We are loving seeing the stories from our past attendees doing good works in and around their communities. Our post today is from Andrea Hearn, a children, family & pet photographer in Carlinville, Illinois. Andrea volunteers with her local animal shelter, and she’s sharing with us her heart for animals and ways that you can help in your own area. From Andrea:
I am a volunteer at the Macoupin County Animal Control and Adoption Center. This shelter is unique because it is one of the few shelters that act as both animal control and an adoption shelter, as well as being a no-kill facility. It is run on almost 100% donations and adoption fees. Macoupin county is a rural area, so administrator Buzie Bertagnolli is responsible for the entire county (870 miles total). Several years ago the shelter was in a tiny rundown shed, where almost every animal was euthanized. Today, through the T.A.I.L.S Foundation and other donations the shelter is in a beautiful new building and only dogs with severe aggression or untreatable illness or injury are euthanized.
A few years ago I held a not for profit photo session for pets and donated all of the money to the shelter in Effingham County where I was living at the time. Although I loved that I was able to do that, I wanted to do more. When I moved to Carlinville in Macoupin County I realized that the photos of the pets at the shelter were taken on a cell phone, sometimes through the kennels and sometimes not very clear photos. I thought that if there was something I could do, I wanted to help.
It is a proven fact that shelter photos of adoptable pets who look comfortable, clean, and happy are more likely to be adopted than those who look sad in kennels. I had already loved doing my own client work with pets, so this seemed like a challenge I was excited to take on. I go to the shelter every Thursday and photograph all of the new incoming pets for that week.
When I first started I wanted to do more elaborate set ups, but the more I got into it, I realized there just wasn’t enough time or manpower. I work with Buzie for the handling of the pets, and the shelter is always busy and she is usually the only person there. So instead of elaborate backdrops and props, we focus on getting great photos of the pets in a nice clean, easy setting. We photograph almost all of the dogs with their leashes on, and I remove those and other details in post processing.
Since being involved I have joined Buzie for a few marketing and social events where I can learn more about other shelters and what is working or not working for them. I do what I can to help maintain the shelter social media pages as well. If there are events coming up, I also donate what I can through designing fliers, etc. These are small things that as photographers we do daily, but can be a bit of a burden to the shelter staff who aren’t accustomed to doing these things regularly.
Through a Purina grant I was able to attend the HeARTS Speak workshop (The Perfect Exposure Project) where I have since become a member (this is a GREAT resource for anyone wanting to get involved in shelter photography!) This workshop, and ongoing training/resource allows photographers to learn to not only take better pet portraits, but also creative ways to market their shelter photos, gain exposure for the shelter, etc. I can’t say enough good things about this organization.
If you love animals and have a heart for adoption and rescue, I urge you to contact your local shelter. What I have found through HeArts Speak is that many people like to pop in and out of the shelter from time to time and take photos for them, but often not consistently. Making a commitment to the shelter for a set weekly time is extremely valuable to them. If you need a little extra help, I highly recommend looking into HeArts Speak too!
Not much makes my heart happier than a good old fashion Happy Ending Adoption Story. There is no greater feeling for me than knowing that the dogs and cats that I photograph are being SEEN, really SEEN and adopted because of a well-executed photograph. Dogs and cats come in weekly, sometimes with no story at all, as they were just picked up wondering, sometimes with a heartbreaking story that you would rather not know. But knowing that they are safe at the shelter, well taken care of, and given a chance for a new life makes me happy. Every once in a while for some reason some of them will tug at my heartstrings a little more than others, and I can’t help but cry when they find a home. On the days I am there and an adoption is happening while I’m there, I for sure have to hold back the tears!!!