Secondhand Hounds - Volunteering
This week I spent my first night volunteering as the photographer for an animal rescue called Secondhand Hounds (SHH) here in the Twin Cities. I have volunteered before as a shadow to the staff, so I knew the ropes a little bit, but this past Sunday was my first official real-responsibility night. SHH has a massive network of foster homes for the animals so that none of them have to stay in a shelter while they await adoption. It's a really hopeful place to volunteer; on intake nights everyone has a job and is excited to help, and the dogs are given medical care before going home with a foster. They get vetted, fed, bathed, and photographed. The very same night the family hosting the dog picks up their designated guest, and the dog gets to sleep in a warm, safe, comfortable home. For some of the dogs this is a huge deal!
Meanwhile, online listings are created for each dog (cat, critter, etc.) with their age and breed information, and the foster family will supply a brief update on their observations of the dog's health, behavior, mannerisms, and any other information that is pertinent to potential adopters.
The photos myself and other photogs take come into play for the online listings. Good pictures of the pets up for adoption increases the value of the online listings, showing the dogs' faces, bodies, and (sometimes) personalities, and ideally helps to decrease the time lapse between rescue and adoption. It can be a difficult task to photograph dogs that come in off transport to a new place with people they have never met, but it's a welcome challenge and has so far been rewarding.
Volunteering in this way is helping me to learn patience while shooting, which can be really hard to have. I've noticed that if patience is something I can master, it will make a huge difference in the quality of the photos I take. All the years that I've worked in customer service, administrative jobs, the printing industry, project management, and even being apart of the culture of email, texting, and social media, have ingrained in me a sense of urgency when I work. If you do things fast and efficiently, everyone is happy, right?
Photography, however, is not just a task that I can check off a list. Taking impactful photos requires deliberation, mastering the technical elements, and a vision for the finished product. These three things are hard to do in a split second, and much easier to do if I take my time when my camera is in hand.
Taking photographs for SHH has already challenged this interplay between efficiency and precision because animals can't be rushed. Sometimes they're scared, stressed, overwhelmed, or need to take a poo and can't speak up to say so. If I want a good shot I really do have to slow down, be calm, make my subject feel comfortable, and pay attention to the details. I admit that this last week at SHH was a little hectic - first because we were understaffed for the evening, but second because I was a nervous newbie. Some of the photos I took were great, and a lot of them were unusable - dog too wiggly, image not in focus, flash didn't fire, dog nose out of the frame, exposure too dark, composition imbalanced, shutter fired when the dog looked away, etc.
Oh, the challenges and delights of photographing cute things!
Animals don't really have a sense of time, right? They don't care if I take twice as long to take their picture as long as they're getting treats, kisses, ear scratches, or squeaky toys, so I should count this opportunity to volunteer with animals as welcomed practice for learning to slow down.
SHH does home visits with each family or individual that's looking to adopt one of the dogs in their network, and I would say in nearly all cases of adoption these animals are welcomed into their forever home - no more bouncing around!
There have been a few dogs I wish I could have hid away in my purse and delivered to my dog Tonks for a playmate. Someday, maybe... it's hard for me to imagine having two dogs, a cat, AND a few children running around in the next ten years. (No children yet. But dreaming and scheming.)
As far as I know, all of the dogs in this post are currently up for adoption, although some online listings may not be active yet. If you're looking for a new canine (or feline!) family member, take a look at SHH adoption listings!