Maybe shelter dogs just need a Hollywood moment.
Seth Casteel, a professional pet photographer, volunteers a couple of hours each week at the West Los Angeles Animal Care Center, photographing dogs who need homes. The pictures replace the mug shot-like photos taken by shelter staff when the animals arrive.
“A lot of animals don’t understand what the deal is. They are coming off the truck, chained up, fearful, maybe fighting back. Some may not be healthy. That’s not the moment to take a photo,” said Casteel, 29.
Casteel photographs as many as 30 dogs a week at the shelter with the help of volunteers like Lola McKnight who fetch the dogs and play with them while he shoots. Those “personality shots” become the dogs’ first impressions on Web sites, newspaper ads, fliers, e-mails and social networks.
Shelter manager Capt. Louis Dedeaux said many visitors will come in carrying one of Casteel’s dog photos. There is no way to know how many of the dogs he’s photographed have been adopted or what else figured in a placement, but adoption numbers at the shelter are very high, Dedeaux said.
Casteel doesn’t have to take a lot of puppy pictures. “People want puppies so they go first,” Dedeaux said.
The dogs Casteel shoots are usually older and he works wonders with them, Dedeaux said. “He’ll get happy expressions, sometimes a perfect ‘take me home’ look,” he explained.
The photographer has saved more than one old dog’s life, Dedeaux said. It is a kill shelter so animals can’t stay indefinitely, he said. And Casteel said he hopes the idea spreads.
“We keep them as long as we can,” Dedeaux said, “but the longer a dog is here, the worse his chances are.”