TAVARES – It’s been said a picture says a thousand words. For Marjorie Boyd, the hope is a little bit different: that a single photo can tug at someone’s heartstrings and make them want to pick up the phone and call her office.
And, hopefully, say they’re ready to start the adoption process – for a new cat or dog to bring into their home.
“We were struggling with adoptions, and this has really taken off and helped us get our animals adopted,” said Boyd, Lake County’s director of animal services.
The program is an effort to recruit professional photographers who will agree to take photos of the animals available to be adopted through the Lake County Animal Services Division. The cats and dogs now in the shelters are badly in need of a home, Boyd said, but often times amateur photos posted on the county’s web site don’t really do justice to the little creatures, or go far enough in capturing them in their most adoptable light.
“We basically are in need of people with some type of experience taking pictures,” she said. “Of course, there’s not that many people out there with experience taking pictures of animals — but they could definitely get that experience here.”
In fact, Boyd said her staff even provides training – not on how to take photos or pose the animals to look cute and wanted, but on how to handle an animal that perhaps doesn’t understand what the whole photography process is all about, or may be scared about what’s happening. There’s a skill, she said, to keeping animals calm and well behaved.
“We would give you a little training on how animals behave,” she said. “We want somebody to basically have some good knowledge that when you have an animal and you take a couple of pictures, its temperament starts to change. Animals react differently — kind of like people do. We would give you some of the training our own staff members do to give you a little knowledge about that.”
This new volunteer program was launched late in September, and in the past month Animal Services has signed up two photographers, Boyd said. The photographers are needed to not only take photos of adoptable pets, but also provide the fabric for photo backgrounds and props to be used when taking the photos that are getting posted online at www.lakecountyfl.gov, with the keyword search word being “adopt.”
The photos are intended to have picturesque backdrops, said Gregg Welstead, Lake County’s director of conservation and compliance.
“Instead of the sterile, dog-on-a-leash or cat-in-a-cage, the new photos with props improve the appearance, gives the animals a personality, and generally makes them more adoptable,” Welstead said, adding that the idea came from an employee in the county’s Information Technology Department.
“And it goes to show that great ideas can come from anywhere,” he said.
“I started taking the pictures, but I’m not a photographer,” Boyd said. “We have a volunteer program with other things, so we said why not have a volunteer description for a photographer, that’s what we’ve been wanting anyway. Each photographer has a different style, and if it can help an animal get adopted, it’s a good thing.”
The professional, well crafted photos of the cats and cats, she said, makes them “more adoptable versus going back there and taking a picture of a dog in a cage, where you’ve got the chain link and the dog is locked in a cage. That is really not portraying the animal’s potential. A lot of these animals used to live in a home and was used to sitting on the couch watching TV.”
In the past month, Boyd said, online traffic to the Adopt-A-Pet program’s web page featuring these adoptable pet photos has averaged nearly 4,200 page views altogether — higher than in past months.
“The results so far have been overwhelming,” she said. “We’ve had several shelters compliment the new program, and we’ve had adoptions placed with people from Arizona, Minnesota and Texas.”
To become a photographer volunteer, Boyd said they can contact Animal Services at 352-343-9688.
“You would fill out an application with the county to become a volunteer,” she said. “I have two that have actually finished all their paperwork with the county. The whole volunteer program was started a little over a year ago, and we have different things you can come and be a volunteer to do. The photographer program started late in September.”
And if it works, it will be well worth the effort, she said, because Animal Services is caring for a lot of pets now that are in need of a home – a sign, perhaps, of the weak economy and its impact on family finances.
“The pets can wind up being here for numerous reasons,” Boyd said. “Sometimes the owner simply can’t afford them anymore.”
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