Some of you may know that my first role as a volunteer for Rescued Pets Movement was going to their transports and taking photos of the animals who were going to travel. What began as my desire to document something that I believed had the potential to be a great thing for Houston’s homeless pet population turned into a labor of love for the volunteers and fosters who helped get these dogs and cats on the road to new beginnings. I saw the tears of goodbye, the gentleness in the hands of a foster parent who handed a dog to a driver, the quick, emotional exits after a cat carrier was loaded, and I thought, If I can put photos on RPM’s website of all the pets who leave, then everyone who helped them can always look back and see them on the day they took that leap of faith toward their new lives…
I never dreamed in those first months that 30 to 40 animals a transport would sometimes exceed 200, but there are more than 37,000 photos in RPM’s Flickr account now–that’s a lot of camera time, and post-processing time, and I’m still committed to thanking the helpers in this way after more than 17,000 dogs and cats (and two pigs) have been transported to their new homes.
What isn’t captured in those photo collages is the chaos of the photo table. I’m shooting very fast, and it’s only because the photos are so small in the collages that you can rarely see how blurred and bad they sometimes are. Cats are taken to the vans in carriers and very few of them make it easy for me to photograph them through their wire doors. But those carriers aren’t opened until they’re inside the vans with all the van doors closed so they can be transferred to their more comfortable travel crates without risk of their making a run for it. If given the opportunity to dash, there’s little chance anyone can catch a cat.
We have had dogs slip their collars or out of the arms of the people carrying them. Some amiably trot right over to whoever looks the friendliest, and others try to exit stage left, but with calm team work, they are gently ushered back to where they should be and securely placed on the vans. Then some of us, and by that, I mean me, have a mini meltdown and need to compose myself, but I try not to let it show. Seeing any dog anywhere unleashed amps up my anxiety level unless there’s an eleven-foot gated and locked fence around everything.
Only a few dogs and cats have boarded the vans unphotographed over these three-plus years. Even then, sometimes I realize it’s happened while the drivers are still on the road and they’ll email me photos of the dogs when they’re taken out for their walks. Each week I’m surprised again by the amazing animals who pass before my lens and that there are people in this city who won’t give them homes, won’t spay and neuter to prevent more unwanted pets, or who surrender them to kill shelters because they are in some way an inconvenience. (Though trust me, not everyone who surrenders a dog or cat does it for selfish reasons–quite the opposite!) I’m grateful for everyone on the ground in Houston who wants to make this a better city for homeless pets, and for the rescues and shelters in other states who welcome our dogs and cats with love and care and find them homes where they will be cherished for the rest of their lives.
And every week, as frustrating as my amateur photography efforts can be, I have to laugh at the dogs and cats who turn their heads away, who are far more interested in the other animals and other people and vans than they are in my camera and me. They walk out of my shots, turn their butts to me, stick out their tongues, jump around like crazy things, stop to relieve themselves, do the upward gazing dog routine so I can only get their chins, or retreat to the backs of their carriers from The Evil Force With Exploding Light. I often use the squeaker from a toy when I’m trying to get them to look toward the camera. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not.
A couple of weeks ago when I was taking a group shot of our staff and volunteers at the end of a transport, I asked them to please, when I squeaked at them, do what most dogs do in that situation.
I love RPM Nation so, so much.