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.
“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
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
I look forward to the first of every month for one reason, our Adorable Adoptable of the Month campaign. Each month, we partner with an animal rescue organization and volunteer our pet photography services to some special animal who needs a home. Over the past few months, we’ve met some amazing dogs and I’ve fallen in love with each and every one. This month, our sweet dog comes from Golden Bone Rescue and Rehab based out of Sedona, Arizona. Josie is a Golden Retriever/Beagle mix and is young, probably under two years old. She is a medium dog of about 40 pounds. During her photo session with us, Josie was timid (probably wondering what all the fuss was about!) but warmed up to us in just a few minutes. Despite the activity around her, she never barked or even made one sound. At first, Josie didn’t want anything to do with photographs, but then I explained to her that getting some great photos of her would help her find her perfect family. To my surprise, this sweet girl walked over to the rug, and posed perfectly until it was time for her to go. Shannon, her foster mom, says that Josie has a sweet temperament and loves to be petted. And, despite an old broken leg injury that was never treated by her previous owners, Josie loves to go on walks and spend time outside. Because of that old injury, she sits a little crooked, but that, in my opinion, only makes her more beautiful.
If you, or someone you know, might be interested in Josie, please check out the Golden Bone Rescue Rehab website or Josie’s Petfinder profile here. And, please share on Twitter and Facebook to help us spread the word about this loving dog.
Thanks for helping us find every homeless animal a forever home. Blessings to you and your family ~ Melissa
Kristen and I were involved in a fun event last month, Blossoms and Bras, headed up by our friend and floral artist at Bliss Extraordinary Floral , Amy Mills. Amy started this event as a way to engage the community of Sedona Arizona in an annual charitable event, combining creative art, the beauty of flowers, social activism and awareness, to benefit breast cancer research, through financial donation and community support. The night raised more than $700 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, who work together to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. While we were at the event, we got to meet cancer survivors and many whose lives had been affected by this disease. It was an inspiring and very uplifting event. We loved all the artistic bra designs and, more than that, the camaraderie amoung everyone who attended. Thank you for having us involved Amy! We look forward to next year’s event! ~ Melissa
Sponsors for Blossoms and Bras:
Noogins to Tootsies
Bliss Extraordinary Floral
Sedona Dollar Store
Crystal Magic Clothing
Rosalie’s of Sedona Catering
Tangled Lilac Photography
One of my biggest passions in life, is helping animals find their forever home. Before I became a photographer, I helped out in humane societies and tried to verbally share stories of sweet animals needing a second chance. Now, I photograph pets needing a little extra help by volunteering my services to animal shelters and rescue groups. It’s my hope that someone out there, will fall in love with their photo and arrange a meeting. And by “meeting”, I mean a date to fall in love. 🙂 So, when I got a call from my friend, Connie, at the Yavapai Humane Society asking for me to help with a sweet boy who’s been at the shelter since February, I was more than happy to help. And, this Monday, I had the good fortune of meeting a sweetheart of a dog named Blue. Can you tell from his striking eyes how he got his name?
Most of the time when I photograph animals at shelters, they are a bit skittish, and maybe even a bit scared. But not this boy. As you can see, he might just be the best smiling dog I’ve ever, ever had the good fortune to meet. This is one happy soul. This 1.5 year old dog came to the shelter when his owners surrendered him. He was scared for a while (I would be too!) and it took him a couple of weeks to get adjusted to his new shelter life. But, once he understood the good folks at th Yavapai Humane Society were there to care for him on a regular basis, his true personality came though. He was excited to take a hike with Connie and I on the nearby Peavine Trail, and loved exploring with his nose. He also loves to give kisses 🙂 Once on the leash, he was very good and although we didn’t (it’s against rules), I think if we would have dropped the leash he would have stayed at our side. I could also sense he’d be a great trail dog, and would love to run and hike with his forever family. He was very relaxed on our walk, and while he had the curiosity most dogs would have over the occasional lizard running over the rocks, he never tried to pull and run away after it. We also met a couple of families on the trail with small children, and Blue was curious, but also calm.
Aside from his beautiful blue eyes, Blue has a cute spot on his back, and the biggest tongue I might have ever seen! I love the below photo of him getting a chin scratch with his tongue hanging to the side. How cute is that?
The shelter lists Blue as a pointer/border collix mix, but I personally think Blue might be a mix of dalmatian (look at those sweet spots on his ears!) and pointer. When he heard a noise in the woods, he would go into that classic bird dog stance. But, admittedly, I’m not an expert on that, but you be the judge. What I do know for sure is that he is very smart. The short time we were out (about an hour), he learned to sit and stay perfectly still. I can see him being very easily trained to do all sorts of tricks!
Being a super model is hard work, so we rewarded Blue with a nice soak in the kiddie pool after our hike. I loved how he jumped in the water and stuck his entire head under the water to drink. He also dug the water like dirt and then gave us his leash back to us as if to suggest, “Lets go again!”.
Blue would be a perfect compliment to any family and I hope he finds his forever home soon. If you are interested in meeting Blue, please contact the Yavapai Humane Society in Prescott, 928-445-2666. Please share this post on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to help! Thank you for helping out those without a voice. Blessings ~ Melissa