Dallas photographer Sylvia Elzafon is on a mission. By combining her two loves —photography and animals — she is helping local shelters place dogs and cats in loving homes.
She started her original shelter series in 2005, but she says those pictures were purposely dark and heavy, to demonstrate what a sad place these shelters can be. But her photography has taken a different turn.
Now she shoots happy, sometimes laugh-provoking portraits that reflect the animals’ sparkling personalities. Through her lens, Elzafon shows the joy these shelter animals can bring to their adoptive owners.
Elzafon emails her photographs to the volunteers at each shelter she works with, so they can share the portraits on their websites, Facebook pages and other social media outlets. Elzafon also shares the portraits on her own Facebook page, and she says an online store is in the works.
Now get ready to smile.
Currently Elzafon works with high-intake shelters Dallas Animal Services and Arlington Animal Services, and she is exploring a relationship with Fort Worth Animal Services.
Elzafon keeps a personal record of the animals she photographs, so she can track their adoptions.
“Judging by the number of shares these photos receive on Facebook alone, I’d say they’re really reaching a lot of people,” Elzafon says.
Paws in the City, which rescues animals on the very special pet/urgent (VSP) list at Dallas Animal Services, shares Elzafon's photos on its Facebook page.
Elzafon calls the shelter series “my most important work.”
“In this year alone, I’ve seen two local shelters begin the process of adding a photo studio inside their shelters,” Elzafon says. “A couple of years ago, I don’t think this was being done anywhere. This is a huge step forward.”
“I’d like to eventually find a way to make sure every single adopter has access to the images of his or her adoptee,” Elzafon says. “This is something that can be tricky given the massive amount of animals these shelters see, but it’s a goal.”
“One of my very favorite things is receiving updates (usually with photos) from kind folks who’ve adopted one of the dogs I’ve worked with,” Elzafon says. “This just makes my heart sing.”
“I feel like more and more shelters will begin to see the value of great photos in their adoption programs,” Elzafon says.
When she shoots at the shelters, Elzafon brings squeaky toys and takes the animals out of their cages to put them at ease.
“What I’ve realized is that both sets of images have their place, but the current set is a little more effective,” Elzafon told D Magazine.
At last count, more than 600 of the animals Elzafon photographed found homes.
Elzafon has two dogs of her own, of course — Tanner, a 12-year-old black Lab, and Maddie, an 8-year-old rescue who’s obsessed with tennis balls.
Elzafon doesn't get paid for the photographs or her time, but the payment is knowing she is helping these animals get adopted.
"People do better when they feel better," Elzafon told Huffington Post.
“Beautiful photos can absolutely make a difference for homeless animals,” Elzafon says.
Says Elzafon: “If every shelter in the nation would adopt a photo program similar to the one at Dallas Animal Services, I truly believe we’d put a big dent in the number of perfectly adoptable, perfectly loveable animals being euthanized every single day.”