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.

I Think I’ll Stick with Velcro

Save Our Strays Collar and Tag

About 8 years ago I was shopping in Fayetteville, Arkansas at Petco. A friend and I had made a “dog food run” from Eureka Springs about 40 miles away. On this particular Saturday there was a Dog Adoption Fair in the parking lot out front by a group called Save Our Strays. I own a couple of Jack Russell Terriers so my eye stopped on an odd-shaped terrier in a kennel cage. She had a smaller head than my Jacks, but a much larger body. She was shaking like a leaf – this is not typical terrier behavior – they are more likely to pace or verbalize nervousness. I also noticed that she was no puppy. Most of the dogs there that day seemed to be cute little puppies. I stopped to ask some details and learned that this group visited the local shelter every Saturday and picked up all the dogs they could haul that were scheduled to be put down on the following Tuesday. My heart sank! I told her I would think about it while I shopped – I stepped inside the store and mentally went back and forth – I already had 2 terriers – plenty of dogs for me. Did I want the extra responsibility? Would it detract from my other pups? By the time I checked out I had picked out a collar – she was coming home with me. After all I had terrier experience and she was an older dog. I could give her a good life.

I headed out to the parking lot to find the volunteers loading up their tables and empty cages – I stepped over to ask about who might have adopted the terrier. “Nobody, we sent her back to the shelter about 10 minutes ago.” Again my heart sank. We tried to get the driver on his cell and left messages at the shelter – but it was after 5 and there would be no one there until Monday. I told the lady that I would write a check for the adoption fee right now if it were possible to get to her. I told her that I lived 40+ miles away and would be willing to make the trip as soon as possible.

Long-story-short the woman arranged to retrieve the girl Monday morning, she had her checked by a vet, groomed and took her home – by Wednesday I was headed west after work to pick her up. I had a brand new car and owning terriers I know what the shedding is like so I covered the seats with a soft plaid blanket and headed out. The woman told me that she had learned that the terrier was picked up on the roadside near the airport – apparently dumped. No one had called to claim her or report her missing. The vet had told her that she was likely a rat terrier and was about 6 years old. He thought that she had delivered pups sometime in the last year.

I loaded her into my rig and headed home – she sat like she was sitting upright in a chair and she watched me closely all the way home.

I adopted this dog without ever touching her. What was I thinking? I got her to the house and let her loose in the house and introduced her to the other dogs and I saw the terrier in her come to the forefront – she was playing with my pups who were both about a year old and she was playing with them like a momma dog – lowering her head and extending her legs forward. My male was twirling – he was clearly crazy about his new housemate. My female twirled around me – she decided right from the start to pretend that there was no new dog. She focused totally on me – being the one closest to me at all times. To this day the two sleep next to each other and face in opposite directions. That younger pup has yet to show any affection – she doesn’t hate her, she just prefers to pretend she doesn’t exist.

I put the other pups outside and decided to spend the rest of the evening bonding – and thinking of a name for my new old girl. About naming – I don’t worry about finding a clever or dog-like name – I tend to think that these things reveal themselves. So laid out that same blanket from the car on my couch and sat down. The girl snuggled up along side my leg and stayed there all night. If I got up she followed me, when I sat back down she snuggled in. When I showered she sat on the bathroom rug and waited – where I went she went. I decided to call her Velcro that first night – and she’s been sticking by my side ever since.

 

I’m not sure about her politics – but she’ll stick it out.

Velcro has some peculiarities.

First – she eats bugs…lots of bugs. She digs up grubs in the spring. She waits by mud dabber nests for the young to hatch – a tasty treat. Tonight when I came home she was eating honey bees near the water dish.

Velcro digs…a lot. Grub extraction is a messy business. In addition to bugs Velcro digs up moles and pack rats. I used to have new topsoil trucked in every summer, but at this point she’s 14 years old (more or less) and I’m never going to have a flat lawn while she’s on this side of the rainbow bridge. She’s a digger, but I’ve learned to be OK with that.

 

Velcro hard at work on Grub Removal

Hard at work being busy

Velcro sits funny – nothing wrong with this, but she sometimes looks like a charm school reject.

Velcro takes sitting very seriously

 

Velcro will only sit on the couch if there’s a blanket – in fact she will sit anywhere there is a blanket whether you want her to or not. Unfortunately she sheds like most terriers and I have decided the best thing I can do is own a high-capacity washer.

If there’s a blanket it must be for me!

Lounging is hard work.

 

When not on the couch Velcro loves grass. Unfortunately with the drought this year there hasn’t been much – but when the bluegrass is green, she’s got her belly in it.

Velcro almost disappears in the grass.

 

She almost flattens her thick body into the turf – when I mow she stays ahead of me, enjoying the deep grass as long as possible. She does not care for new-mown grass.

Velcro looking out across the mountaintop.

 

She’s spotted something that may be enticing enough for her to get up.

 

Velcro hunts by stealth. My other terriers bark and squeal at every animal that enters their space. Squirrels, snakes, deer, rabbits. With the exception of snakes, they never catch a thing – I think that’s because snakes are deaf – anyway, Velcro stalks her prey like a cat. She hunkers down in the grass and crawls closer and closer. This tubby, lazy girl has caught a rabbit, 4 squirrels, and a pack rat – and that’s just this month. She is a snake killer too – although a bite from a pygmy rattler nearly did her in about 6 years ago – she’s never been bitten since.

Soaking in the sunshine

Velcro does some other odd things. She loves to eat persimmons – and that’s OK by me because I have 2 trees and can’t stand them. She digs through the snow to eat them in the winter. I have 2 trees so there are always plenty. She tries to steal matches from the fireplace and I have caught her sneaking down the hallway with one – no idea what she wants with them. She also steals Sunshine’s toys – Sunshine is my goldendoodle pictured below with her. She doesn’t play with toys and has never had any interest in them – but she steals his and puts them on the blanket with her.

Friends don’t let friends keep their toys.

 

She’s always a momma dog. About three winters ago I fostered a standard poodle for 6 weeks. It had been rescued from the woods at about 12 weeks old. We thought it might have been outside on her own for almost a month. Velcro adored her. When I went to work I would put the poodle in a large crate and leave Velcro in the same room – she would sleep right by the kennel door – never leaving the pup alone. By the third day she was staying in the crate with the pup. She cleaned it and it followed her everywhere – I really believe she socialized that pup enough to make her adoptable.

Lounging on the porch

Apart from these idiosyncrasies she’s a pretty normal dog. I often wonder why she was dumped and why she does the things she does. Does she insist on a blanket because she was left alone in the cold, or is a blanket the key to our first bonding moment?  Does she hunt and eat all those things because she was abandoned and left to starve by someone she trusted – so now she eats up just in case I let her down too? Does she behave like a mother to the others because she was once a mother to some pups that she still misses? Was she dumped because she was not as cute and cuddly as those pups? Did she dig too much, shed too much, anything too much?

What mystery lies behind those eyes?

 

I’ll never know the answer to these questions, but I do know that as I watch her sleep on that same blanket I threw over my car seat 8 years ago that I will do my best to never let her down. I promised her a good life and I’m going to make sure she gets it. I hope she keeps digging for a long, long time.