No more homeless supermodels

Puppies posed in posies, kittens festooned in ribbons, a dramatic drape on a hound’s head, a cat catching a (computer) mouse -- each week professional photographer Bill Landau focuses his artistic intent on finding shelter animals homes.

All this drama is paying off beautifully. The Coconino Humane Association in Flagstaff, Arizona, says Bill’s photographs in the Arizona Daily Sun result in the animal's adoption, almost without exception. A recent poll at the Arizona Daily Sun showed the Pet of the Week column to be the highest rated locally produced feature in the paper.

In 1980 Bill came up with what was then a novel idea. What about a studio portrait each week of a homeless pet in the local shelter and a little write-up as a way to find homes for homeless pets?

"I was fresh out of college and asked the editor of the Sun if he would be interested in such a feature. He hesitated at first, but decided to try it for a week or two. The rest is history.

Dennis Pugh, director of the Coconino Humane Association, said Bill’s photography is a tremendous help in finding homes for the shelter’s animals. "We get lots of calls each week because of his photographs. It’s almost guaranteed the animal he features will get a good home."

Bill shared some of his tips for taking attention-grabbing, home-getting photographs:

1. Look me in the eye:

"Eye contact with that animal is a great way to tug at the heart strings of people who might want to adopt a pet. And, of course, getting the animal to tip its head to one side will always get your attention. That's why I always carry squeakers and noisemakers with me: to make the animals curious so they will tip their heads."

2. Act a fool:

"You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself if you want a good picture of an animal. I bark, chirp, squeak, oink, howl and generally act crazy to get the results I am after. And once I find a noise that works, I better start thinking of another noise because I know they will lose interest in the first noise after about two repetitions.

3. The tongue-no tongue option:

I also always try to get the dogs to shut their mouths so they don’t look like they are all tongue or slobbery. They will usually shut their mouths if I make a funny noise, meow or bark or do something that startles them. But, then again, sometimes a big happy tongue hanging there makes a dog look friendly.

4. Be quick on the draw

"I get a lot of people who ask me how I get the animals to sit so still. You just have to be very fast with the trigger finger and get them in that split second when they look at you. I’ve learned to be ready constantly because some of the best shots are just fleeting moments that won’t occur again, so you have to be ready all the time."

Bill’s pet photography has developed its own following.

"I get fan mail from little old ladies who looked at a photo I took and it reminded them of a pet they had 50 years ago. I also hear from kids who have cut each and every photo from the paper and pasted them in scrapbooks or hung them on the refrigerator. And of course from time to time I run into someone who actually adopted the Pet of the Week and wanted to thank me for taking the photos.

"I just feel like this is one little thing I can do to help the homeless animals of Flagstaff. I’ve told my wife that when we get to heaven, the first greeting we will get will be from the hundreds of animals we've helped find homes for. That’s a good feeling!"

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Article by Barbara Williamson. Photos by Bill Landau.