Archive for March, 2015

How to photograph your animal like a pro

My friend Lexie Boezeman Cataldo of In Joy Photography takes the most beautiful pictures. Though photography had always been a hobby of hers since her 20s, it wasn’t until five years ago that she decided to combine her passions for photography and animals and pursue photography professionally. (Check out her beautiful photos here.) She shares her smartest photo tips below, but first, here’s a little more about Lexie …

Lexie spent 25 of her younger years growing up in different countries in Asia (18 of them in Japan). “Having spent time in countries that are considered ‘third world,’ I saw some horrific treatment to animals of all species—including to my pets,” she says. “Never thinking that these cultures would ever change and feeling very alone in my love for animals, I endured with a heavy heart, but did what I could for animals when I could. Not until the internet became widespread did I see that I was not alone in my love for animals, and I became more courageous of getting ‘louder’ [in wanting to help animals in need].”

Lexie, who now volunteers to help animals in her spare time, says the best part about working with animals is, “It allows me to contribute to bringing awareness of animals to the world through my passion of photography—whether it is through documenting disasters, photographing animals at the shelters, or in showing the world the incredible amount of compassion, love and understanding that they possess.”

She recently did a photo shoot of a very special dog, Cadence, a pit bull used as a bait dog found struggling to survive on the streets. He was rescued by Hope for Paws and fostered for three months. Here’s a video of the rescue, which has had more than 7 million views:

“Not only did I get a chance to meet this incredible dog who had undergone such horrific abuse,” says Lexie, “but to meet these incredible people who have been my heroes for so long was a dream come true. The photos I took of her, her family and her rescuers are images as she is one year later. What a thrill!”

I asked Lexie to share her top tips for taking awesome animal photos like a pro (even when you’re not). Here’s what she had to say …

1. Get down to their level. Many people take photos standing, but only seem to get angles from above them. Get on your knees, lay on your stomach and take photos from eye level. This presents them on a more personal level.

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2. Keep your arms tucked in tight to your sides. This helps to keep your camera steady and ensures sharper photos. Of course, this is true for any type of photography—not just pets. When I’m lower to the ground, I like to squat and tuck my arms between my knees for stability—not the prettiest look, but my focus is in getting the “shot.”

3. A trick for using squeaky toys: Since animals don’t follow directions very well in front of the camera, you’ll need something to bring their focus to you. Squeaky toys are great for getting them to face you (and your camera)—and even that special “head tilt” that looks so cute in photos! As for my trick: Take the small squeaky part that’s usually inside the stuffed toy and put it in your mouth. That frees up both hands to hold the camera! Keep in mind their curiosity and interest are easily lost, so make sure you have them in focus before you “squeak”! If squeaky toys lose their effectiveness, you can always make your own animal noises or try treats. (But watch out if they’re a heavy drooler!)

4. Aim to get their eyes in focus. As they say, the eyes are the windows to the soul! If you’re using a DSLR camera, the focus can change easily from their nose to the eyes depending on your camera settings. Some photos are great with their nose in focus instead, but I like to aim for sharp eyes to bring a stronger connection with the viewer.

5. Knee pads! If you plan on taking lots of photos of your animal, I definitely recommend it. Although they don’t make such a fashion statement, they’ve saved my knees!

{Lexie Cataldo, whose work I’ve admired for years, is an advertiser on this site. Photos © In Joy Photography}

Symptoms of compassion fatigue (and how to cope)

Did you know that those who work with shelter and sanctuary animals are highly vulnerable to compassion fatigue? Not surprisingly, helping (and opening your heart to) abused, unloved and neglected animals on a regular basis is extremely stressful and traumatic. Those involved in euthanasia of such animals also experience grief. Compassion fatigue, therefore, is unfortunately an occupational hazard for those working with traumatized animals.

According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (CFAP) and the American Institute of Stress, the symptoms of compassion fatigue vary but can include any of the following:

  • Excessive sadness or bottling up of emotions
  • Isolating oneself
  • Losing your sense of humor
  • Neglecting your appearance
  • Abusing substances to cope
  • Feeling mentally and physically tired
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Reduced sense of meaning or purpose in one’s work

If you think you may be suffering from compassion fatigue (but aren’t sure), you can start by taking this self-test.

Healing from compassion fatigue doesn’t happen overnight, but there are pro-active steps you can take. CFAP stresses the importance of Self Care during this difficult time and offers the following tips: being kind to yourself, clarifying your personal boundaries, vocalizing your needs and more. The entire list can be found here.

Another option is meditation. In my work with animals, I’ve found that meditating and practicing Reiki can help us to stay centered, strong and balanced amidst all the chaos we observe, sense and feel. If you lack the energy to sustain a long, drawn-out meditation, these mini meditations are a good starting point.

Connecting with the following two Reiki precepts in particular is another way to help guide you down the path to wellness:

1. Be grateful. This precept is really about remembering the positive. Sometimes in difficult situations, we forget that every cloud has a silver lining. Figure out what your silver linings are for the animals that you work with. Perhaps a fearful animal you have worked with is showing progress. Maybe an animal who was abandoned finally found a forever family. Even in the case of an animal who died: Were they given kindness in the last moments of their life? Or perhaps their life has illuminated cruelty in a way that will teach and inspire people to help? If we take some time and look deeper into situations, we can always find things to be grateful for. In fact, some of life’s most difficult teachers are also the most profound.

 2. Be honest. Reach out to fellow rescuers who know what you are going through or to your Reiki friends who share an empathic view of the world. My nonprofit, the Shelter Animal Reiki Association, is a group of more than 400 people around the world who spend time with rescued animals and use the practices of Reiki for support. If you can find people who not only understand, but also offer you a positive and encouraging word, all the better!

The Reiki precept “be honest” also means understanding your boundaries. What part of your rescue work is the most gratifying? Which parts are the most overwhelming? Spending time becoming more aware of how your time with rescued animals affects your inner state will help you to move toward balance.

CFAP offers a host of resources to help animal caregivers suffering from compassion fatigue. The Wrong Side of the Rainbow also offers information on Self Care as well as links to pet loss forums and a counseling service in Canada. Talking to a therapist can help, too; a simple Google search will lead you to a variety of animal care compassion fatigue specialists, such as Anne Lindsay of

Remember, there is always hope. You are not alone. You are as strong as the earth and as expansive as the sky. All will be well. Take some time to meditate and practice Reiki, and watch both you and the animals you care for shift back into wellness.

Have you or someone you love experienced compassion fatigue? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this important issue.

5 awesome projects you can help to support right now

Have you seen Kickstarter? This amazing crowdfunding site lets you support a variety of creative projects for very little cash. Kickstarters set a financial goal (say, $1,000) and a target deadline. People then start sending donations—and the person behind the campaign gets to keep all that cash (and more) if they hit or exceed their financial goal by their target date. And, of course, if you have an idea for a project of your own, you can launch a campaign on Kickstarter, too!

Though some of the projects can be, ahem, a little bit strange (such as “Pug-let: The First All-Pug Production of Hamlet” and “A Dr. Who Concept Rap Album”—OK, I admit I’d probably watch/listen to both!), the following are actually some really solid ideas and goals I’d like to see come to fruition—some even help animals, too! Just this past Tuesday on Kickstarter, Walkzee, a free online platform that matches shelter dogs needing walks with “dog lovers looking for a walking buddy,” surpassed its $20,000 goal! I look forward to seeing the Walkzee site someday soon. Here are a few more projects that look interesting:

8 incredibly useful apps for animal lovers

I don’t go anywhere without my smartphone. Life’s a juggling act, whether I’m taking calls, working or even snapping pics of my dog Mystic. How awesome that I can also use my mobile to keep Mystic on point in her training, get animal first aid tips and find dog-friendly hiking trails in Marin? I can do all this, and more, with apps—and here are eight of the best for animal lovers:

1. Puppy Coach 101: Coaching your new puppy isn’t easy, so why go it alone? This video-based app guides you in crate training, potty training, teaching sit, teaching them to learn their name, nipping and biting, and more. Learn tactics instantly with videos featuring professional dog trainer Joanne Lekas. $2.99 (iPhone)

2. Dog Clicker Training: To go with the training app mentioned above, this easy-to-use app gives you professional HD clicker sounds to assist in those training sessions with your dog or cat. Free (iPhone)

3. Pet First Aid: This app from the American Red Cross offers up all you need to know to help your cat or dog in an emergency. Includes how-to videos (such as animal CPR), an early warning signs checklist, the location of your nearest emergency hospital, common first aid tips and more. $0.99 (Android, iPhone, Amazon)

4. BarkBuddy: Thinking about adding a new member to the family? BarkBuddy, which links to 2,500 rescues nationwide, connects animal lovers with “the perfect match” at their local shelter. Simply swipe to see photos, bios and distance from you. An Android version is in the works. Free (iPhone)

5. Pose A Pet: With 20 sound effects including “meow,” “zing” and “squeaky,” this app ensures your cat or dog looks at the camera every single time, ensuring a perfect photo. The app was created by Jennifer Whaley, an animal photographer who used similar sounds to take pictures of 2,500 rescue dogs. Free (iPhone); $3 (Android)

6. BringFido: Traveling with your dog just got easier. With BringFido, just swipe to find pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks, beaches and other places that are happy to see you bring your four-legged friends, too. Free (iPhone)

7. ASPCA: Keep your pet as safe as possible in a natural disaster with this app. Not only can you store medical records, but you can also access important information during an emergency, learn how to search for your animal (if he becomes lost in a major storm, for example), create a “lost pet” digital flyer to share on social media, and more. Free (iPhone and Android)

8. Cute or Not: Do you have the cutest dog on the block? Upload a pic to Cute or Not and see if others agree. The app also lets you rate other people’s pets (for cute, the app says “swipe right!”) and see trending photos. (But wait—who’s swiping left? Aren’t all animals cute??!) Free (iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for animal lovers? Share here!