Guest Blogger, Hannah Michalski (heartsspeak.org)

A Photo is Worth A Thousand HeARTs

Photographs are such unassuming, everyday additions to our living spaces, yet their boundaries can hold immeasurable meaning. In fact, a photograph is a quiet goldmine with the potential to both save a life and decorate a life, and few appreciate this more than the over 500 members of global artist community, HeARTs Speak.

Spanning 43 states and 13 countries, HeARTs Speak unites painters, photographers, sculptors, writers, graphic designers, and advocates who believe in the power of collaboration. By providing their time and professional services, pro-bono, to animal welfare organizations in their communities, they’re fuelling life-saving causes and equipping homeless pets with unforgettable portraits; portraits that afford them the first impression their lives often depend on.

Founded in 2010 by professional photographer Lisa Prince-Fishler, HeARTs Speak serves as her take on the ‘power in numbers’ concept. During Lisa’s early years photographing homeless pets for Animal Farm Foundation, she recognized the potential for a supportive, motivated network of individuals who could see beyond ego to work together for the greater good; through powerful, emotional, artistic mediums.

5 years on, the HeARTs Speak community is growing rapidly and making a noticeable impact on pet adoption statistics. Here are some especially eye-opening numbers:

Since becoming a HeARTs Speak member in 2012, Kaye Ness has photographed approximately 700-800 animals. KC Pet Project in Kansas, the shelter Kaye helps most regularly, has an intake of nearly 9,000 animals a year. Since 2006, KC Pet Project has gone from a 31.4% adoption rate to a remarkable 93.8% in 2013, and a large factor of this improvement is the quality photographs Kaye helps to provide.

Long Beach Animal Services, a government-run facility in California, attributes their 55% increase in adoption rates to the professional portraits provided by HeARTs Speak member, Sara Cozolino. Additionally, the number of animals transferred to other rescues has increased by 27% since Sara began helping the group in 2012.

Sherry Stinson, a long-time HeARTs Speak member, volunteers with Tulsa Animal Welfare. The shelter’s euthanasia rate when Sherry initially started was 65% of the over 12,000 animals admitted. However, during January and February of 2014, 78% of their dogs made it out alive.

HeARTs Speak also believes knowledge is for sharing, and while its network of members continues to expand, they can only cover so much ground.

With this in mind, HeARTs Speak launched the Perfect Exposure Project in 2013, first at New York City Animal Care & Control and then at Animal Care & Control of Philadelphia. The project equipped these high-intake shelters with professional photography equipment and training workshops, empowering staff and volunteers to provide the same top-notch photos that a HeARTs Speak member would. The project proved so impactful, that HeARTs Speak is working to make it available to more shelters i 2015,.

The cherry on top of each workshop was the Shelter Photography Field Guide; a 44-page go-to manual left with each shelter that handily summarizes everything taught throughout the Perfect Exposure Project. It’s jam-packed with photography tips, social media and marketing ideas, post-processing wisdom, and big-picture inspiration. The guide will be available for purchase in early 2015.

Through the clicking of shutters, the strokes of paintbrushes, and the scratching of pens on paper, HeARTs Speak members are working tirelessly every day to elevate companion animals to a place of love, acceptance, understanding, and respect. It is their ultimate hope that homeless pets will have the chance to occupy a space on a family photo wall, stretch out on a sofa, and bask in a patch of sunshine. And above all else, that they’ll know the great warmth of love in their lifetime.

Hannah Michalski is HeARTs Speak’s Communications Coordinator and best friend to a curmudgeonly but well-dressed guinea pig named Bret P. Michaels. She believes in the good in people, the quiet power of a photograph and above all else, the importance of caring for and cherishing our fellow living beings.

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Animal Advocacy Guest Blogger Thank You Janet Bovitz Sandefur just-do-something.org

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