When I ask myself where my love for animals came from, I always think of Galahad. I grew up with this very special Lhasa Apso for the first 15 years of my life. He was around a couple years before I was even born and once I came into the world, he never left my side. When I was very young, he could be found underneath my play swing, making sure my bathtime went smoothly or hanging onto my underpants with his teeth while I laughed hysterically running around the house. Because of him, I know my love of animals began and has been in my heart ever since. The day he had to be put to sleep was one of the hardest days of my life. I was only 15, but I remember very clearly asking my parents for a moment alone with him in their bedroom. I told him how much he meant to me, said goodbye and sobbed uncontrollably. For the first time, I had experienced the deep and painful loss of a furry companion and it was devastating.
I always had a love for writing as I was growing up and I wrote short stories about various topics, but mainly about animals and about Galahad. A couple stories I wrote about him were published in small magazines and I even won the coveted Junior Writer Award by the Dog Writers Association of America when I was only 16. But, don't get me wrong. I submitted my stories to hundreds of magazines and was rejected hundreds of times. This is when I learned to be extremely persistent and refused to give up.
So it would only make sense that I studied journalism when I entered college, right? I went to the University of Central Missouri and graduated in 2003 with a degree in Journalism. Writing was all I had ever known... it was my comfort zone... my safety net and what I thought I was meant to be doing in life. I was an editor and graphic designer when I landed my first job in the "real world". This company paid for continuing education classes and this is where I learned about the exciting world of Photoshop and photo restoration. I started my own website with the encouragement of my instructor and began restoring photos for family and friends and eventually paying clients.
Now, what I am going to describe next might not make sense to some people, but here I go. One day I was sitting at my computer like I always did, but I was looking through some candid photos of my parent's new dog I had taken with a silly little point and shoot camera. I am being 100% honest when I tell you that something spoke to me internally that day. Something planted the idea of pet photography in my head. Something whispered gently that I should expand my restoration website to offer photography services and I should specialize in pet photography. Now, being that I am a Christian and a spiritual person, I fully believe that this "something" was the Lord and He was leading me to be a pet photographer and thus to save animal's lives by eventually photographing in shelters and rescues.
I had ignored a heavy pulling at my heart for quite some time. I had wanted to volunteer at animal shelters ever since I was a little girl. I had a deep love of animals and wanted to somehow make a difference in their lives. However, I never thought I had the strength to witness the horrific truth of animal cruelty and the reality of homeless animals. Many years had passed, but deep down I always felt a terrible nagging that I should be volunteering with animals. In 2009, thanks to social networking, I learned quite quickly via Facebook how many photos could be improved that were posted on shelter and rescue pages. Most of the dogs looked completely terrified and had the awful "glow eye" from using a flash. Who would want to adopt a dog with a photo that portrayed them this way? I had already bought my first professional DSLR camera and I contacted Animal Haven and asked if they could use some assistance with their photos. They welcomed me down to help, although I was completely scared of what I would see when I entered a shelter environment for the first time. I prepared myself for the worst. I remember vividly walking down the halls of cages... barking.... emptiness.... longing eyes..... extreme sadness.... yes, it was just as I had imagined. But once I started meeting the dogs, becoming their friend and earning their trust, I came alive when I began photographing them. Even on the first day I volunteered, I felt like I was supposed to be doing this my whole life. I learned to overlook my feelings of sadness and pity, but instead focused on the hope of helping find them a forever family and wondered silently if a photo really could change the life of a homeless dog.
Well it's now 2011. I have been volunteering and photographing adoptable dogs for almost 2 years and I can tell you that a photograph CAN change the life of a homeless dog. While the real heroes are the volunteers who dedicate countless hours to caring for and physically rescuing these dogs from the streets, I do feel I am an important piece in the puzzle to helping a homeless dog find its forever family. I have received more support from my Facebook fan base than I could have ever imagined in my wildest dreams. Every day I find myself advocating even more for the overwhelming amount of lost souls out there. A life in the rescue community is filled with happiness, heartache, anger and exhaustion, but it is worth every moment of it. I encourage you all to look deep inside yourself and to follow your dreams and your passion, regardless of how silly it may seem and even if you are rejected hundreds of times, just as I was while growing up. Life is what you make it. And everyone can truly find their calling in life if you put forth the effort and listen very closely to your heart.
Thank you Mom and Dad for having a dog and for teaching me the unconditional love of a pet. And thank you Galahad for being my first furry inspiration and helping lead me to where I am today.