Animals Pets Shelter Dogs Benefit From the Power of a Photo By Jaymi Heimbuch Writer California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer specializing in wildlife conservation. She is the author of The Ethiopian Wolf: Hope at the Edge of Extinction. our editorial process Twitter Twitter Jaymi Heimbuch Updated June 26, 2017 Share Twitter Pinterest Email Animals Wildlife Pets Animal Rights Endangered Species Before and after: What a difference a photo makes HeARTs Speak. Photography is a powerful tool. A good photo documents, explains, entices, incriminates, inspires, and even has the power to saves lives. One nonprofit working with rescue animals is hammering that point home. HeARTs Speak brings photographers and rescue groups together to help get animals out of shelters and into safe homes. These before and after images of rescued dogs like Turner (shown at left) illustrate what a difference having a skilled photographer on hand can make for an animal in need. Mikey looks better with sticks than chain links HeARTs Speak. Let's face it: Packaging sells. Beauty sells. Cuteness sells. And the 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats that land in shelters every year need something to help "sell" them to their potential owners. If you're scrolling through Petfinder looking for your new best friend, which dog are you more likely to click on? The one whose face is obscured by bars, or the one joyfully chewing on a stick? That's the power of a photograph — to get you to look twice, to fall in love, to change an animal's life. Macy has quite a mug (and those ears!) HeARTs Speak. Animal rescue groups and shelters do incredible work, often relying entirely on a network of volunteers and a shoestring budget. Shelters across the country perform miracles on a daily basis for dogs, cats and other adoptable pets. The unfortunate reality, however, is that most shelters are not so skilled at (nor usually have time for) taking high-quality portraits of the animals they're helping. The unintended consequence is that animals can sit in kennels or foster homes longer than needed. Recently, one HeARTs Speak photographer worked with a female boxer who had been in a foster home for two years. The boxer was photographed in a studio setting, sitting on a couch with a scarf wrapped around her neck. The photos were posted on the boxer's adoption profile and boxer was adopted the very next day, with the new family saying they fell in love with her photos and knew immediately they had to bring her home. The photographer's only regret was that the dog had been in foster care for two long years due to a bad photograph. Taco: Grass is more relaxing than that scary room HeARTs Speak. Another unfortunate reality is that rescue facilities can be scary for the animals that wind up there. It is a safe place where the only goal is to love and care for the animals, but it's also loud, active and filled with strange smells of the forever-changing lineup of other anxious animals. A shelter trying to snap a quick photo of the dog for the adoption profile might not be using the best strategy if the resulting photo is of a timid, scared or wary animal — the kind of animal a potential owner might hesitate to meet. Many HeARTs Speak photographers work within shelter walls, but they focus on capturing the animal showing its loving, curious or relaxed side — personality traits that future owners are more likely to respond to in their pet search. Tinkerbelle shines in the right lighting, environment HeARTs Speak. Some breeds are harder to find homes for than others — and a pit bull is a great example. These dogs have a bad reputation, despite the fact that many are ideal family dogs — loyal, gentle, loving, goofy. Capturing the personality of a particular dog, despite a breed's negative stereotype, is one of the areas where HeARTs Speak photographers excel. If the portrait can capture the essence of the dog, it's much more likely that the animal will find a home — and more quickly. Scooter hits a relaxed note HeARTs Speak. HeARTs Speak also believes in helping shelters take beautiful portraits in-house. The nonprofit was recently the recipient of a Hugo Challenge, receiving $10,000 for a noble goal. Working with two of the largest high-kill shelters in the country, HeARTs Speak will provide free digital cameras, lenses, lighting equipment and backdrops, plus a two-day workshop to train shelter employees on how to use the equipment and take the types of photographs that get shelter animals noticed by potential owners. The workshop will be filmed and the lessons shared with shelters everywhere. Lacey's life looks up HeARTs Speak. Another wonderful result of quality photographs is documenting the recovery of a rescued animal. The transformation — from the first days spent at a shelter to when they are ready to go home — is inspiring. Many HeARTs Speak photographers are there from the beginning, meeting the animals as they are brought in and seeing them over days and even months as they gain weight, heal their wounds, and learn to trust humans again. Sometimes, by the time an adoption portrait is taken, they seem like completely different animals. Sedona takes on a pensive pose HeARTs Speak. The work of HeARTs Speak goes beyond rescues and shelters. The artists work with a wide range of animals, from ferrets to turtles, cats, horses, birds and rabbits. Tansy turns on the charm HeARTs Speak. A photograph usually provides the first impression of an animal. Being able to clearly see a pet — not just its physical features but its spirit — is what prompts a potential owner to learn more about the animal. A portrait, versus a snapshot, can increases adoption rates. One HeARTs Speak photographer has been working with a shelter on the East Coast, and its adoption rate has improved so much that it is now taking in animals from nearby shelters and helping to get them adopted out as well. ] A whole fluffy family HeARTs Speak. If you're an artist or photographer interested in joining HeARTs Speak, or if you work with a shelter and want to know how the group's members can help you, visit the website to learn more. After all, a photograph can save not just one life, but many.