This beautiful chocolate pit bull was brought to the shelter because his owner was homeless. Pyg was not used to children or strangers and found them to be threatening. Shelter staff and volunteers worked with him intensely for several months, hoping that they could better socialize him, but unfortunately, he was not able to unlearn his fears and was ultimately determined to be unsafe for placement. Pygmalion was euthanized.
The beauty of a portrait is its ability to convey a spirit felt deep within, the essence of the being that lies beneath the surface. It is the soul that is felt when we gaze upon a face looking back at us, even if that face may only be found in a portrait photograph. The best photographs hit us with an immediacy that vibrates with an intensity, evoking a profound sense of recognition when we look upon an other. That connection is deeply felt in the portraits of shelter dogs by Traer Scott.
In 2005, Scott began photographing dogs as a volunteer in animal shelters. A year later, she published her first book, “Shelter Dogs”, a runaway success with over fifty-thousand copies sold worldwide, and tens of thousands of dollars raised for the ASPCA. The book launched Scott’s career as a photographer, and in the intervening decade she has published five books of work. With the benefit of hindsight and all that is learned, Scott has just released Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories (Princeton Architectural Press), a follow-up volume of stunning black and white photography.
Scott’s portraits are accompanied by in-depth stories about the lives of the dogs featured in the book. There are characters like Hope, who was born with deformed front and back legs. She was adopted just before she was scheduled to be euthanized, but two years later, she was back in the shelter when her owner had to be unexpectedly hospitalized for a long period of time. Deemed unadoptable, Hope was scheduled to be euthanized a second time, but was reunited with her owner at the eleventh hour once again proving Hope springs eternal, even with her little legs.
Other dogs’ fates are less fortunate. Roman, the statuesque Weimaraner/pit bull on the book’s cover, arrived at the shelter because his owner already had one dog and the landlord would not allow a second one. After being at the shelter for just two weeks, Roman was adopted. But his story was not yet over. Three months later, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and soon thereafter died, breaking the heart of a brand new family who had only just begun to enjoy his charms.
The stories of dogs who had to be euthanized were the most heartbreaking of all, for in most cases it was life at the shelter that drove the dog into a state of being unable to cope. For as well as dogs may be treated, in these facilities the reality is that they live in cages. They are incarcerated and the stress of these arrangements does not bode well for all characters and disciplines. Though only four of the thirty-five dogs in the book had to be euthanized, the percentage is much higher for dogs in shelters. The ASPCA reports that 35 percent of dogs entering shelters are adopted, 31 percent are euthanized, and 26 percent are dogs that come in as strays and are reunited with their owners.
Traer Scott’s portraits remind us of the deep connection between mankind and dog. There is a sense of companionship that extends beyond the abyss, drawing us together in recognition of a shared path to be walked.
Photos and captions from Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and their Stories by Traer Scott, published by Princeton Architectural Press 2015
Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories by Traer Scott is published by Princeton Architectural Press 2015.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.