Maggie Epling knew that she wanted to give back during her summer break from college. Interested in photography and helping animals in need, she found the perfect volunteer opportunity at her local Pike County Animal Shelter in Pike, Kentucky. There, she used her camera to snap portraits of cats and dogs and paid particular focus on black shelter animals. The results are striking glamour shots of cats and dogs in search of their forever home.
Epling decided to approach the shelter after reading articles about how animals with good photos are more likely to be adopted. Pike County Animal Shelter was happy to have her, and she got to work. During this time, she heard from fellow volunteers that black kitties and pups often struggle to find their humans. Black cats, in particular, suffer from this because of the enduring superstition that they will be bad luck.
The photos proved a success; the images have drawn attention to the animals in need. The Pike County Animal Shelter is in a rural location, but her portraits have compelled people to call the organization—much to the shelter’s surprise.
Epling’s approach to snapping her beautiful portraits involves first getting to know the animal beyond it being in a kennel. To illustrate this, she tells the story of a dog named Tiny. “She [Tiny] looked so sad in her kennel with her ears drooping and her tail between her legs,” Epling tells My Modern Met. “When I took her outside for our pre-photoshoot playtime in the courtyard, she became a different dog entirely—she went from stressed and nervous to silly and playful.”
Tiny has big ears and two different colored eyes, so Epling knew she wanted to showcase the dog's striking features and vibrant personality. “When we got to the studio you could see that immediately; I squeaked a toy and her ears perked up and I got the shot. I love how focused she looks because that's how she is—she's a determined little dog!”
The photo of Tiny encapsulates what Epling wants to achieve while volunteering. “I want to use photography to show what these sweet dogs are actually like when they're not in the stressful environment of a shelter,” she explains. “I want to show people what these dogs would look like in their homes, at the park with them, or on a walk with them, in a way that just isn't possible with a photo taken through the cage bars.”