If you hop on the Humane Society of Chittenden County’s website, you’ll see beautiful pictures of animals up for adoption. The photos are taken by an award winning photographer, with a passion for pets.
Kelly Schulze, an animal lover with five dogs, five cats, two hours and 19 chickens of her own. The Monkton, Vt. woman has a lot on her hands, but she wanted to give back in a special way.
“Probably there’s like enough dog walkers and people helping with the cats,” she said.
Kelly pitched the idea to the Humane Society of Chittenden County to lend her lens.
“Maybe there’s a way to help with photography,” she said.
For the past 8 years, for one day a week, Kelly has come to the shelter to take pictures of pets – helping thousands of furry friends find a new home.
“Just over 4-thousand animals later, I just have an instinct. I can almost predict when I’m going to get the shot, like the moment before it happens so I’m that much quicker on the shutter,” Kelly said.
“Sometimes I don’t react quite as quickly as she’d like. She’s like “yeah, yeah, we’re done with that one”,” Ian Schulze, Kelly’s husband of more than a decade, said.
Ian’s not a professional photographer, but he’s always by Kelly’s side.
“He didn’t come here for the first time that I came here to photograph animals, but then he’s been here every week ever since,” Kelly said.
Ian’s specialty is bringing out the best in the animals. He’s kind of a cat whisperer.
“Basically make sure the cats stay on the table where we’re shooting the photos on,” Ian said.
“Cats love him though, they really,” Kelly added. “He relaxes them and gets their best personalities to come out.”
Working back and forth, making the animals comfortable. The couple shows the animals’ best side, their true personality.
“You know a lot of people want to see the animals to looking right at the camera and looking excited and happy and all of that. But honestly, not everybody is looking for a super cuddly cat or a super cuddly dog,” Kelly said.
The Humane Society of Chittenden County takes in about a thousand animals each year. About 940 of them get adopted out. Folks here say it’s all because of these photos.
“It paints an animal in a light that makes somebody want to take that animal into their home,” Cindy Davis, the shelter manager, said.
Davis has been with the Humane Society for more than 3 years. She says people come to the shelter on the weekends, already knowing which animal they want to be part of their family.
“Well, people are sort of shopping online now for animals,” Davis said. “So they’re visiting our website first and so the images is what’s grabbing people’s attention.”
The pictures get these animals in homes faster, making a huge impact on adoptions.
“When I hear stories from people coming in holding the photo saying “I want to meet this dog,” or “this cat reminds me so much of my last cat. I never thought I’d adopt another cat,”” Kelly said.
A gratifying feeling for Kelly. She understands the pressure some shelters face trying to save cats and dogs.
“In Vermont, we’re very lucky because it’s kind of controlled. We’re really strong on community spay neutral, all of that,” she said.
A few years back, Kelly visited a shelter in New York City with another photographer to teach workshops to volunteers. This was part of work Kelly does with Hearts Speak, a non-profit organization Kelly works with that tries to increase the visibility of shelter animals through artwork.
“You know we just felt the weight of all of the animals being there and it is up to this handful of people to get them adopted,” Kelly said.
The photographer rescued three cats in that trip and adopted one of them into her family.
It’s not the first time Kelly’s taken in a shelter animal.
Meet Beat, an older dog Kelly and Ian fell in love with.
“He’s much older and had health issues and [the HSCC] was putting him up as a hospice adoption. So, with all of those things, I was like, we have space, we have a hospice space,” Kelly said.
Bear is a familiar face to Kelly. She took his photo for the humane society’s website 5 years ago.
“It took about 5 years before kelly started forgetting names of animals. Like, for the first 5 years, she remembered every name of every animal that she photographed here,” Ian said.
Thousands of animals later, Ian says his wife still knows every one of them.
“We’d see an animal out in public and she’d know that dog or cat’s name,” Ian said.
“It really freaked the new owners out when I was, like, “hey so and so” and they’re like “how do you know my dog? Oh, sorry!” Kelly chuckled.
A couple giving shelter animals a second chance.
“That just keeps me going from week to week. Knowing that that is making the difference for these animals,” Kelly said.
“That connection she has with animals, I mean, I’m incredibly proud of her,” Ian said.
Together finding picture perfect pets a forever home.
“Even when I just decide that we’re taking a dog home without consulting you,” Kelly said. “Oops!”