I live on a farm in exurban — or rural, if you prefer — Texas. Field Store Community, to be exact. As I imagine is the case in many “towns” of our size across America, there is almost nothing to do nearby. A hobby my husband and I picked up is going to small country auctions. They’re entertaining even when you don’t buy anything, but we’ve also scored some great antiques and assorted odd, useless items.
We started going to auctions right around the time we picked up another hobby, a more time- and life-consuming one: fostering homeless dogs. The two seemed wholly unrelated until one serendipitous auction when I set my eyes on a pair of ugly purple chairs. Believe me when I tell you that there was no good reason to even look at these chairs.
They are a color that, depending on the light, ranges from “sort of lavender” to “1983 mauve” to “anemic chopped liver.” Structurally, they are just your basic wingback chairs. They are not special. But I turned to my husband and said, “I’m going to buy those chairs. They would be great for taking dog pictures.” I think he thought I was kidding.
When the chairs came up, the bid started at $20. I nonchalantly lifted my paddle. And no one else did. I may have mentioned, these were not particularly special chairs. The $20 won me the pair, and we carted them home that night. Since they matched literally nothing in our house, we stuck one in our bedroom and put the other in our office, where I intended to use the superb natural light to take fun portraits of the dogs we foster.
At the time, we were caring for our fourth and fifth fosters, Lita and Rory, sibling Blackmouth Cur mixes. They were (and remain to this day) our biggest fostering challenge. These dogs were completely unsocialized and had a range of fear issues, which were taking longer to resolve than we thought they should — and, as a result, it was taking longer to adopt them out than we thought it should. They had come a long way in our home, though, and were generally very good with us and with the camera.
Rory went first in the ugly purple chair. And let me tell you, she rocked it. We posted her new portrait on Facebook, and it generated a ton of interest and a whole lot of shares. Because come on — look at it. She’s the most interesting dog in the world. And so, a tradition was born.
It took both girls more time and a failed adoption each to find their forever homes. Photos are great, but special needs dogs need more than just a pretty picture to be properly matched. I am happy to say they both found wonderful homes, and Lita (now Gracie) even got a step-sibling last year who was another one of our special needs fosters. The adopting family have extraordinary hearts and have given Gracie and Rookie the best possible patient and accommodating home.
Rookie, a low-riding Corgi mix, is our only foster never to have sat in the chair. Born without hip sockets, he can’t get on furniture on his own, and we didn’t think it a good idea to lift him just for a photo. He is a perfectly content, relentlessly cheerful floor dweller.
The next dog to sit in the chair was Lefty, a Boxer/Catahoula mix. He looked so good in it that we “foster failed” him. He is ours and spends time in the chair every single day. I probably have 800 shots of him in it.
After Lefty, we fostered two tiny Aussie-mix puppies, Pancho and Tina (now Ziva). They both found their forever homes almost as soon as their purple chair photos went up. That’s when we realized we were onto something. If you are like me — and if you are reading this it means you are at the very least a dog person and connected to the Internet — you probably see homeless dogs with great regularity in your Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram feeds. My being involved in rescue means I see an easy 10 a day. No exaggeration.
As you can guess, these purple chair photos stick out in a feed. And while I don’t have actual research to back this up, I feel strongly that beautiful, warm portraits that celebrate dogs are more likely to get them a home than sad ones of them behind bars at the pound. I think it’s important to make the dog look like a family member, not a charity case. I want these photos to speak to potential families and to be a great memory of the first time they saw their new best friend. And, so far, they have.
Not all dogs take to the chair right away. Puppies are easy, but dogs who have never been in a house, or dogs who have been yelled at for being on furniture, take awhile to warm up. Eventually, they all love it. Something about this chair brings out the relaxed, happy dog families want to find. Some, like Shepherd-mix Betty, pose regally. Others, like our current foster, Coonhound-mix Coop, just squeeze themselves in for occasional naps.
All told, 43 dogs have sat in the purple chair, and almost all of them have gone on to new homes. We foster failed a second dog a couple years after Lefty: Mama Dog, a terrier mix. Mama D was not our best chair sitter, but in the end, it didn’t matter, because by the time she felt comfortable enough to be on furniture, we already saw her as a member of our family.
We have also put our house cat, Bubba, in the chair, and also a few newborn goats. Because cuteness is not species-limited. But mostly this chair belongs to the dogs — it’s where Lefty spends the night, after all.
People sometimes wonder if I have a favorite purple chair portrait, and I do. But it is always changing. I think the ones of sibling puppies will always make my insides get squishy — Patti and Selma the Pointer mixes and Katy and Biscuit the Lab/Beagle crosses are two “aww”-worthy shots.
I love the varied pictures of our dog Diva in the chair as she got older, too. Diva passed last year at age 16, and revisiting her photos never fails to produce a complicated, wet-eyed smile. On any given day, any one could be my favorite. Each one is a success story.
Three and a half years after we got it, the original purple chair is starting to fall apart. Lefty uses and abuses it with great regularity. We still have the backup chair in our bedroom, but I keep my eyes open for an eventual replacement. The purple chair has, despite its origins, become special. Though I don’t really think it’s irreplaceable — any moderately weird chair would do. When it comes down to the chair’s magic, it’s not really in the purple, it’s in the love.
Read more about photographing dogs for adoption:
About the author: Lisa Seger (who goes by Blue Heron Farm on most social media platforms) is a former office drone turned dairy farmer and cheesemaker. She found that cubicle jobs just didn’t allow for enough quality animal time and so made animals her work instead. Like all dairy farmers, she has virtually NO free time, but what little she gets is generally spent in pursuit of rescuing, fostering, and placing homeless dogs. Or being a smart-alec on the interwebs. Follow her on Facebook.