It’s Probably Not What You Think Of

I usually try to keep my posts brief. Today I failed. 😛

Last November, I began volunteering at the Humane Society of Utah (HSU) as a photographer. You may or may not know that it has been repeatedly shown that the increase of adoption rates for animals with good, flattering photos is very significant. Out of a handful of photographers that volunteer, I’m the only one that isn’t allergic to cats, so guess where my efforts are focused? 🙂

I have learned a great deal since I started volunteering. Being an independent community-based and funded non-profit organization, HSU has a lot of challenges. Its name may lead you to assume an affiliation with the Humane Society of the United States, but no such affiliation exists. HSU survives on community donations, a skeleton staff and volunteer assistance. A recent expansion and construction project is giving the facility some badly needed space, while the animals will enjoy some major housing upgrades.

I strongly believe that every shelter should be a no-kill shelter. While progress is being made in this direction, this dream has a long way to go before becoming a reality. HSU has not euthanized an adoptable dog in over 3 years. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the cats. Despite mobile adoption programs, partnerships with retail stores to host staffed displays of animals available for adoption and on-going community outreach efforts, the facility simply cannot house forever the unsettling number of cats it receives. Alexandra, a beautiful solid black female with an attitude, has been at the shelter since I started volunteering. After more than 6 months, she has no known prospects of finding a forever home.

Unfortunately, when people think of an animal shelter, too often they get an image in their mind of a pet death camp. This distortion of the truth is founded on some very real horrors, but the distortion comes when we assume those horrors occur in every shelter facility. Because of this errant perception, I decided to use my camera to bring to mind the good things about a reputable, caring shelter. With one obvious exception, the photographs I took were unstaged and simply captured what was happening around me.

I obtained permission to photograph in the HSU clinic, which provides low-cost medical care and spay and neuter services. I was so very impressed with the compassion shown to the animals receiving care. The caregivers here really are angels – while I love animals, I don’t have the emotional strength to endure what these folks must endure every day. To do what they do with the love and care with which they do is to me an awesome, admirable and honorable thing.

Nikon D300, ISO 320, f/6.3 at 1/1000 sec, 22 mm

The HSU clinic provides expert care, ranging from vaccinations and spay and neuter procedures to life-saving surgeries.

Nikon D300, ISO 320, f/11 at 1/60 sec, 52 mm

Unaware of being photographed, this caregiver’s interaction with a sick cat truly yanked at my heart strings. Notice the expressions on both of their faces: there was communication of a higher level happening here.

Nikon D300, ISO 320, f/6.3 at 1/1000 sec, 22 mm

HSU services go far beyond just housing adoptable pets. These volunteers were really good sports about helping to
communicate that visually.

Nikon D300, ISO 320, f/4.0 at 1/2000 sec, 32 mm

While the above shot was not staged, this beautiful canine clinic patient insisted on taking a moment out from her walk to pose and check out the guy with the camera.

Nikon D300, ISO 400, f/13 at 1/500 sec, 45 mm

Family members that volunteer together build relationships with the animals and each other.

Nikon D300, ISO 400, f/13 at 1/60 sec, 45 mm

In the end, it’s up to you. If you’re looking for a pet, please choose the adoption option. You’ll probably be quite surprised by the variety of animals and breeds available at your local shelter.

I commend HSU for all it does and for the way it does it. If you live in the area and are interested in volunteering, please contact Jamie Usry, HSU’s volunteer coordinator. Volunteering is on your own terms – do what you can when you can. There is a permanent link to the HSU website located under “Links” on this blog. You can also help through donations of cat, dog and rabbit food, cat litter (the clumping variety only, please), towels, blankets, newspaper, animal-safe toys, and of course cash.

Thank you to Jamie Usry and the HSU staff members and volunteers that made this blog post possible!

P.S.: Live local? Like cats? Like photography and the idea of volunteering your skills? Please contact me!

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