Animal Rescue Photography Milestone: 1000 My Mutt Posters
June 25, 2020
Twelve years ago this month my animal rescue photography went into overdrive when I started shooting My Mutt posters for Pet Food Express. Last week I did a tally of the animals I’ve photographed for the program in those dozen years and the total still blows me away: 1000. That’s an awful lot of dogs, cats, bunnies, horses, birds and lizards.
I remember looking at the images on the back of my camera during the shoot with Flash and thinking how special they were. I didn't realize at the time that he was my 1000th My Mutt session. He was also the last dog I photographed before the COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place order went into effect.
Animal Rescue Photography Writ Large
If you haven’t heard of the My Mutt Program here’s a little background. Pet Food Express is a California-based pet supply company best known for their support of pet rescue programs in the state. All 60+ of their stores are festooned with My Mutt posters that help raise awareness and money for pet rescues, advocacy groups and shelters. Interested people donate $250 or more to an animal non-profit or animal-focused cause, apply to PFE for a My Mutt and a professional animal photographer like me is assigned to shoot the poster. 100% of the donation goes to the rescue.
Emmy was the very first pet I worked with on a My Mutt poster way back in 2008. That year there were only two of us shooting all the posters so my year was filled with animal rescue photography.
Spreading the Word one Rescue Animal at a Time
From my perspective it’s pretty brilliant. People love seeing their pets up on the posters and come into the store more (and tell all their friends) plus the rescues get top billing so word about them gets out there every time someone looks at one. And trust me, it really works. I’ve had a number of pet parents I’ve shot posters for tell me personally that people see them out with their dogs and ask “Is that Spot, the dog I saw on the wall at Pet Food Express?”
My Mutt posters include a lot more rescue animals than dogs. One of my favorites was a leopard gecko named Godzilla. How perfect is that?
Back to the 1000 posters. I honestly had no idea the number would be that high. However I do know how much it’s meant to me as a pet photographer, animal lover and animal-welfare advocate to be involved with such a remarkable program. I’ve met so many amazing pets (and their people) and worked with so many rescue groups and shelters associated with them that to say it’s been important to me and my photography is a major understatement. Giving back and helping rescue groups has become core to what I do in my business and being involved with the My Mutt program has fortified that probably more than any other single factor.
I drove all the way up to Petaluma to photograph these two hounds and knew how I was going to shoot it as soon as I pulled into the driveway and saw the pickup truck
The Best Training Ever for Becoming a Professional Pet Photographer
Frankly, it’s also been my most important training ground and let me experiment and grow as a commercial pet photographer. For these jobs I usually meet the animals and people for the first time at the shoot and often don’t get to do much advanced scouting. Sometimes the pets are really shy and haven’t ever seen a DSLR or lighting equipment before. There’s virtually no budget so I’m also typically flying solo and tend to enlist the pet parents as assistants. It's also given me access to locations I'd never have been able to use otherwise such as the Fillmore where I photographed a group of elderly models from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue back in 2012.
Sometimes I'll give a pet parent a field promotion to photo assistant during a shoot. There's nothing better than a voice-controlled light stand.
The soundboard engineer at the Fillmore adopted a Muttville dog so we were able to use it as a platform for the shoot.
The Best is Yet To Come
A big, heartfelt thanks to the folks at PFE that made this happen: Michael Levy and Mark Witriol, the owners, and Mike Murray the head of Community Outreach who contacted me 12 years ago to see if I’d be interested in photographing some pets in the name of a good cause. A thousand posters later along with millions of dollars raised for animal rescues I'm still really excited about this program and eager to keep making local dogs, cats and other pets famous.