Let’s assume you’re ready to start making wonderful images that will help homeless animals –you first need to identify a rescue group or shelter to work with. This can be more challenging than you think, because not all non-profit groups are created equal.
Choose a rescue organization without a brick and mortar building if you’re very inexperienced at photographing animals or if you want to work with a specific breed or size of animal. Shooting animal rescue portraits at an animal shelter is probably the MOST challenging type of assignment. It’s hard to find a place to work with the animals and there is usually more resistance to you (as an outsider) coming in to do the photography. In addition, it’s difficult to find a quiet place so that the animals can de-stress and relax for the camera. If you’ve had some success and can walk in with some great photos under your arm, by all means approach them. Just do it thoughtfully – the person behind the reception desk may be their current photographer!
Many rescue groups are run by well-intentioned people with little or no business experience. They have no idea how to maintain a website, how to protect your copyright (YES, you maintain the copyright to your images), and sometimes even how to post images online. It’s best to stay away from these groups and encourage them to become part of a bigger more-organized animal rescue organizations. Here are a few tips from my friend Kathleen Coleman (along with a view comments of my own). Kathleen does a wonderful job of running Dallas Fort Worth Dachschund Rescue.
Selecting a Reputable Rescue Organization
Here are a number of things to consider when selecting a rescue organization. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their policies and procedures. If the organization’s representatives are defensive, or avoid providing details, you should consider working with a different organization.
1. Does the rescue organization specialize in just one (or very few) breeds? An organization that specializes is more likely to have extensive knowledge about that breed, and is an excellent resource for the adopters, a multi-breed group will give you more variety to shoot and a wider group of people will see your work.
2. Do they serve only a local, defined area, or is it a nation-wide organization? Nation-wide organizations have additional levels of bureaucracy which can potentially cause delays in things such as dogs receiving timely veterinary care, responsiveness to adopter inquiries, and screening abilities.
3. Does the rescue organization limit their admissions to dogs that are adoptable, or do they take non-adoptable, “sanctuary” type dogs? Dogs that are unadoptable can quickly consume an organization’s financial and physical resources. Admitting too many unadoptable dogs can potentially become a “hoarding” situation.
4. Are all their dogs free from treatable infections and illnesses, current on vaccinations, heartworm testing and prevention, spayed or neutered, and microchipped for permanent identification prior to adoption? You do not want to be associated with a group that does not work with healthy animals that are spayed and neutered.
5. Does the rescue organization have a strong, positive, long-term relationship with a veterinary clinic who will do the vet work needed on the rescue dogs? Do they pay their veterinary bills promptly? Some fringe groups don’t manage their funds effectively and can barely afford to feed the animals in their care. Be very careful about linking your reputation to theirs!
6. Does the rescue organization know its financial limitations? Do they accept dogs into their program when they do not have adequate funds available for their care? Always make sure the organization has their 501(c)3 status with the IRS. This way you know they are a legitimate non-profit group.
7. Are the dogs placed in foster homes while they await adoption? Dogs who receive foster care have a huge advantage over dogs housed in kennel-type shelters. Foster care enables the dog to learn the basics of housetraining, leash training and crate training. It is also helpful for behavioral evaluation and for developing proper social skills.
8. Does the rescue organization screen its foster parents? A reputable organization does not tolerate “animal hoarding” on the part of its foster parents. (Understand that animal lovers have big hearts, and want to try to save every animal. However, a true animal lover recognizes their limits.)
9. Are the foster parents treated with respect? Does the organization place financial burdens on their foster parents or expect them to absorb the costs of caring for dogs as they await adoption? It is important that organizations maintain excellent relationships with their foster parents. They should consider their foster parents’ personal situations and abilities to care for dogs, and not use “guilt” to manipulate them into accepting unreasonable responsibilities.
10. What is the minimum period of time the organization holds its dogs prior to adoption? The recommended time frame is at least 3 to 6 weeks. This is necessary to ensure that no hidden medical conditions exist, and also to evaluate the dog’s temperament. Shorter periods of time may apply to dogs who are owner surrenders and for whom there is a reliable health and behavior history.