Interview with An Animal Photographer

August 21, 2016: Poor Shine has been overlooked. A friend forwarded my pictures to a family who travelled quite some distance yesterday to meet him. They were at the point of signing the adoption papers when his excitement bubbled over and he jumped at Dad too excitedly. The ACO could not let him go with them. He is so depressed in the kennel that he has chewed the end of his own tail off. He shows no aggression to people just desperate excitement. He needs a rescue by 9/1 or a difficult decision will be made for his quality of life.–Sarah Matula, HeARTS Speak

shineI first became acquainted with Sarah Matula, when she posted the above plea to HeARTS Speak. Along with many others, I reached out on Shine’s behalf to my friends on Facebook. In the end, thanks to Shine’s post being shared extensively online, Shine was adopted by a truck-driving couple. In the after math, Sarah and I talked about the desperate need of rescue groups for pet fosters. She also graciously allowed me to interview her.

Sarah volunteers regularly with Animal Welfare Society Inc in New Milford, Connecticut, taking pictures of the dogs as they come in as well as update pictures for longer timers and occasional cats. She also works with CT Parrot Rescue, Ferret Association of CT, Destiny’s Road, and The Animal Center, as well as municipal pounds when they are open to help.

ALLISON: What inspired you to become a photographer?

SARAH: My father was a professional photographer, so I grew up around photography. My husband is also keen and encourages me.

sarahmatula_fostercatsALLISON: What inspired you to use your talent for animals?

SARAH:  I have horses, including a rescued Shetland pony, three ex shelter dogs, and two feral cats trapped in an at-risk colony and re-homed to my barn. I wanted to help shelter animals and, as we have a full house, wanted to help encourage those who might not consider shelter animals to see that they are not broken; they’re just waiting for their families to find them.

ALLISON: How has your business grown?

SARAH: I have had referrals from shelter workers, volunteers, and vet staff who have seen my work and want to support it.

ALLISON: What were the challenges?

SARAH: Equipment is expensive and so I have to make do with what I can put together. I’ve also had to move away from working with one shelter, as changes in management meant that pictures were not being used and I wasn’t comfortable supporting some of the new policies.

ALLISON: Share one of your happiest moments as an animal photographer.

SARAH:  Having an adopter say, “I saw the picture and just fell in love.” One of the municipal pound dogs in CT, at risk of euthanization for space had his picture shared, and was seen in Maine. His new Dad fell in love with the appeal in his eyes and came down to adopt him. He now lives an amazing country life, hiking and fishing in rural Maine.

ALLISON: Share one of your saddest moments as an animal photographer.

sarahmatula_dyingdogSARAH:  One of the volunteers at a shelter I work with asked me if I could take pictures of her parents’ dog. It was coming near to his time and she wanted them to have pictures to remember him by. I arrived to find a beautiful dog whose mind and affection for his people were as strong as ever, but whose body was failing him. The dad has gone through cancer treatments with the dog supporting him all the way and the mom is currently sick. The connection between man and dog was palpable. I moved around quietly talking to him about the dog’s life and their life together, taking shots as they presented themselves. Then he sighed and said, “I guess we’d better start. Where so you want us?” To which I replied, “I’m already done.” I knew I had the picture. I gave them all hugs and left. A quarter of a mile down the road I had to pull over as I couldn’t see to drive. Spencer passed away with his family shortly after.

ALLISON: How have you made use of social media?

sarahmatula_owenbioSARAH: Social media has the power to reach so many people. I try to share images that will draw people in, to impact those not involved in, or considering rescue. I want to show an animal that could be on your sofa, not a sad animal in a cage. I try to tell their story.

In the case of Shine I wrote his story from his own perspective. He was self harming and had limited time left, people were effected by his story and shared him far and wide. He was eventually seen by a couple who work as long distance truck drivers. He has visited 48 states and is thriving in life on the road. The support and encouragement received from people I’ll probably never meet was incredible. People cared, they pulled together for him.

Whenever I come across a dog that is harder to place I try to either bring our their personality in a striking way. For Everley, a pit mix, I made a magazine cover featuring her. Hot Shot is a senior Chihuahua, he had a couple of teeth removed and can make the goofiest expressions, so I picked the craziest picture to embrace his uniqueness and shared that.

ALLISON: What advice would you give to those who want to help homeless animals?

SARAH: If you can: Adopt. If you are not able to commit to long-term but want to help: Foster. No space at home but want to work with animals: Volunteer (and that can be anything from socializing cats to developing websites). Not enough time: Donate to or sponsor an animal at a local shelter. Not enough funds: Share on social media, one of your friends, or your friends’ friends may be the person for that animal.

Thanks to Sarah Matula for allowing me to interview her and share samples of her work. The photos are copyrighted by Sarah Matula and are not to be used without permission. You can follow Sarah at her Facebook Page.

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