Florida photographer Adam Goldberg knows that a picture not only “paints a thousand words” – a good photo can help a shelter pet get adopted.
Since 2016, the professional photographer has volunteered his services once a month at the nonprofit Humane Society of Tampa Bay. He spends time photographing dogs, cats, rabbits, and “pocket pets” like guinea pigs. The resulting portraits are a vast improvement from the “intake” photos snapped when a pet first arrives at the shelter, often appearing anxious or scared.
“Sometimes a pet has been there for a month and then we photograph them and they get adopted two days later,” he says. “It’s just such a thrill to know that this better photo got them out of the shelter faster.”
Goldberg met his wife, Mary, while volunteering at the shelter, and the couple runs AGoldPhoto Pet Photography while raising their 15-month-old son, Benjamin, alongside rescue dogs Rigby and Bee and cat Sierra. He’d like to volunteer more frequently at the shelter, but time away from the studio means he loses income his family needs.
So he came up with a simple solution: finding sponsors.
After getting permission from the shelter to move forward, Goldberg started reaching out to businesses he thought might be interested in helping him help the animals, like a local doggy daycare. To his delight, the synthetic grass company ForeverLawn committed to sponsoring one photo session a month for an entire year.
Goldberg is careful to choose sponsors that don’t conflict with the shelter or his own values – which align with the Fear Free philosophy of reducing fear, stress, and anxiety for pets. For instance, he’d never work with an electric fence company since it’s not positive reinforcement.
Similarly, he’d never force a pet to have their photo taken.
“If they’re showing signs of anxiety like not eating during a photo shoot, it’s a sign that we should come back to them another time,” he says.
To reduce the chance of conflict, two volunteers take turns walking the dogs to and from their kennels so they don’t cross paths. Typically he’ll photograph at least 10 dogs, two to three cats, a bunny, and a guinea pig in each session.
Last month when he shared their new idea of seeking sponsorships with a video of a photography session of an adoptable dog named Maya, it went viral. Within a week, the Reel on Instagram garnered over 2.5 million views and 1.1 million on TikTok with thousands of comments supporting the idea.
“It’s so heartwarming to see what people say about this, like, ‘Oh my gosh, she looked broken and now she looks like a whole new dog,’” he says. “I think people really love the idea of the sponsorship.”
It’s just gaining steam. A recent TikTok post with a dog named Hazel’s adorable head tilt quickly hit 6.3 million views.
With shelters across the country reaching a crisis point—intake is rising faster than adoption rates and “non-live outcomes” are on the rise, according to the national database Shelter Animals Count—Goldberg hopes other photographers will help in their communities.
To that end, the Goldbergs created a resource called the Ultimate Guide to Shelter Pet Photography that’s available for free on YouTube.
The couple has also raised over $250,000 for 50 animal charities across America by hosting photography fundraisers. Attendees pay a fee to have their pets photographed, and the couple donates a portion of the proceeds to the shelter. AGoldPhoto Pet Photography offers an online course called How To Plan an Entire Pet Photo Shoot Fundraiser from A to Z.
Regan Blessinger, marketing and content manager for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, is thrilled that the Goldbergs found a way to volunteer more frequently. She said quality photos help potential adopters get a sense of a pet’s personality and improve their “shareability” on social media.
The photo sessions also provide an unusual form of enrichment for the pets.
“The animals love it,” she says. “They get pulled out of their kennel and come up to our humane education room because it’s the biggest and quietest, and they get to run around, eat treats, and play with toys. It’s all very fun for them.”
Blessinger said the shelter’s team loves the Goldbergs.
“They drag in all of their own supplies: big cameras, lights, backdrops, treats,” she says. “We provide the room and the animals, and then Adam does the rest. There’s a lot of time and effort put forth on his part, and we’re just so thankful.”
For more information, visit www.agoldphoto.com.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Photo Credit: Adam Goldberg/AGoldPhoto Pet Photography
Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America.
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Published November 29, 2023