and had been unsuccessfully placed more than once. He sounded perfect!

When I met Sunshine he was going by the name Duke. I sat down on the couch and he immediately approached me – a good sign. I took him home and he was a little tentative getting out of the car. He walked behind me, hiding behind me as I moved towards the other dogs. As they approached he just laid down on the ground and looked them in the eye. Before the first evening was over he was fast friends with all three terriers. I saw his long blonde mustache and beard and thought he reminded me of an old mellow hippie named Sunshine – so Duke became Sunshine.

Sunshine is the complete opposite of a terrier. He is mild-mannered, gentle, careful, protective – he is a tiny dog in a tall body. He likes to try to hide under tables, even though he just doesn’t fit. When he plays. you can see the poodle in him – he gets his body low behind his outstretched front legs, ready to pounce. He has only two fears, thunder and gunfire – both of which are not uncommon in the woods. Beyond that he will defend me from any danger. He hikes with me, camps with me, and just hangs out with me. I probably neglected to write about him because he is easy. He isn’t pushy or demanding, although he does like his hand held at least once a day.

What made me think about writing about Sunshine today was the sunshine on that foot of snow in my yard. The dogs have been cooped up just like me – running outside for less than 5 minutes in the extreme cold. Today’s sunshine beckoned us all to come out and play. Sunshine hates it when it’s snowing, but the boy loves fresh snow. Here’s a gallery of him as he enjoys that virgin powder in the glorious sunshine – click through to get a sense of his movement:

Sunshine is that dog that watches you and anticipates your next move. He very gently inserts himself into your routine. He lies on a rug while I cook. He’s laying at my feet under my desk as I type this. He is always close by. He is not, however, hypo allergic. He sheds like a horse. I find blonde dust bunnies in ever corner on the floor and his addition to my home has necessitated another addition – a Dyson Animal. Speaking of the Dyson, I need to wrap this up and vacuum – it’s getting awfully fuzzy in the corners of the Stone House.

Because Sunshine doesn’t have as jealous bone in his body, I know he would not mind me including a slide show of his best pal in the snow. Snow is the one thing that Sunshine is the front-runner in their relationship. Kirby had to watch Sunshine run before he was sure he wanted to try it out. Again, click through for a sense of movement.

Everyone needs a little Sunshine in their life!

It’s hard to believe that this is my 200th post. I have been thinking about where I want to take theeffstop. I know I want to take good photos and share thoughtful or silly stories. I get a lot of comments about the camera settings I have shared, so I will continue to include those, but I will put them at the end of each post. I’m not really interested in writing a how-to blog, but I love sharing the knowledge I have picked up along the way. Thanks to all of you who have taken this journey with me. Your support and friendship have meant more to me than you will ever know.

Shutterbug Notes:

Both of these galleries were shot using Shutter Mode. On a bright sunny day you don’t have to push the ISO too high, especially in the snow. I set my ISO to 1000, Shutter Speed 1000. If you keep the focus point in the center of the frame you can focus on the face even as the running dog moves through the frame, in other words, give him room or you will cut his head off. 

Kirby’s Story

Several years ago there was a tragedy at the Stone House. I had three terriers – Velcro, Squeegee, and Zipper. Terriers are like no other dogs – stubborn, brave, fiercely loyal, and affectionate. Zipper was the only male and was the sweetest of the bunch. He camped and kayaked with me and had an weird habit of picking up bricks in his mouth and running away with them. He was odd and was very high energy, but was completely gentle around other animals. Once I spotted him out in my back field laying down in the grass watching a deer graze a couple of feet away from him. One day I heard the girls wail, it wasn’t a bark – it was very different and alarming. I ran outside to see that some roaming dogs had killed my sweet boy. The girls were inconsolable. I was inconsolable.

I’m not the kind of pet owner who heads out to replace a lost pup. I don’t think you can replace one, they are unique and each hold a special place in our hearts, but as the weeks wore on I could visibly see that the girls were mourning and I missed my cuddly adventure dog. I put up a post on a local BBS asking if anyone knew of a Jack Russell Terrier rescue or breeder in the area. It was time to move on.

Someone recommended a breeder and although I have typically rescued dogs, after a talk with her on the phone I decided to go look at some puppies. The kennel was quite remote – up a series of dirt roads about 20 miles off the pavement. They had a racing and training facility there, so I knew their dogs were not vanity terriers, they were working dogs. She showed me a couple of puppies and my heart melted – that baby animal serotonin thing kicked in. As I looked the two available pups the owners pointed out a dog to me in a large  training area. They told me his name was Cloud, and that they had bred him to compete for Confirmation. He was a gorgeous dog, I had never seen a terrier so perfectly proportioned. There was just one problem – he was terribly shy, so shy that he would bolt when touched by a judge in the ring. Worse still, his behavior was affecting the other dogs. He had been trained to race and to go to ground, but as a show dog he was useless. He needed a new home. He was 18 months old and had not been housebroken because he was a working dog. I sat with him for about a half hour, feeding him from my hand. The owners offered to let me just take him home with me. He had been adopted out once already and they were desperate to place him. They gave me his papers and I loaded him into the car for the two-hour ride home.

Cloud (Kirby's) first day at the Stone House

Cloud (Kirby’s) first day at the Stone House

Once we got back to my place I put him in a dog run that used to be on the property. My other dogs were on radio collars so they were free to run in a large circular area around the house. Cloud would have to stay in the run until he got used to me and could be trained on the fence. The run was attached to my shop building so he had an indoor outdoor area and I filled it with a new bed and lots of toys and blankets that smelled like me. The next day after work I went into the run to spend some time with my new boy and found that he was not at all open to letting me touch or even approach him. I decided that I needed him to bond with me in some way every day, so I fed him all of his meals out of my hands. He would grab a bite of kibble then bolt so that I had no chance to pet him. One day I thought I would try to walk him on a leash – after an hour of chasing him in the dog run I cornered him and he fought me so hard that I worried that he could be injured if I tried to force him to let me catch him – I needed to try something different.

I decided to put one of those old metal porch rockers in the dog run. I would sit in it each morning and evening for an hour or more feeding and talking to my new pup. Days passed, weeks passed – nothing. He seemed happy to see me, he wagged his tail each time I approached the run – but he was not going to let me touch him. This went on for 28 days. On day 29 I had an idea.

I brought Velcro into the run with me and I fed them both by hand. Each time I fed Velcro I would pet her and give her lots of affection. Cloud would watch and I could see that he was just a little jealous. After about 45 minutes of feeding both dogs he finally decided to let me touch him. I petted him under his ear and he pushed into my hands. He wanted to be petted! It was like a floodgate opened. He would not let me stop – it was like he had a skin hunger. I renamed him Kirby that night, because he was sucking up all the affection he could get. That night he moved into the house with us and the next evening I started training him on the invisible fence. He took right to it, and in a couple of days he was running with the girls.

That was in the summer of 2007. Today Kirby is very affectionate, but only when he chooses to be. He doesn’t make friends with everyone, but if he chooses you it means you must be pretty special. He protects the girls, who have reasonably become wary of any strange or unwelcome animal entering the yard. He and Velcro love to eat persimmons in the winter when they fall from the trees. He kayaks, he camps, he kills snakes – he is sweet, shy, and brave. He’s not Zipper, but he filled that hole in our hearts after we lost him – he filled it by choosing to love us on his own terms.

It’s only been recently that he has allowed me to take his photo. Perhaps he is a bit jealous of the birds.