A view to no kill | Photos key to saving animals in shelter

January 7, 2014 

With our computer program, impounded dogs and cats are photographed upon intake with a camera attached to the computer. Animal Services Officers usually take the photos to go along with their report and kennel information for the dog or cat just impounded.

The photos are basic.

A dog, head hanging down, sad and wanting to go home, is taken through the process and placed into a kennel.

A cat, probably in a cage or carrier to prevent escape, is in the back of the carrier, barely seen in the photograph once taken.

The photos are simply a depiction of the impounded pet so the owner has an idea of what we have impounded in case it may be their missing pet.

The photo, along with the animal information is extracted from our computer program and placed on Pet Harbor and Pet Finder in hopes the pet can get back home.

One day in November 2011, Caryn Hodge saw a story in the news about a photographer in Texas taking picture of shelter dogs to replace the unflattering photos on their website. Seeing a need and an opportunity, Hodge rallied some local photography professionals and hobbyists with an idea of taking photographs of the impounded dogs and cats to replace the initial intake photos.

Each volunteer photographer is assigned a handler responsible for getting the lost pet to show their true personality.

This group of dedicated photographers and handlers are part of a much needed team, "Picture Them Adopted," as they are known, or "PTA" for short. The PTA team has 15 photographers and handlers who have collectively photographed more than 400 dogs and 500 cats.

PTA photos help bring adopters and homeless pets together. Many visitors have commented about the pictures and how they bring out the dogs and cats in a different environment compared to the intake photo. The intake photo is simply to show what the dog or cat looks like, to

give the owner an idea if we may have their missing pet.

Pet information is updated hourly on ourPetHarbor.com website, where you are able to look at missing pets and those for adoption. You are able to find a link to this site on our web page by visiting mymanatee.org/pets and looking under the Adoption Central or Lost and Found Pets categories.

Linda Buttstead and Debra Starr, one of the PTA teams, took the program to another level by coming up with the Kid's Model Citizen Program, which allows children of all ages to be photographed with adoptable pets. These photos are compelling and show how well pets are around youngsters. The program information can be found on our website.

PTA team members are also encouraged to write comments about the various pets, giving details about their personalities and, in some cases, their special needs.

The PTA team may note a dog seems to like other dogs, sits on command or is housebroken. These notes are helpful to potential adopters and adoption counselors, increasing the pet's chance of finding a forever home.

PTA members also provide socialization and exercise for the dogs. Cage stress is a common problem for shelter dogs because they are confined to their kennels for extended periods of time. Getting the dogs out in the yard for their photo sessions allows them to run around, interact with people and enjoy playtime outdoors.

As a result of becoming involved with the PTA program, several team members have volunteered in other capacities: adopters, dog walkers, cat cuddling and even event planning. Hodge's mother, Ruth, is a vital part of the program and works hard on PTA scheduling.

The entire PTA team Walks the Walk and Talks the Talk. If you would like to make a real difference in the lives of homeless pets, go to our Animal Services website to volunteer, or visit picturethemadopted.com to learn more about their efforts to help this community become a no kill community.

Watch for more upcoming events and adoption specials. Don't forget the ongoing BOGO special where you can adopt a dog or cat at the regular adoption fee and get a dog or cat for no adoption fee. Also, any dog or cat that has been in the shelter over 60 days is available for no adoption fee.

And, of course, we welcome you as a volunteer in any capacity. We do need you, if you can spare some time. Simply go to mymanatee.org/pets , fill out an application and immediately sign up for an orientation class. We look forward to seeing you soon.

If you never have to look into the eyes of a dog or cat and make a choice, you are lucky. One day, we all would like to be lucky, too.

Kris Weiskopf, chief of Manatee County Animal Services, writes this weekly column for the Herald.

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