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Pix We Love: “Finding Shelter” Captures the Bond Between Shelter Dogs and Volunteers

Volunteers pose with the dogs they care for in this striking photo series by Jesse Freidin, who hopes to expand the project with help from Kickstarter supporters.

Chris Hall  |  Aug 17th 2015


Shelter dogs are a pretty common subject for photographic portraits and photo essays. We’ve seen a lot of different takes on the topic, and although it may arouse sneers from certain art snobs, it’s not a trivial subgenre. The right portrait can mean the difference between life and death for a dog, as the works of  Nanette Morton or LaNola Stone aptly demonstrate.

But most of those photos, regardless of style, have one thing in common: They focus exclusively on the dogs. If human beings appear in them at all, they’re far in the background, almost as an accident of placement or cropping.

Jesse Freidin (Screenshot)

Jesse Freidin (Screenshot)

Photographer Jesse Freidin is taking an entirely different approach to photographing shelter dogs. In his new project, Finding Shelter, the people and the dogs are equally important in every image. The people in his series of portraits are the ones who are most responsible for caring for shelter dogs until they find their forever homes: The shelter volunteers.

Jeremia and Picasso, from one of our favorite organizations, Muttville.

Jeremiah and Picasso, from one of our favorite organizations, Muttville.

Shot in black-and-white against a white background, the photos are quite striking: They’re not depictions of people or of dogs, but of the relationship between the two. It’s a relationship that’s lasted and developed over thousands of years, and why we see dogs as being more than just another adorable animal. It’s why dog lovers think of their animals as friends and family.

To Freidin, one of the most important points of Finding Shelter is that the relationship isn’t a one-way street. The dogs rely on volunteers for food and shelter, but the volunteers rely on the dogs as well:

What I began seeing as I started photographing Finding Shelter was that the volunteers were not only interested in simply sharing their affection with the animals, they equally needed the love that the shelter animals gave back… The silent love a shelter dog gives to the human who cares for him is truly healing, making an animal shelter a place for humans and animals to heal together. Though the topic is never actually discussed, volunteers find an environment of support and friendship within their relationships with the abandoned animals that keeps them coming back.

Mari and Mark: “The reasons I volunteer at Peninsula Humane Society are many. My heart is full when I work with dogs; their needs are minimal, but they give so much joy. (Mark is a good example– he’s the epitome of a shelter dog: scruffy and all heart.) Being allowed to give back has, in turn, changed the way I view the world, and has saved me when I too experienced sorrow and hardships.”

Mari and Mark: “The reasons I volunteer at Peninsula Humane Society are many. My heart is full when I work with dogs; their needs are minimal, but they give so much joy. (Mark is a good example – he’s the epitome of a shelter dog: scruffy and all heart.) Being allowed to give back has, in turn, changed the way I view the world, and has saved me when I too experienced sorrow and hardships.”

Freidin already has accumulated a wide variety of shots showing volunteers and shelter dogs, but he’s launched a Kickstarter page to take the project even further. He’s mapped out a travel plan to photograph 150 volunteers in 12 different locations across the United States. In an excellent example of the paradoxes that creative artists face in the modern era, Freidin says that he has a publisher interested in the book — but he has to pay for travel and other expenses himself.

Linda (Volunteer) and Sheila (Dog)

Linda (volunteer) and Sheila (dog).

I generally consider the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words to be trite BS that disrespects my own craft of writing, but in this case, the work speaks for itself better than anything that I could write here. What do you think? Are these pics worth throwing a few dollars toward the photographer to make more? You can also check out a video at the bottom where Freidin talks about the work himself.

Barbara and Gwennie: “I started travelling the world years ago at a time in my life when I did not have a pet. During one of my journeys I met a woman that ran a rescue called Bali Dogs who inspired me to focus my energy on animal rescue. After this trip I adopted my pup Bodhi and now, five years later, I’m doing exactly what I had intended to do. I hope one day to share my knowledge about volunteering and rescue work with the less privileged through the world, where ever my travels may take me.”

Barbara and Gwennie: “I started travelling the world years ago, at a time in my life when I did not have a pet. During one of my journeys, I met a woman that ran a rescue called Bali Dogs, who inspired me to focus my energy on animal rescue. After this trip, I adopted my pup Bodhi and now, five years later, I’m doing exactly what I had intended to do. I hope one day to share my knowledge about volunteering and rescue work with the less privileged through the world, wherever my travels may take me.”

Lesley and Kona: “I started Wags and Walks after volunteering in my local shelters and watching them euthanize perfectly friendly adoptable dogs due to overcrowding.  I learned this number was close to 40,000 dogs a year just in Los Angeles.  I felt it was my obligation to jump in and strategize how to help this unthinkable crisis of man’s best friend.  I mustered the courage to leave my job as a pharmaceutical sales representative because my passion was to advocate for these amazing, special, even purebred dogs. With my background as a daughter of a veterinarian, my relentless passion for dogs, and my keen sense for pairing dogs with the right home Wags and Walks is now the fastest growing rescue in the nation growing from saving 50 dogs in its first year in 2011 to 525 amazing dogs in 2014.”

Lesley and Kona: “I started Wags and Walks after volunteering in my local shelters and watching them euthanize perfectly friendly adoptable dogs due to overcrowding. I learned this number was close to 40,000 dogs a year, just in Los Angeles. I felt it was my obligation to jump in and strategize how to help this unthinkable crisis of man’s best friend. I mustered the courage to leave my job as a pharmaceutical sales representative because my passion was to advocate for these amazing, special, even purebred dogs. With my background as a daughter of a veterinarian, my relentless passion for dogs, and my keen sense for pairing dogs with the right home, Wags and Walks is now the fastest-growing rescue in the nation, growing from saving 50 dogs in its first year in 2011 to 525 amazing dogs in 2014.”

Letti and Jamie

Letti and Jamie.



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