Dog Portraits Offer a Look Into Canine Souls

The dog portraits in photographer Andrew Grant's "Rover" books are striking. Clear-eyed canines gaze at the viewer, some with curious tilted heads or tongues lolling. There are puppies and young dogs, seniors and those of indeterminate age, all captured in a moment where you feel like you have a glimpse of their personalities.

Some of the subjects were photographed while in a shelter or with a rescue group. Many of the others once lived in a rescue or shelter and are now adopted.

Grant began photographing homeless and rescued dogs in 2009. He was inspired after working as a commercial photographer doing a shoot in a kitchen showroom owned by a friend.

"My friend’s two bulldogs repeatedly strolled through the set, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask my friend to keep the dogs in a backroom since she was kind enough to let us take over her showroom for virtually an entire day," Grant tells MNN.

Instead, he included the dogs in several shots and the client loved it. Later, Grant joked to a friend that he wanted to produce an entire book of dogs.

"Why not? The two dogs I worked with were well trained, posed right where we wanted them to and looked right into the camera."

His friend told him how many cats and dogs entered shelters never to find homes, so Grant decided to do something about it. He quickly began production of his first "Rover" book, photographing more than 100 dogs and earning notice by TV's most notable dog lover, Ellen DeGeneres. With a portion of profits going to dog rescue groups, the books have raised $2 million for groups across the country.

He's now on book five, "Rover: Wagmore Edition" (Firefly Books). All previous editions have sold out.

The goal of the Rover books, says Grant, is to "illustrate that there are healthy, beautiful, loving purebreds and mixed breeds available for adoption at rescues everywhere." Grant points out that more than one-third of dogs living in rescues are purebreds.

"That's a vital message since some people with a strong penchant for a purebred dog may have never considered that they may be able to find the purebred they're looking for at a rescue."

Some of the dogs photographed in the books belong to pet owners who have made a generous donation to a rescue in order to have their dogs included. Some make donations to have homeless dogs photographed for the book.

"We’re very proud of that program as it enables us to photograph homeless pets AND raise money for rescues," Grant says. "As a side note, I’d love to produce a book filled entirely with homeless pets as that would deliver a very powerful message. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to raise significant money for rescues doing that."

As many shelters and rescues know, having a flattering photo of a homeless pet certainly helps get them adopted.

"No matter how nice the shelter, pets simply don’t like being caged up. Therefore, when we tour a facility we often find frightened pets cowering in the corner of the cage or aggressively barking. When we decide to photograph one of them, they’ll often sprint down the hallway with us having no idea where they’re going — only knowing that they’re out of the cage," Grant says.

"Very often, after just a few minutes in the studio (and a few treats), the homeless pet that was just cowering in the corner will begin to reveal its real personalty and sometime even begin showing us all their tricks. I’ve found the dogs have a way of posing in a manner which seems to highlight their best features or most compelling qualities."

In the last eight or nine years, Grant estimates he's photographed close to 1,000 dogs.

"My favorite dogs are those who are food motivated as that makes my job much easier. I think most dogs view me as the guy who holds the treat dispenser (i.e., camera)," he says. "It’s also rewarding to earn the trust of dogs who are shy or skittish at the beginning of the shoot. That may take a few hours, but always makes the resulting photo very memorable."

Grant says he photographs the dogs without collars or any accessories because the wants their eyes to be the focal point.

"The dogs are peering into the lens in virtually all the shots in the book," he says. "I think that provides us with the sense that we are looking into their souls. I think the eye contact in the photos reveals the dog's personality. We also use very high end medium format cameras and large lights that enable us to capture the dogs in stunning detail."

Grant and his publisher have donated about 1,000 copies of the Rover books to children's hospitals across the country.

"I was surprised at the popularity of the books, but as I watch children at children’s hospitals pet the pages and adults laugh at some of the goofy expressions in the book I recognize it’s a great conversation piece for pet lovers of all ages."

Before focusing on the "Rover" books, Grant worked as a commercial advertising photographer, where he photographed mostly people. He has occasionally trained his lens on feline subjects, but it's easier to focus on dogs, he says.

"I love cats, I’ve even owned a few, they’re absolutely beautiful and enjoy trying to photograph them, but they don’t offer as many expressions as dogs."