By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
It takes all kinds of volunteers to keep the Humane Society & SPCA of Hancock County running smoothly.
Volunteers who work with the animals — walking dogs and playing with the cats — are called Pet Pals. This program helps with the socialization of animals that are waiting to find their forever homes.
Others lend a hand with different events hosted by the agency like meet and greets with the animals and fundraisers.
“There are all kinds of volunteers,” said Natalie Reffitt, a kennel supervisor. “Volunteers are definitely very crucial.”
For the past three years, Tim Cole and his digital camera have been helping out at the humane society. The Arlington man takes photos of the new animals, which are then posted on the agency’s website and Facebook promotional ads.
“It’s a very valuable service he’s offering,” said Reffitt. “He’s so nice and he’s just so kind and he’s very patient with the animals, too.”
She said some of the animals can be skittish when confronted by a stranger with a camera.
“But he’s very patient with them, doesn’t rush,” she said. “Sometimes sessions take an hour, sometimes three hours.”
Cole, 68, said it was his wife, Eileen, who persuaded him to volunteer at the humane society.
“I love what I do, I love doing it, but my wife is one of the main motivations behind it,” he said.
When the couple married 14 years ago, someone gifted them a digital camera.
“I used to shoot professionally, predigital, weddings and all. But I got out of that and was out of that for several years, sold all my equipment,” said Cole. “But when they gave us that digital camera for a wedding gift, it was my first digital camera.”
After using the camera for several years, it rekindled his interest in photography as a hobby.
“I said, ‘I want to upgrade the camera. I want to get a better camera’. She (Eileen) said, ‘There’s one condition; you have to take pictures of animals for the humane society,’” he recalled.
Prior to Cole’s help, Reffitt said the humane society staff took most of the pictures themselves.
“It’s so time-consuming, especially since there’s so many other things to do here,” she said. “There were some other people who volunteered here and there, but no one’s ever been as dedicated as Tim.”
Cole had to do some research in preparation for his work with the animals. He read books and watched online seminars about pet photography.
“Of course a lot of that stuff is people with studios and professional lighting and all that, but I picked up a lot of tips,” he said.
The main lesson he’s learned about working with animals is to shoot at eye level.
“You want to get down to their level. That’s why you see me sometimes lying on the ground with a small dog,” he said. “When you shoot down on them, it distorts the perspective and it distorts their shape and head and so on, so that was a big thing.”
Beyond that, Cole said, it’s just using different tricks for trying to get their attention.
“I like to get their ears up if we can, and a good expression,” he said. “I want eyes to be in focus. That’s one of the things I’m looking at here. If my focus is off then obviously it’s not going to be a good picture, a good expression. If I can, I want to get their ears up and preferably the mouth partly open. But the big thing is, I want their eyes in focus.”
Cole said photographing animals can be a bit challenging, especially when working with those of the feline persuasion.
“You’ve heard people use the expression when they talk about a level of difficulty for something and they talk about it being like trying to herd cats? That’s kind of what it’s like,” he laughed. “They’ve definitely got a whole different mindset. Dogs you can work with to some extent. Cats, they just do what they want.”
Cole’s twin sister, Sue Cole, often helps out as his assistant. While her brother is seated or lying on the floor taking pictures, she stands behind him squeaking an empty water bottle, shaking a canister of treats, whistling or squeezing a toy pig that makes “oink” sounds — all meant to attract the animal’s attention for a better picture.
“Every animal takes different amounts of time, depending on their personality,” she said.
Fast reflexes are also important, Cole added, confessing, “I miss a lot.”
Once the shoot is finished, it takes several days to process the pictures.
“I do Photoshop now. I also learned Adobe Lightroom,” said Cole. “I’m able to Photoshop leashes out of pictures so it looks like just the dog. And sometimes even if the person holding the dog is a little too close, I can even Photoshop them out of the picture so we’ve got just the dog. That’s the main thing.”
Cole said part of his motivation for volunteering is to have fun and help the agency.
“My wife and I are both animal lovers and dog lovers,” he explained. “We have a couple at home.”
Their family includes a cocker spaniel named Mandy and a rescue greyhound, Ike, who is also a registered therapy dog.
“But the whole idea with the pictures is that, we want to do pictures that help get the dog or cat a home,” Cole explained. “So we want nice pictures that people can look at and be drawn to.”