Pets

Group of volunteer photographers helps bring 'no-kill' future to Manatee

MANATEE -- Manatee yearns to become a “no-kill” county and a new group plans to aid the effort.

Led by Caryn Hodge of Anna Maria Island, the group, Picture Them Adopted, hopes to aid the county’s effort to get all abandoned dogs and cats adopted by having volunteer photographers, both amateurs and professionals, take flattering pictures of pets for a new web site.

Picture Them Adopted hopes to have available cats and dogs on www.picturethemadopted.com by the week after Thanksgiving, Hodge announced to nearly 30 volunteers who met at the county’s administration building Tuesday.

The plan is to have the group’s site linked in the future to Manatee’s Animal Services’ adoption web site, www.mymanatee.org/pets.

“I’m overwhelmed and excited tonight,” said Cheryl Thompson, Manatee’s animal services supervisor. “This will absolutely help us reach our goal as a ‘no kill’ county.”

Right now, the pictures taken of dogs and cats on the Animal Services’ website rarely reveal anything of the animal’s personality, Hodge said.

“I was watching CBS’ ‘Sunday Morning’ show and there was a feature on a photographer in Dallas who volunteered to take these beautifully done photos of animals for their shelter,” Hodge said. “Adoptions zoomed from 30 percent to 90 percent in two months.”

Some of the talented photographers who rallied Tuesday to become volunteers included well-known professionals Jack Elka and Dara Caudill from Anna Maria Island, along with Dick Peterson, Nancy Engel, Lemoyne Johnson, Linda Buttstead, Billi Gartman, Kathryn Brass, Paula Schoenwether, Danny Krokroskia and Ben McGraw, a home-schooled 13-year-old.

Elka took photos during a “dry run” recently and the “before and after” shots, comparing in-house to art house, were striking, Hodge said.

“We got an old red chair to put the dogs on and some outfits for them and it was incredible,” Hodge added.

“It’s kind of like ‘Match.com,’ ” Elka said. “Many send in a horrible picture of themselves. They don’t realize that it’s the picture that gets the attention. I once took some head shots for a friend and he put them on Match.com. A while later he was asking if I would do his wedding photos.”

The photographers will be trained on how to get cute reactions from the dogs and cats and will have a volunteer there to play with the animal and help the photo shoot. Toys, cute outfits and jewelry all will be utilized to get fetching photos, Hodge said.

“What we are learning from this is that many of the abandoned animals are large-breed dogs, like pit bull mixes, and they are actually very sweet although they are very strong,” Hodge said. “They are nothing like their reputations.”

An average of 20 dogs and cats a day, including many pit bull mixes, are brought into Manatee County Animal Services, Thompson said.

Some have been abandoned. Many are dropped off by owners who say they don’t want them anymore.

“We have people come in and say their dog has gotten too old,” Thompson said. “We try to talk to them and find out if we can help. We want to try to see if we can help them keep their pet.”

From October 2010 to September 2011, approximately 5,300 animals were taken in and 2,500 had to be euthanized, Thompson said.

More photographers are still needed, as well as volunteers to help them, Hodge said.

Those interested are asked to call Hodge at 941-713-3105 or Megahan Simpson, animal care specialist for the county, at 941-742-5933, ext. 8314.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.

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