By Pam Bonsper
Art speaks and opens hearts.
Question Number One: Have you ever searched a website to adopt a dog and found one who jumped out at you and screamed, Adopt me! Adopt me! I'm the one?
Question Number Two: Have you ever taken a selfie and cringed at the image, wondering who that could possibly be?
Put these two ideas together, and you have the essence of HeARTs Speak, an organization whose mission is to get animals out of shelters and into your arms. They do this by collaborating with artists of every medium, whose common characteristic is a deep passion for animal advocacy.
Let's go back to the selfie. Normally, when dogs enter shelters they are photographed during their intake procedure. This is the picture that goes online and shows them off to the world. Picture yourself wanting to go online and put your best mug forward. What if your picture was that questionable selfie you took? Yuck! You wouldn't get one click.
Now let's go back to the dogs. What if you were scared to death when that photo was taken? What if you had a mischievousness that was lost? A sweetness that was obscured? An intelligence that was hidden?
In comes HeARTs Speak. They know the importance of image. It can make or break an adoption, especially when so many adoptions are initiated online. They know that image-perfect exposure is key to how someone will react to an adoptee.
Alicia Bailey, a HeARTs Speak photographer, explains, "It's all about collaboration. Shelters don't typically have the resources for a photo studio and equipment, but they want to do everything they can to get their animals seen and adopted. We created the Perfect Exposure Project to show them how. We launched our program at two shelters last year in New York and Philadelphia. In addition to the initial workshop where staff and volunteers learn the basics, we also provide follow up and support to ensure success."
She goes on to say, “Our Perfect Exposure Project continues to be successful at both shelters, and we are expanding our reach to collaborate with more qualified shelters.”
These techniques help with online adoption agencies as well. As a shelter or an agency, you want your dog to pop out on websites like Dog Finder and Adopt-a-Pet. How do you do this if you don't have a fresh, high-quality photo that is going to help? Photos that bring out dogs' best qualities also bring people into the shelters and adoption agencies, where they say, "I want this dog!"
Alicia stresses the importance of social media. Image is everything. It is responsible for increasing adoption numbers and also in recruiting more volunteers.
I asked Alicia how painters, sculptors, writers, illustrators, designers, and other artists work with HeARTs Speak. She explained that artists and communities come together in all kinds of ways. The artists have their own relationships with shelters and are active in many ways. Some donate their works to art shows. Some donate to publications. Some help with fund-raising benefits. These are hands-on artists who do what they can to help their community shelters and rescue programs.
The importance of getting the animals out of the shelters is the goal. HeARTs Speak opens the door between art and animal welfare."When art can help," says Alicia, "we jump at the chance."
HeARTs Speak also has many service professional members. Some are fine-arts photographers who have received top awards. "When a prestigious artist gets press, it shines light on shelter animals," says Alicia. "We collaborate with all kinds of people. We even have a junior membership level. It is all about collaboration."
To see the many organizations that HeARTs Speak partners with, just go to their website: www.heartsspeak.com. You will find BarkBox, Adopt-a-Pet, Petco Foundation and Animal Farm Foundation to name a few.
The Unexpected Pit Bull creates calendars that celebrate Pit Bulls. HeARTs Speak photographs give Pit Bulls positive and sometimes hilarious visual voices and help to quiet prejudice.
HeARTs Speak's Facebook page is adoption geared. I just checked it out myself. But just a word of caution. You will definitely see an animal that screams or just meows from the page, Take me! Take me! I'm the one!
HeARTs Speak unites and supports artists who provide their talents to animal welfare organizations and the communities they serve. A member-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit consortium of photographers, authors, designers, painters, illustrators, sculptors and animal advocates, they offer pro bono creative services to animal shelters and rescues. For more information, go to www.heartsspeak.org.