Harford Magazine - Page 39 - Gaining Exposure (2)

Harford Magazine
- Page 39
Gaining Exposure (2)

By miKe KLiNgAmAN | harford magazine
photos By KeNNeth K. LAm


nowadays, adopting a pet from your local shelter is like online dating: call up the site, check out the pictures and arrange a meet-and-greet. Except you might get kisses, there and then.


More and more, shelter officials say, photos of orphaned dogs, cats and other critters posted on their websites help determine the animals’ futures— reason enough to jazz up those generic mug shots.


“We want them to look happy, cute, approachable and adorable. It’s like selling a home,” says Erin Long, marketing coordinator at the Humane Society of Harford County in Fallston. “Pitiful doesn’t really sell for adoption. People need to look at a picture and say, ‘I need to meet this dog.’ ”


Gone, mostly, are the glassy-eyed close-ups from inside a kennel, says Long. Last year, the Harford shelter began photographing dogs outdoors, where they have room to romp (click) and play (click) and, generally, put their best paws forward.


“That’s where they show their true personalities,” says Long, in her 12th year on the job. “We have a bulldog, Tortuga, who we photographed running, jowls flapping. The picture cracks me up; he looks so stinking cute.”


Does the strategy work? Last year, the Harford shelter registered a 93 percent “live release” rate, meaning that more than 9 of 10 animals that entered the shelter were either adopted by new or former owners, or claimed by rescue centers.


Who takes the pictures? Staff members and volunteers like Vicki Murray of Abingdon. Twice a week, she leaves her job at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, where she writes grant contracts, and heads for the Fallston shelter to cuddle with and photograph the cats.


Armed with her camera, a Nikon D5200, Murray has been known to go to great lengths (and heights) to capture a feline’s best side. Like the time she clambered up onto the shelter’s kitchen countertop to get a shot of a timid cat hiding behind a cabinet.


“I’m 55 and I can’t hop like I used to,” Murray says. “People were walking by, wondering what was up. But I started talking to the cat and he came out and, as I began taking pictures, he began rolling. The biggest compliment a cat can pay you is when it trusts you enough to roll.”


The shelter posted the photos. Soon after, the cat was adopted.


For eight years, Murray has worked to gain the cats’ trust and capture pictures that will resonate


Left: Jessica Simmons, the Harford County Humane Society’s foster rescue and volunteer manager, takes pictures of J.D. She works to beautify her clients before their photo shoots.