HeARTs Speak to help Animal Services take more adoptable photos of animals

MANATEE -- Bob Smith knows how important a good picture is in helping to get an animal adopted.

Photographs of an animal online or in a newspaper has led the Manatee County Public Safety department director to the animals he's rescued.

Now Smith, whose department oversees the county's Animal Services division, is hoping a partnership with HeARTs Speak, a national organization that specializes in improving staff and volunteer photography skills of adoptable animals, will do the same for Manatee County.

"It really can help with the adoption process," Smith said. "This is an opportunity for our folks to get trained on best practices on photographing animals."

At Tuesday's meeting, Manatee County Commission is set to authorize the county to enter into an agreement with HeARTs Speak Inc., Perfect Exposure Project. The agreement would be for HeARTs Speak to host a two-day, onsite training workshop for up to 20 people on Nov. 14-15 and accept photography equipment to use within the organization's Perfect Exposure Project at no cost to the county, according to agenda materials. Animal Services will report on the success of the Perfect Exposure Project to HeARTs Speak and also display the project's logo on social media and the shelter's website.

"MCAS definitely has a group of compassionate staff and volunteers," said Erica Matyas with HeARTs Speak. "It was clear upon being introduced to the facility and the programs that they participate in that they were a great candidate for the Perfect Exposure Project."

With a constantly overcrowded shelter in Palmetto, Animal Services staff is hoping this will help increase adoptions, Smith said.

"Anything that we can do that helps with the adoption rate," Smith said. "The photographs online make a big difference. ... Every little bit helps to cut down on that overcrowding."

Smith said the county plans to post the pictures "anywhere and everywhere we can," including Facebook, the public safety department's Twitter feed and the shelter's website.

Sam Wolfe, Animal Services volunteer specialist, said the pictures will help draw in people to the Palmetto shelter, 305 25th St. W.

"It is basically a wonderful course to teach photographers and handlers how to position animals correctly, what background is needed and what really sells a pet to an adopter," Wolfe said. "The more we can get our dogs pictures out there the more they connect and bring people in. ... We just need to find different outlets to get our pictures out there."

Caryn Hodge, founder of Picture Them Adopted, initially reached out to HeARTs Speak and helped in the grant application process. Hodge said they are always looking for more volunteers to be photographers or handlers. To volunteer, email

Hodge said they want to come up with a template for the Animal Services pictures so people know that it's an Animal Services animal.

"A picture speaks a thousand words," she said. "It's really just a learning opportunity to take better pictures and share information."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.