Mike Ryan is a volunteer at Austin Pets Alive! He’s trying to get a good picture of Summer, a brown lab mix. Two more volunteers are giving Summer treats in an effort to get her to face the camera.
"I treat it like we have only one picture to get through to the person who is going to be looking at the dog," Ryan says. "So, for the picture, two things are eye contact so the dog is looking directly into the camera, and the other thing is the dog looks like it is smiling."
The whole process takes almost half an hour just for one dog, but they do get some good shots.
It’s a scene that’s becoming more common at shelters across the state. They take the pets outside the kennel and try to take photos that show an animal’s personality. Special photo shoots are especially used with older pets and those that have been in the shelter for a long time. Dallas Animal Services Division Manager Jody Jones says good pictures get more animals adopted.
"I will tell you anecdotally that our pro photography program here at Dallas Animal Services has pretty much helped, I would venture, about 98 percent of the animals that we feature through our pro photography," Jones says.
And there’s research to support Jones’ enthusiasm. Rachel Lampe is a veterinarian in Florida, but she’s also researched the impact of online photos on adoption. She published an article in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.
"I found that a great photo meant that a dog got adopted 29 days faster than a poor quality photo," Lampe says. "So overall, the great photos the dog was getting adopted with a mean average of 14 days versus 43 days for a poor quality photo."
So instead of just recruiting volunteer dog walkers and kennel cleaners, shelters are seeking out people to take photos of their animals. Bill Wilson is a realtor who spends time on the weekends to photograph dogs at Austin Pets Alive!
"For me taking pictures of dogs is just like Christmas," Wilson says. "But it does take time and dedication and sometimes I don’t feel like doing it because it is such a busy week, but I make myself do it because I know how much it can benefit the dogs."
Sometimes volunteers like Wilson just aren’t available to take photos – or the shelters need their volunteers to focus on more immediate problems. Smaller shelters like one in Bastrop have fewer resources to spare. Vivian Hemme manages Bastrop Animal Services.
"I wish that we had enough volunteers to do a photo booth, fun day," Hemme says. "But unfortunately, because we are a rural shelter and our shelter is a little bit off the grid, it is, I want to say, quite difficult to get some volunteers out there."
And it’s still difficult to get some animals adopted, even with a great picture. Remember Summer the lab mix? Her glamour shots turned out great, but as of this writing, she’s still waiting to find the right home.