Teaching the next generation about shelter animals through photography

Kimberly Garrett poses with her photograph from the collaboration with HSWM and WMCAT. The dog she photographed for the exhibit has since been adopted.

Kimberly Garrett poses with her photograph from the collaboration with HSWM and WMCAT. The dog she photographed for the exhibit has since been adopted.

By teaching youth about responsible pet ownership and exposing them to the life of shelter animals, Jen Self-Aulgur is hopeful the lessons will resonate as the youth become young adults.

 

Mikal Pichot captured this image of a cat with stunning green eyes.

Mikal Pichot captured this image of a cat with stunning green eyes.

Self-Aulgur, the director of education and community programs at Humane Society of West Michigan, reaches more than 5,000 children and teens annually through visits to classrooms, community programs and the many week-long and “mini” camps HSWM conducts throughout the year.

“Education is the key to anything,” Self-Aulgur said. “If we want animals to stop going to shelters and being euthanized, we need to do it through education and reach the generation of future pet owners. Getting them excited about being advocates for animals is what drives me.”

A recent outreach program was on display at HSWM last week, and the results will be on permanent display at the shelter’s facility in Walker. HSWM teamed up with West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology on a project with inner city youth enrolled in the WMCAT Teen Arts program.

The kids, of high school age, made several visits to HSWM, cameras in tow. Their months-long assignment was to capture animals in the shelter environment, showing through photographs the daily life of dogs, cats and even bunnies who spend their days in kennels, awaiting adoption.

The WMCAT project required several trips to HSWM since animals don't exactly "pose" for photos.

The WMCAT project required several trips to HSWM since animals don’t exactly “pose” for photos.

Dennis Grantz, the lead photography instructor at WMCAT, attended last week’s reception with the students, whose work was unveiled. Most of the photographs were presented on a slide show, while 10 of them were matted and framed for permanent exhibit at the humane society.

Grantz said he had no trouble getting students to enroll in the photography class at WMCAT once they learned the project involved animals. In the past, the class has done “day in the life” projects with various other subjects, including the police department.

“Any time we can involve youth at a level where they can see what day-to-day life is here and what the animals experience is great, but this was an opportunity for them to show that through their photographs,” Self-Aulgur said.

The WMCAT students captured daily life -- and soulful eyes -- of shelter animals awaiting adoption at the humane society.

The WMCAT students captured daily life — and soulful eyes — of shelter animals awaiting adoption at the humane society.

“The quality of the photographs is better than I could imagine gives us a lasting display.”

To find out more about WMCAT, check out their website, wmcat.org. If you’re interested in having Self-Aulgur come to your school or organization to talk about responsible pet ownership or other programs at HSWM, email her at jaulgur@hswestmi.org or call her at (616) 791-8066.

Those outside of West Michigan can contact their local humane society or animal shelter to learn about humane education programs in your area.