PHOTOS: Themed photoshoot brings attention to shelter pets durin - | WBTV Charlotte

PHOTOS: Themed photoshoot brings attention to shelter pets during holidays

Photo source: Tammy Swarek | Shelter Pets Project Photo source: Tammy Swarek | Shelter Pets Project
(WBTV) -

An Arkansas-based photographer is at it again - hoping photos that recently went viral with a little sprinkle of the holiday season will help fund an animal shelter much-needed funding, plus shine light on bigger animal issues.

A set of photos from photographer Tammy Swarek went viral in August entitled "Shelter Pets." In the spread, Swarek dressed up pets at her local shelter in human clothes to get more eyes on the animals in need.

The project has been a success, Swarek said, with more than 90 animals photographed and a 70 to 80 percent adoption rate with those featured.

"Normally shelters use a cell phone to take photos of the animals. They are in their cages and the animals look sad. I wanted to change that," Swarek told WBTV in August.

She began to work with the Union County Animal Protection Society (UCAPS) and photographs several animals in the shelter a couple of times a month.

The message she hopes translates is about more than just cute animals in clothes.


MOBILE USERS: Click here to see more of Tammy's "Shelter Pets" holiday-edition photos

The shelter is in a precarious situation. While the shelter is in the city limits, it doesn't get any city funding. According to Swarek, the shelter only gets about $10,000 a year from Union County.

It costs nearly $250,000 a year to run the shelter. Most of the money has to come from funding.

She says the shelter has a capacity of 200 animals but has around 300+ animals during puppy and kitten season.

WANT TO HELP? You can donate to the Union County Animal Protection Society here

The shelter can only afford to feed the animals 250 pounds of food, once a day.

After the initial photos got so much attention, Swarek is hopeful that a holiday edition will help bring even more attention to the shelter and the funding issues.

"Adoptions have certainly increased especially on the photographed pups, but it hasn't drawn much additional money in," she said. Most of the funding still comes from online stores, a recent calendar, and donations. "I'm hoping with the publicity the project is getting that we can motivate change around here. We need spay and neuter laws and the abuse laws actually enforced."

She says the local newspaper in El Dorado, AR - where Swarek lives - now does a weekly piece on an available pup.

UCAPS currently has a $7,000 vet bill pending and officials aren't sure how they are going to pay it.

"Last month, they had to vote on whether to pay payroll or on the vet bill," Swarek said. "The girls don't even turn in all the hours they work. We keep hoping for a sponsor."

She says while some of the animals don't understand why they are getting dressed up, the goal is more attention.

MORE PHOTOS: Hilarious animal photo competition hope to raise awareness

"The longer someone looks at an image, the more interested they become and higher the chance for adoption," Swarek said.

After the initial set of photos went viral, Swarek sent an article about the photos to fashion designer Anthony Rubio, who specializes in dog couture.

"He's an amazing man that does a lot for animal welfare," she said of Rubio. "I cried when he agreed to send us his couture pieces for our pups."

When the idea of a holiday edition was broached, Swarek said Rubio was completely on board.

"He agreed to help even though he had two fashion shows - one in New York City and the other in Los Angeles - that month and was also filming for an upcoming television show," she said. "He was extremely busy, but found time to create special pieces for a Christmas Edition."

Swarek said Rubio custom made all of the holiday hats in the photos and coordinated them with garments from his archives. In total, Rubio donated roughly 25 complete outfits.

"I learned afterward he is also a special needs teacher and works with kids with autism," Swarek said, calling Rubio the perfect match.

Swarek is the primary caregiver for her son who has autism and her mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

"Alzheimer's is the evilest thing I have ever encountered. [My mother] loses more of her memory every day and it scares her to death. With [my song], his main issue is not sleeping. No seizure medicine in the world will work if they don't get enough sleep."

Swarek says her son has been seizing almost weekly so she hasn't been able to go to the shelter every week like she was when she started the project.

PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Shelter pets get new life with photography makeovers

While her son has been too sick to go, Swarek said her mother will sometimes come to the shelter with her for the photoshoots.

"She really likes it. I try to keep her laughing as much as possible. It's priceless," Swarek said. "It's been a blessing for sure. It's my therapy. Who doesn't want to play with dogs all day!"

Another company, Tiemart Inc., donated all the bowties used in the photoshoot. Swarek said she reached out to them and they shipped the ties the next day.

She said it took a couple of shoots to get all the animals shot in their holiday outfits.

Swarek says she's looking forward to working with some additional designers in the future for more photos.

"I think the more designers get involved, and the more attention shelter animals get, the more likely someone will be to adopt a dog rather than shop," she said. "It's also getting the attention of more photographers that want to volunteer. I get emails constantly from other photographers asking how to start a project at their shelter."

Does she have a dream designer she'd like to work with?

"After [the initial project] went so well, I thought why not ask Bob Mackie and Vera Wang, so I did," she admitted. "I haven't heard back but a girl can dream!"

The photos are so good, that Swarek even convinced herself to take home a pup. She was photographing a dog named Josie, who now spends her nights at Swarek's home and in Swarek's lap.

"I just had to have her," Swarek said.

DONATIONS: You can donate to the shelter by clicking here

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