Any job gets old eventually, right? I mean, how many times can I cuddle a puppy in one hand while straightening the belt on a hot, topless man with the other before it just gets boring? Turns out, the answer is a lot. I’ve been directing Hot Guys and Baby Animals shoots for five years now, and it hasn’t gotten old yet.
It hasn’t gotten much easier either, since baby animals always bring chaos. Scratches, barking, and even some potty accidents are par for the course. And that’s just the male models.
But after five calendars and three books, my partner Carolyn Newman and I have certainly learned what works well and what doesn’t. We know what animals will look good with what models, we know what poses will look best. And we know that we have the best job ever.
“Great, now cuddle that kitten a little closer to your chin. And, can you please take off your shirt.” The sun is getting low in the Beverly Hills sky during the shoot for the 2015 calendar, and we’re on our sixth hot guy/baby animal pair. We have an entire litter of kittens from Saving Grace rescue and a very patient model named Ronald. Having a whole litter is helpful, because that way we can trade one kitten out for another when the one we’re using gets tired or too rambunctious.
Part of the purpose of the calendar is to raise awareness and money for animal rescues and shelters. We always work with nonprofit animal organizations and then donate a portion of proceeds to help them continue their amazing work. Part of the fun of the shoots is meeting the founders, volunteers, and foster parents for shelters large and small. I always enjoy talking to these inspiring people who are devoted to finding forever homes for homeless puppies, kittens, and even bunnies. And they often enjoy talking to our male models.
We’ve made more than one love connection … that is, love between a male model and a baby animal. One of our more inspiring success stories is from our very first calendar in 2010, when Mr. March ended up adopting the male Pit Bull puppy he posed with. And from our most recent shoot, we’re pretty sure Leo ended up adopting one of these kittens.
People often ask where Carolyn and I came up with the idea. We’ve been best friends since junior high, and we’ve had so many jokes between us since. This was just another funny idea that the two of us thought of as a joke, but we actually decided to pursue it seriously. My dad, Eliot Khuner, is a very talented professional photographer, so choosing him to take all the photos was an easy decision. Since then, our family business has grown quite a bit. In addition to my dad, Carolyn, and me, our shoots are now attended by my husband, Wes (production assistant); my own rescued Schnauzer mix Rusty (makeup); Carolyn’s rescued terrier, Lucy (craft services), and my one-year-old daughter, Mina (human resources). We have a number of friends who like to help out as well, often serving as animal wranglers or talent scouts.
Though Carolyn and I are cofounders of the company, we fell quickly into roles that play to our strengths. Carolyn is the producer, and I direct. This means that Carolyn is often organizing puppies while on the phone with a male model who’s lost. And I have a kitten in each hand while I’m explaining to a model how to hold a kitten to make him feel safe. The last thing we want is a furry little guy jumping out of a model’s arms.
Another question we’re frequently asked is, where do you get your models? We find our guys from lots of sources. Most of our male models come from ads we post on modeling websites, but we’ve definitely picked up good-looking guys on the street before. At one point we had all of our girlfriends walking up to men at bars asking, “Have you ever modeled? Can I give you my card?”
We usually shoot in Los Angeles, where many experienced and aspiring male models spend their time. Most are excited by the chance to work with animals. Both because it’s fun, and because apparently it’s a good shot to have in one’s portfolio to show versatility. One thing I’ll say about all of our models: They’re great sports. It’s not always easy to hold a rabbit in just the right way, or look at the camera for 20 minutes while we get a Bulldog puppy to do the same.
The shoots usually last about three days, sunrise to sunset, and there is never a dull moment. We end each day bone-tired and brain-dead. But it all pays off in the end when we see our beautiful books and calendars on shelves and online, and we get reports of the joy that comes to the people who read them.
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About Audrey Khuner: A contradictory mix of cynicism and sentimentality, Audrey thinks wedding vows are cheesy, yet cries at almost every episode of This American Life. She enjoys walking in the rain with her eight-year-old furry baby, Rusty, and her one-year-old human baby, Mina. When she’s not entertaining her little ones, Audrey works as a freelance writer and co-founder of Hot Guys and Baby Animals.