I remember making a phone call once in the early 90s to my dad. I was attending the University of Georgia, a Biology major, trying to get into Veterinary School.
I remember the day perfectly, it was a Friday, and had been raining. My windshield wipers needed replacing and I had been putting it off. I could barely see driving down the country highway.
I desperately wanted to talk to someone, and that someone was my dad. And this was pre-cell phone days, so I had to wait the 30-minute car drive to get to my landline to call him.
By the time he picked up the phone, despite my plan on holding my composure, I was sobbing. And I don’t mean the sniffling kind, I mean ugly-face, can’t-get-the-words-out sobbing.
My poor dad thought the worst. I remember him pleading “…was there an accident?…are you ok?…please say something I can understand…”
What came out of my mouth was probably not what he expected.
Why Valentails is important to me
I had spent the week volunteering at our local animal shelter. The first day, I had to help with the free clinic the shelter offered. No problems there, it was usually owners who came in for regular check-ups, vaccinations, ticks, etc.
The second day, I assisted a technician in surgery. This is where things started getting bad for me. They messed up and gave a cat too much anesthesia during a neuter procedure. He didn’t make it.
According to the tech, it was ‘no big deal’, because he had just been adopted and she was certain the new owners would adopt another one. They’d just tell her he had a bad reaction to the anesthesia.
No one in the surgery room disagreed.
I. Was. Horrified.
That night I didn’t sleep. I just kept hearing the sobs of the new owner in the lobby of when they told her the news. “We have other cats you can adopt…” said the tech to her. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
The third day, a man brought in his puppy who clearly had a broken leg. He wanted to surrender it. The puppy cried and yelped and screamed when the man left him. I stayed and tried to console the pup, and I’ll never forget looking into those deep pools of brown eyes as I told him his life would get better from now on.
The next morning, I found out the pup had been euthanized due to overcrowding and under-funding at the shelter. I honestly don’t remember that whole day as I tried to reconcile what had happened.
By the fifth day, I was a zombie. I remember a woman coming in with eight kittens who were so sick they couldn’t hold their heads up. She said she had thought about throwing them in the river, but didn’t have a bag.
I didn’t know what to say to her and after vomiting in the employee bathroom, I walked out. And one hour later, here I was trying to get all this out of my mouth to my poor father who, at this point, wasn’t sure if I was safe or not.
By the time I did regurgitate my story to my dad, all I heard was silence. “Dad…are you there…” I pleaded.
“I’m here.” he said. And then I heard him sigh. Dad had a softer heart than he ever wanted to admit. And, he knew mine was even more tender, and I know he was trying to find the words to help me.
Dad was usually a one-liner, cliche, kind of advise man. But, on this day, he really changed my life with some of the best advice, to this day, I’ve ever received.
“The world has problems Melissa. But, the good news is that you can do something about it.”
“But what Dad…what could I possibly do??” I fell onto my couch and felt so defeated.
“I’ll tell you…. And don’t ever forget this…
Do WHAT you can, HOW you can and WHEN you can”Thomas Grimes, Jr.
Fundraising for my furry friends speaks to my heart
Dad had once again stopped me from feeling hopeless and distraught. He had given me hope and a ray of light when I needed it most.
I couldn’t save the world that day. But maybe, I could do small things over the course of my life that could change the lives of a few animals. Or maybe a hundred, or a thousand. I have dreams…stay tuned for them.
So, in following my dad’s words of advice, over the years I’ve been photographing animals in rescue groups and shelters who need homes.
There really is nothing more rewarding than seeing homeless animals find their beloved home via one of my photos.
When that happens, my heart doubles in size.
I started doing photo fundraisers for Paw Placement six years ago, and each year, they’ve grown and become one of my favorite events of the year.
When Paw Placement won the bid to become Coconino County’s Animal Shelter, I was ecstatic to be able to raise money for this new and beautiful shelter. I’ve always thought a city shelter should be a place where pets could come to find their own forever home, not a place that I witnessed in rural Georgia.
I named the event “Valentails” in honor of my favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day. I think our pets offer us the most unconditional love we’ll ever receive and think a celebration of that love is perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Thank you for being my Valentails!
I’m so happy to announce that we were able to raise $3,505! As my sweet husband would say, “That’s a lot of kibble.”
I was so humbled by all the people who came to support this organization and to share their sweet furry family members with me so I could create some memorable images that I know they’ll always cherish.
Thanks to everyone who supported this event.
It truly was a community effort to pull this event off and I’m honored to have these wonderful businesses support this great cause.
I’ve always felt very strongly that the best way to change the world is by volunteering.
My father had a saying that has stayed with me my whole life….”Contribute what you can, when you can and how you can, whether it be money, time or service…YOU can ALWAYS make a DIFFERENCE. Even the smallest gestures can change someone’s world.” Dad was very wise and I miss him so much. (but that’s another blog post)
A few weekends ago, I held my sixth annual Valen-Tails Photo Fundraiser for Paw Placement of Northern Arizona! I got to meet over 40 sweet and cuddly new furry friends and some of the most amazing pet owners in the world.
Even though the fundraiser just ended, I’m already missing my new friends. Nothing makes me happier than spending the day with animals.
I’m happy to announce that we raised $1,855.00 for this organization to help them continue their important work in the Northern Arizona region.
Currently, Paw Placement of Northern Arizona is working towards bringing a 21st Century Shelter to our area. If you live in Flagstaff, you know we need it! Please read about their vision on their website.
Pet Photography Tips
I have been called a “pet whisperer” by some very kind friends. But I will admit, I do have a special relationship with animals.
When photographing people’s pets, I’m always asked, “How do you do it?”
Here are some of my favorite pet photography tips and some of my favorite photos from the very special weekend.
Use these five pet photography tips when you are trying to capture a special moment with your furry loved one.
1. Focus on the Eyes
You know what they say, “Eyes are the Window to the Soul.” Well, that is especially true for our animal friends.
It’s the eyes that make any portrait memorable. And that is even more true for your pets. Pet eyes are full of wonderful expression and successful pet portrait focuses the attention there.
2. Let Their Personality Shine Through
You know your pet and you should trust what you know. The very best photos showcase the true character and personality of the subject and this holds true for your pet.
Let your animal play, yawn, or even dress up. Get the perfect image out of your head and let the favorite furry subject redefine purrrfect.
3. Surprise Them
You can’t expect your pet to wait for you to be ready to take the shot. Instead, let them continue to play, while you get ready.
Once your camera is focused and your animal is in the frame, call his name, or make a strange sound he’s never heard before and click. The surprise will catch him off guard and give you a few seconds to capture something special.
4. Go to Them
The best photos will come when your pet feels comfortable. Instead of calling him to you, try going to him.
Get down on his level, look him in the eyes and show him your love. That is probably the most important tip I have.
5. Be Patient
When your pet is excited by a new toy or some other excitement, it is often difficult to get the perfect photo.
But when your patient and you let your furball settle down, he will relax and you will end up with a much better shot.
In the end, if you want to capture great photos of your pet, remember they are your people. Let them be themselves and focus on them, not necessarily trying to capture the photo.
In closing, I just want to say Valen-tales is my absolute favorite event of the year. The fact that I can help raise money for a worthy organization while having fun with friends and their tribe is a privilege and pure joy.
This year we volunteered our time to photograph part of the Second Chance Center for Animals calendar. This organization, in our hometown of Flastaff, is a vital part of the ongoing animal welfare here in our mountain town. They “Rescue from the Rescues” and provide these animals a second chance for a forever home. They offer pet adoptions, humane education, pet behavior training and resources, and are the emergency designated animal welfare organization for Coconino County. We were proud to be able to help their efforts in our community and feel very strongly that it’s important to give back.
This year, beautiful Mora was featured on the cover, back and for the month of December! And Sweet Nesbah was chosen for the month of March. It was such a fun project and of course, we left with a little piece of each dog’s heart in our own.
“A person who has never owned a dog has missed a wonderful part of life” ~ Bob Barker
Some dogs find themselves homeless through no fault of their own, and Star Bright is a perfect example. As a puppy, Star was found as a stray and turned into the Yavapai Humane Society. She was soon adopted and enjoyed a short life with a family. But then, Animal Control found here again as a stray and Star found herself again a resident of the shelter. Star was adopted again shortly after her second stay at the shelter, but then the unimaginable happened-Star’s family moved away and left her all alone in the back yard. A kind neighbor fed her and gave her water for two weeks until it was evident that her neighbors were not returning for Star, so once again, Star found herself back in the shelter.
Star lived in the shelter for many months, but no one ever picked her. As someone who has spent many hours in shelters volunteering, being the dog never picked takes it’s toll on the animal. Imagine being in a cage for all hours of the day, and seeing your neighbors getting out to visit with a family, and sometimes going home forever. That never happened for Star. She waited and waited, but no one came for her. Star was starting to shut down emotionally until a volunteer chose her to be her partner in the Blue Ribbon Training Program. Star was shining with her new found friend and her personality blossomed learning basic obedience skills, leash walking and working very hard to overcome her shyness of strangers learning to trust again. However, all her hard work was in vane. Star soon found herself on the euthanasia list.
A kind individual, who volunteers for many animal organizations, met Star during her various stays at the shelter and instantly fell in love. She couldn’t bare the thought of poor Star being euthanized. She made some phone calls and found boarding for Star and so Star spent the next few months at a kennel. While it was a solution to keep her alive and healthy, the stress was taking a toll on Star, she was getting depressed. A proper foster parent had to be found.
Once again, this wonderful woman, Vikki, came to Star’s aid. Through networking, she’s found Star a foster home where she can get the stimulation, comfort and love needed to cheer up this sweet dog.
But while a foster home is wonderful, Star needs and, more importantly, deserves a home and family of her own.
After following Star’s history on Facebook, I contacted Vikki to see if we could photograph Star as part of our Adorable Adoptable program. I was thrilled that we were granted this opportunity. Vikki was kind enough to drive from Chino Valley all the way to our Flagstaff office for this photo session. We were elated to be able to meet them both.
When I heard of Star’s history, I imagined a broken animal coming to the studio. Having the history of being returned and/or abandoned many times, I assumed she must have physical and/or behavioral problems. But what walked into our studio was anything but a broken dog.
Star truly was a perfect dog.
Star is a big American Bulldog mix and is six years old who has impeccable house manners, with no food or toy resource guarding. Star knows not only voice command, but also some sign language. She is fully house broken and has even been trained to eliminate on command. She loves to walk, and is wonderful on a leash. She’s active and loves hiking and swimming but is just as content to cuddle with you on the couch. Not once did she bark on our photo session outside. She knows all the basic commands and her intellect is ready to learn more. She’s wonderful with children and adores being with them. Her foster mom is currently working with her to see how she reacts with other dogs and smaller animals. At six years old, Star is ready to settle down and find her best friend.
This dog, who’s been thrown away so many times in her life, deserves better. She deserves a chance.
She wants what all of us want, someone to love her. And, she wants a forever home.
If you, or someone you know, would like to meet Star, please contact Vikki McLaughlin at 954.292.9740 or firstname.lastname@example.org . She can make the arrangements for a meeting and tell you more about this sweet dog.
Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing Star’s story. Blessings to all of you ~ Melissa
“Saving one dog won’t change the world, but for that one dog, his world will be changed forever”
Giving back to the community has always been important to me, so this month I was very excited to help Paw Placement of Northern Arizona with a pet portrait fundraiser! We had a full day, an appointment every 10 minutes and met over 50 new animal friends. We had a great time meeting everyone and as you can see from the photos below, even our new pet friends had a great time too! Special thanks to my great friend and fellow animal lover, Kim Duncan, my wonderful husband, Grant, and the volunteers at the Rescue Me Adoption Center for helping out; I couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks to everyone who came out to the event at the Rescue Me Adoption Center, your donation means the world to the homeless animals this event benefited! ~ Melissa
Every month, we volunteer our time to help a shelter animal find their forever home. This month, we headed over to Paw Placement of Northern Arizona‘s adoption center, Rescue Me, to take photos of a special kitty named Sasha. Rescue Me is located in the Flagstaff Mall. If you live in the area, and have never visited this store, you should head over soon. It’s a great place to meet potential four-legged future family members, or just to check out what’s happening in the world of animal rescue. Paw Placement of Northern Arizona is a great organization, who’s mission is to reduce euthanasia rates of homeless cats and dogs through rescue, adoption and education about responsible pet guardianship. They rescue animals and place them in foster homes to help them find their forever home.
Sasha is our first kitty we’ve ever photographed for our Adorable Adoptable program and she really set the bar for sweetness. She didn’t mind us photographing her at all, in fact, I’d argue that she enjoyed the attention! She is a short haired Siamese and Calico harlequin cat about 3 1/2 years old. The rescue said she is very smart and loves to play games at home. She’s extremely affectionate and loved spending time with us. If you or someone you know might be interested in Sasha, please contact Paw Placement of Northern Arizona to get more information about adoption.
Thank you for reading and helping us find Sasha a purrrrrrrrr-fect home! ~ Melissa