Allison's Book Bag

Making a Difference by Asking Homeless Pets to Say Cheese

Posted on: December 22, 2016

I push aside a baby gate at the top of the stairs at Cherished Images Studio. A friendly six-month-old German Shorthair Pointer greets me with a boisterous jump and an exuberant wag of his tail. After I let him sniff me, I kneel on my knees so we can get better acquainted. Beverly Jimenez moves purposely about her studio, setting up a blue cloth background and two lights for a photo shoot. Jaeger pushes up against me, eager for my attention and affection, and I brace myself so Jaeger doesn’t knock me over in his enthusiasm. Holly Harpster calls to Jaeger and he obediently bolts to her, then immediately bounds back to me. And finally, in a burst of puppy energy, Jaeger races up and down the hall.

Holly has brought Jaeger to Cherished Images Studio to get a professional portrait of him for the Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue website. Look at a website or blog of any animal welfare group and you’ll see many professional pet portraits. Artwork breaks up and enhances the text, and makes an online site more inviting. In addition, especially when it comes to presenting bios of homeless pets, the more pleasing the accompanying photo, the more likely a potential foster or adopter is to take notice. For that reason, anyone with a gift for photography can quickly become a valuable asset to an animal welfare groups.

Today I’ll give you a glimpse into a photo shoot and introduce you to two local photographers who use their artistic talents to help animals find homes. Beverly Jimenez and Dina Barta have different photography styles, with Beverly focusing on studio work and Dina choosing mostly outdoor locations. Both women are fairly mobile during their photo shoots, moving around to capture their subjects from different angles. Dina however will frequently lie on the ground to be at her subject’s level. Both photographers have their own rescued pets, donate their talents pro-bono to animal groups, and at times even pay for related expenses such as those involved with boosting photos on Facebook from their own pocketbook.

As Jaeger explores each room of the Cherished Images Studio under the watchful eyes of Beverly and Holly, the two discuss whether he should be leashed for his photo shoot. They decide against it for aesthetic reasons. Holly calls Jaeger back to her, and when Jaeger happily returns to Holly she holds him while Beverly slips a navy blue bandana around his neck. With the zestfulness of a puppy, Yaeger begins to chew on bandana. Holly corrects him as Beverly sets up a third and final light. Out of curiosity, Yaeger follows Beverly, but she ignores him so that he’ll ignore her when she’s taking his photo. Her strategy seems to work because, when he doesn’t receive attention from Beverly, Jaeger dashes back to Holly. He leans against her, listening to her quiet soothing voice, and Beverly snaps a photo.

Most of my training came from a lifetime of living and breathing photography.—Beverly Jimenez

Since an early age, Beverly has known that she’s wanted to be a photographer. She trained for this career by spending years studying with other professionals. Similarly, Dina grew up with LIFE and National Geographic magazines. She was “always looking to see who the photographer was and what kind of camera they used”. Her training came from “shooting a whole bunch of photos and hoping one will grab people’s attention”.

As to how Beverly got involved with doing pro-bono work for animal groups, several years ago, her sister sent her a newspaper clipping that told of a photographer in New York who had taken his camera and a few props to an overcrowded high-kill shelter. Beverly said the outcome of this was that, “After replacing the traditional ‘sad snapshots’ with professional portraits the adoption rate of this shelter shot up 70% in just two weeks. I couldn’t imagine how many lives were saved. I was hooked!”

Immediately, Beverly started calling local rescues and offering her services. Her portrait of her first homeless pet is still displayed in her studio. She also has a gallery on her website called “Rescue Me” that features some of the over 125 homeless pets that she’s photographed.

Dina & Nala: "When I have been gone too long, she lays on top of me to keep me home."
Dina & Nala: “When I have been gone too long, she lays on top of me to keep me home.”

While Beverly has been working as a professional photographer for over 36 years, Dina currently earns her living as a Conservation Officer with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. However, her work and her photography “often go hand in hand,” and Dina has supplied photos to Nebraska Game and Parks. Two spreads in NEBRASKALand magazine have featured her work.

Dina got involved with pro-bono work for animal groups by walking into the Capital Humane Society and asking if she could take photos.  Rescue groups started to get to know her through this initiative. Later, when she was getting more and more requests to see her dog photos, Dina set up a Facebook account called DogBone.

Not a dog to sit still for long, Jaeger barks with the joy of being out of his kennel, and then pulls free from Holly’s hold on him to roam the studio again. When Holly uses treats to redirect his attention towards her, he darts back to her side and sticks as close as glue. She lures him into position for another photo but, as soon the shutter clicks, he’s scrambling about the studio again. Just as quickly, Holly grabs his bandana and repositions him. Beverly observes that some dogs will sit still and that their photo shoots are fast. Other dogs like Jaeger need a firm hand and a lot of patience, because play is foremost on their mind.

My photography has grown by people noticing my work and asking me to shoot things for them.  Sometimes I want to say no, but have not learned that art yet!—Dina Barta

Beverly’s most challenging photography experiences are with badly abused dogs that were used as bait in dog fighting operations. “They arrive with visible physical and mental scars. They’re always thin and frightened.  Remarkably, these are also often the sweetest and most kind-hearted dogs.  The challenge isn’t in working with them; It’s holding in my anger and not shedding tears for what they must have gone through.” What makes these photo shoots all the more memorable is when the same dogs return months later with their new families and “they bounce into the studio full of life, and filled with love, hope, and happiness. The physical scars may still remain, but that emotionally lost dog is gone forever.”

Dina’s best success story occurred with the first photo she ever publicly showed. “It was a simple photo of an eagle with lead poisoning hanging on to the side of the crate I was transporting her in. The photo was called ‘hanging on for dear life’ and it took first place at a competition opening for Jane Goodall’s talk here in Lincoln. She views her worst failure as being when she left the Capital Humane Society as a volunteer photographer. “I couldn’t get over the feeling that I was letting so many dogs and cats down.”

For every animal… patience, patience, patience.—Beverly Jimenez

“Sitting, standing, close-up….” Beverly is running through the list of poses she’s captured of Jaeger. Holly asks if they’re finished. Telling her no, Beverly pulls out a handful of props. She quips, “Oh, I’m going to make a hunting dog of him.” She switches out of the blue background for a hunting blind camo. On the floor, she lays matching fabric, a wooden duck, and a pair of floppy old boots. Again, Holly uses treats to keep Jaeger near her side. The photo shoot becomes even more interesting when the two attempt to put a jacket and cap on Jaeger. Occasionally in his earnestness to remain active in everything that’s happening, Jaeger slips on the floor. Jaeger is recovering from a broken his leg and so Beverly and Holly try to calm him as much as possible. Otherwise, the mood remains upbeat. Then comes the moment when Beverly gives a cheer and does a little dance. She’s outsmarted Jaeger and gotten the photos she wants of him in hunting gear!

When Beverly has a shy rescue come to her studio, she’ll start off slowly. “Massive time has been spent sitting on the floor and visiting with the rescuer as the dog wanders around to get familiar with their new surroundings.” Beverly also keeps on hand “an endless supply of treats and hugs”. Finally, she’s been blessed to have assistance from Rod Johnson (with The Star Project). “His calm and gentle nature with these dogs brings success.”

On the flip side are the more boisterous rescues, which are a completely different challenge.  As with the shy dogs, Beverly doesn’t start the session until “the dog has thoroughly investigated the studio and tested the comfort of each piece of furniture. The floor plan of the studio is perfect for them. There’s plenty of room for a game of indoor fetch or just a wild romp.” In contrast to the shy dogs, the key to the boisterous dogs is “wearing them out”.

Why should others help?  Because animals need them!—Dina Barta

I offer my services, pro-bono, to any rescue group, no matter what type of animal.  I want to do my part and I feel this is the best way I can help.—Beverly Jimenez

After Jaeger’s photo shoot, Beverly offers me a soft drink and we chat at length about her pro-bono work, about using creative talents to help animals, and about life itself. I thank her for the opportunity to not just view a photo shoot, but also to participate in one. Earlier, while she was trying to “make a hunting dog” of Jaeger, she’d encouraged Holly to take a break and then had invited me to help Jaeger pose. The task definitely wasn’t easy, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Beverly and Dina are great examples of how one can use their creative talents to help animals. Both ladies have a passion for photography and using their photography talent to help homeless animals, but they each have their own approach. Beverly does portrait photography, while Dina prefers outdoor locations. Dina also recommends, “Don’t compare your work to that of others. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t copy a style that is uncomfortable for you. Let who you are develop.” Know too that even established artists still struggle with finding their own voice and place in the world.

When you next see a website or blog of a local animal welfare group, take a closer look at the photographs, the layout, and even the text. Someone had to create all of this content. If you have a heart for animals and have some creative talent, chances are there is a group who could use your help.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

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