Book Review: Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth, Guinnevere Shuster (2016)

May 4th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Epic Photos for an Awesome Cause

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through NetGalley.)

Every year, approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter U.S. shelters; of these, 3.9 million are dogs. Roughly 35% are adopted, while another 26% are reunited with their families. The remaining 26% are killed, usually for lack of homes.* This translates to a staggering 1.2 million dogs (not to mention 1.4 million cats) per year.**

Given the overwhelming scope of the problem, animal shelters and welfare groups have gotten pretty darn creative in their rescue efforts – aimed at both placing animals in homes, as well as preventing them from entering the system to begin with. For example, some groups offer grants to low-income pet owners who are facing unexpected veterinary bills. Others provide free or low-cost checkups and spay/neuter services to those in need.

Nonprofits that focus on humans have gotten into the act as well. With an increasing awareness of the link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence comes programs that cater to both human and nonhuman victims. For instance, domestic violence shelters are starting to open their doors to the companion animals of their human clients, as a sizable percentage survivors refuse to leave their furry friends behind.

(I volunteer as a foster home for one of two such groups in the Kansas City area, and it’s extremely rewarding. In particular, I find it easier to foster dogs who already have homes. Don’t get me wrong, I still fall in love with them, but at least I know I have to give them back. Otherwise I’m likely to adopt myself out of fostering in no time flat. Anyway, I cannot recommend it enough.)

In a similar vein, there also exist programs that place the companion animals of deployed and injured/recovering service members in foster homes (usually for three months up to a year or more). Ditto: regular civilians facing unexpected hospital stays. Other groups advocate for service members’ rights (such as fighting breed bans on military bases) and provide financial services when needed. Initiatives like these help keep beloved companions out of the shelter system, free up kennel space for truly homeless or unwanted animals – and keep families together in the long term. It’s a win-win. (For more information, start with Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet, PACT for Animals, and Dogs On Deployment.)

With the advent of the Internet, online profiles have become an important tool for animal shelters and rescue groups. An entertaining, informative profile – on Petfinder, Adopt a Pet, and/or the group’s own website – is a must. Bonus points if you can include one or more professional photographs that highlight the animal’s unique personality. (Some dogs even star in their own videos or have Facebook pages or Instagram and Twitter accounts!) Luckily, photographers like Guinnevere Shuster are stepping up to help. Whether volunteering their talents to local shelters, matching their colleagues up with rescues in need, or raising the money to buy photography equipment for open-admission shelters (see, e.g., The Perfect Exposure Project), photographers have so much to offer. (So if you are one, please think about volunteering? Pretty pretty please?)

Guinnevere Shuster began photographing adoptable animals her junior year of college; to date, she’s had more than 6,000 models. The dogs found in Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth all called the Humane Society of Utah (HSU) home, if only for a short time. They were picked up as strays; surrendered by owners who didn’t have the time or money to care for them; given the boot by their family’s landlords; rescued from a life on a chain; displaced by a death in the family and grieving their humans; or transferred in from other shelters. HSU is an open-admission shelter that doesn’t limit the length of time an animal can remain in the program.

The book features four photo booth-style pictures of 105 dogs; each set is accompanied by a brief paragraph about the subject. At the end of the book, we’re treated to “where are they now?” follow-ups on 17 of the lucky pups. All of the photos were taken in 2015, mostly in the latter half of the year. All but one of the dogs has been adopted; Willow is still in foster care, being treated for mange.

With the help of peanut butter, Beggin’ Strips (a few of the dogs appear in IG ads for the treats), and a whole lotta patience and goofiness, Shuster’s photos are at turns silly, serious, playful, and soulful – but always stunningly gorgeous. It’s hard to pick a favorite, though it seems only fair that cover dog Buzz should be taken out of the running. (He did already land the cover, you know?)

Personally, I’m partial to Wallace; not only do I have a thing for tripods, but his missing eye reminds me of my late dachshund, Ralphie.

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Tater Tot gets an honorable mention, if only because I’ve fostered a few really rad Yorkies and he reminds me of two of the three.

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Okay, okay. Just one more! I have to include Atticus, otherwise the ghosts of my childhood dogs Bucky and Cap (as in Captain America; my dad named ’em) will haunt me for sure. They were St. Bernard/Collie mixes and just the best dogs a girl could ask for.

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I also love that Shuster includes dogs who typically have a harder time getting adopted: pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs; mutts (though there are quite a few purebreds to be found here!); adult and senior dogs; tripods and otherwise disabled dogs; “ugly” dogs (don’t worry Willow, I think you’re beautiful!); black dogs; there’s even one bonded pair! (I’ve adopted two bonded pairs now – Kaylee & Jayne and Mags & Finnick – and it’s the best feeling in the world. Like adopting one dog, but while riding a unicorn over a rainbow after a glitter storm.)

Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth has been compared to Underwater Dogs, but I find it more reminiscent of Melissa McDaniel’s work. Each book in her series, The Photo Book Projects, highlights a different group of overlooked or marginalized dogs – Deaf Dogs, Rescued in America, Pit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs, and Puppy Mill Survivors – with the ultimate goal of raising awareness and encouraging prospective guardians to adopt.

I was lucky enough to snag an early copy of Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth in ebook form, but I plan on buying a finished copy for my shelves (and maybe one for my mom, too!). The photos are all that and a bag of chips, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit HSU (where Shuster works as the social media coordinator) and Best Friends Animal Society.

In the parlance of We Rate Dogs, 1155/1050 chill AF would pet vigorously.***

* I won’t sugarcoat these killings by categorizing them as “euthanasia” – unless done in the animal’s best interest, e.g., if she is physically ill and beyond help, these are not mercy killings, but murder.

** Statistics via the ASPCA.

*** That’s 11/10 points per dog, fyi.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

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