A picture is worth 1,000 purrs. Or wags. And photographer Sara Cozolino knows that one of the ways to get a cat, a dog or any pet adopted is to make sure that he or she makes a good first impression.
Cozolino is a professional photographer who volunteers at Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS) taking photos of the shelter pets at their absolute best—being themselves. Because her heart has a direct line to all animals, she’s awfully good at what she does. And she does it all without special lighting or airbrushing wrinkles, even on the occasional shar-pei.
“She’s not a ‘pet photographer,’” said Kelly Miott, ACS’s outreach coordinator. “She photographs pets, and gets it. A lot of people just photograph animals lying in the grass—Sara gets them to do something quirky.”
Cozolino has an arts degree in photography from Santa Monica College and has been in business professionally for several years, shooting weddings, travel locations, celebrities and everything else a photographer photographs. She’s also involved in rescue, often photographing the cats and dogs there, and said that she’d always wanted to snap shelter pets as well. Miott reached out to Cozolino after seeing an online photograph she’d taken of a dog in the bull terrier rescue where she volunteered; Miott was impressed with the way in which the little guy’s personality was captured, so in 2012, Cozolino agreed to schlep all the way from her home in Glendale once a week to donate her services as a photographer. She says that doesn’t mind the trip at all because she gets to do something wonderful for animals in a more-than-receptive location.
“I love the team here, and the volunteers. Without them, we’re nothing,” she said. “It’s the team here that keeps me going.”
Cozolino speaks out of her calling as an animal advocate, and she’s unarguably knowledgeable about her subjects. “I do a lot of rescue in general, so I’m not clueless about shelter animals,” she said. At first, she tried the studio setup but quickly noticed that the pets became nervous or downright disobedient in such a setting in the way some kids do and that it was also not an honest depiction of the animal. So Cozolino lets all of them do what they do, dogs in particular.
“It’s chaotic!” she said. “We have a list [of pets] we work from, and our volunteers come out with them. With dogs, we let them run around a little bit, smell the smells. Some calm down right away, some need treats, some we get shots of as they’re running past. I don’t force it—I see what they want to do.
“I like to show them interacting with people. Somebody told me that when they see photos of dogs with people, they can see them in a home, and rescues like this. I take about 100 photos a day.”
On the afternoon when I visited the shelter, Cozolino was taking photos of a 7-year-old lab named Doris. Doris was having an absolute ball scarfing up treats tossed by volunteer Kristen Malkemus, romping with a toy and generally soliciting attention. She actually high-fived me when I walked up. Cozolino watched Doris doing her doggy thing and occasionally snapping one., Sometimes, she’d make a series of bizarre noises that began with a trill, segued to a modified howl and ended with an insane yodel. She sounded like Heidi the Goat Girl on helium.
Doris and volunteer Kristen Malkemus smile for Cozolino’s camera.
“They just happen. I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth,” Cozolino said when I asked if she had a written score for the sounds. “I watch their faces to see if it makes them anxious—if not, I do it.”
It’s probably not news that cats are a different story. Some enjoy attention, and some would rather stay retired in their little cubicles, Miott says, because they don’t like being held or they’ve been in there so long that they’re acclimated to it. So, Cozolino puts the kibosh on the audio and gently gets their attention.
“They actually can be more difficult because they don’t respond the way dogs do,” she said. “But we can read them. Sometimes, I take the picture in the cage if they get freaked out outside. But some want to cuddle. Sometimes, I jingle my keys, and the cats look at them.”
“Sometimes, they all look up like the Brady Bunch when she does that,” Miott said.
Shiloh’s one of the cuddlers (his ID is A512986–go get him!)
Because Cozolino volunteers her time for one day a week, she can’t get any pets who come in after she leaves for the day until the following week. Although Miott can squeeze in a couple of her own photos during her workday, the shelter generally has to use the intake photos, which show the pets when they have just arrived, often frightened and confused until Cozolino’s next photoshoot.
Cozolino’s snapshots seems to have made a huge difference in the adoption rate. ACS manager Ted Stevens said that since Cozolino began taking photos in 2012, the rates have gone up 56 percent and surrenders to rescue organizations have risen 27 percent.
“The rescues also get a nice professional-quality photo they can take with them,” Stevens said.
The correlation of the stats to the photography is notable and impressive, and Miott said that the impact was immediate. The quality of the photograph, moreover, is apparent in the comparison to the intake photo (see Virtually Pets) and shows how useful it is as a tool for adoption. Cozolino said that she’d been in conversation with a couple in a restaurant, and they told her about a dog that they’d adopted from ACS.
“She brought up my photo—the dog had looked like a rock star to me—on her Facebook page!” Cozolino said. “She said, ‘If it hadn’t been for your photo, I wouldn’t have come to adopt the dog’!”
But Cozolino says that she views success as an ongoing process from the time she connects with an animal during a photo session. “I took out a stray pit bull—emaciated, very scared—and then suddenly she goes belly-up for a rub,” she said. “When an animal flowers like that in a few frames—that means a lot.”
The shelter staff and volunteers are struck by Cozolino’s empathy as much as by her photography talent. When a white cat, Noel, was adopted in December, Miott pointed Cozolino out to the adoptive mom. “I know how much Sara cares about the pets,” she said. “I made the lady go tell her, and Sara burst into tears.”
“I don’t understand how someone can look at their faces and can’t see what they’re feeling,” Cozolino told me when she was ready to leave for the day. “I can’t imagine how an animal can sit in a house and not understand where they’re going. I want to show that about them—that they need love and they deserve another chance with a home that really loves them forever.”
Then she headed for home, passing by the outdoor section of the dog kennels. “’Bye, Doris. ’Bye, Rocky. ’Bye, Bruno,” she said as she stopped at each kennel. And I could swear that each dog smiled, and not just for the camera.
Sara Cozolino’s work can be viewed on Facebook and on her website. Be sure to check out the Gimme Shelter section of her page, and pull out the Kleenex.
“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
Today’s adoption section will feature the most striking before-and-after photos you’ve ever seen. All are available on the shelter side of the Pitchford Animal Village, 7700 Spring Street in El Dorado Park. Because it’s confusing to figure out which is the correct entrance, here’s a photo of where to go:
And here are the superstars and their IDs:
Doris, age 7, IDA512623
Zelda, age 1, ID512854
Addison, age 1, ID511155
Izabel, age 11, ID511508. Adopt this senior surrender! She deserves better than being cast aside.
Trina, age 3, ID512001. Found as a stray bearing a “microchip to nowhere.”
Yes, our shelter has cats, dogs, rabbits and the occasional reptile or bird available for adoption. Make it your first stop.
Long Beach Animal Care Services Low-Cost Pet Clinics, Saturday, Jan. 11, Rose Park, Orizaba Avenue and 8th Street, 9:30–10:30AM; Stearns Champion Park, 4520 E. 23rd St., 12:30–2PM.
Long Beach Animal Care Services will vaccinate and microchip all animals, regardless of where they live. Licenses are issued ONLY to Long Beach, Cerritos, Los Alamitos, Signal Hill, and Seal Beach residents. No reservations are required; the following services are available:
Dog Rabies – $7
Cat Rabies $7 (or if preferred, Purevax Rabies, $20)
DAP/DHPP $19 (dogs)
Bordetella – $14 (dogs)
Lyme $22 (dogs)
FVRCP (3-in-1) $18 (cats)
FELV $21 (cats)
AVID Microchips – $28 (cats and dogs)
Altered Dog License $20 (half-price for senior owners)
Unaltered Dog License $95
Altered Cat License $10 (half-price for senior owners)
All vaccination and microchip services are CASH ONLY.·Licenses can be purchased using MasterCard or Visa. For more information, click here.
SpcaLA Foster Class, Sunday, Jan. 12, P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village, 7700 E. Spring St., Long Beach, 10AM–noon
Help a pet better his or her chance at adoption! spcaLA is looking for foster parents for pets of all ages and needs. Potential foster parents must fill out and submit an application, available here, before attending a class. For more information, call (323) 730-5300.
Fix Long Beach Free Spay/Neuter Clinic, sponsored by Hope for Paws’ Eldad Hagar, Saturday, Jan. 25, MacArthur Park, 1321 E. Anaheim St. in Long Beach, 7AM–approximately 4PM
Can we double our spay/neuter numbers this year and exponentially lower shelter overpopulation and the number of unwanted pets? Fix Long Beach, a community grassroots organization dedicated to help end shelter overpopulation, invites you to visit our free mobile spay/neuter mobile clinic on Saturday, Jan. 4. The event, sponsored by Hope for Paws’ founder Eldad Hagar, takes place from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. approximately at MacArthur Park, 1321 Anaheim St. in Long Beach. Free spay/neuter procedures have already been booked in advance, but visitors are encouraged to come in person to make appointments for future clinics. If you arrive at 7 for the waiting list, make sure that your cat or dog hasn’t had food or water after midnight. Microchipping, deworming and flea-control products as well as nail trimming are offered at discounted prices, and appointments are not necessary to get required shots for dogs and cats. If you live in Long Beach and are of low-income status and want to get your pet fixed, or know someone who is and does, please join us and make an appointment to help provide every pet with a healthier, happy life and to help reduce shelter overpopulation!