Breckenridge photographer’s animal portraits spike Summit County shelter adoptions
Breckenridge resident Michael Yearout snapped a photo of a crate of newborn kittens, one of several litters newly arrived to the Summit County Animal Shelter. Yearout, who has volunteered with the shelter for six years, captured a wide-eyed orange kitten balancing on top of the litter.
“The kittens have taken over,” Yearout said. “They’re climbing all over each other. It’s the cutest thing you can possibly imagine.”
Yearout said he originally got the idea of animal portraits when he read a woman in Florida helped boost her shelter’s adoptions by taking professional photos of recently admitted pets. Yearout, a real estate photographer, thought he could do the same.
“It’s amazing what a photo can do for your adoptions,” Summit County Animal Shelter director Lesley Hall said. “So many people use our website to look for pets. If there’s no picture there, you don’t even look. And if it’s blurry, you just kinda buzz right past them.”
Hall calls Yearout to take photos weekly, or monthly, to photograph the new animals. Over the years, he has developed a method: While he crouches to snap the photos, another volunteer stands beside Yearout, holding a squeaky toy or a bag of treats to capture the creatures’ attention.
“They perk their ears up and they look,” Yearout said, adding that he takes 20 photos of each animal before selecting the best of the batch. While he had originally planned to stage the portrait photos by bringing in lighting and posing the animals, Yearout quickly realized that a fast shutter and a little improvisation was the best way to capture wiggly puppies.
“I treat them like a human portrait for a business headshot,” Yearout said, adding that he tries to get shots of the animals at eye level, before smoothing out their fur and adding a vignette effect.
For more shy pets, the mere click of a shutter is enough to leave them cowering in the corner. But Yearout maintains that the time spent coaxing the animal into taking a good portrait is worthwhile. He remembers one of his favorite photos: a beautiful calico cat who was brought in by his reluctant owner after he found out no animals were permitted in his new apartment.
“He brought his cat’s toys, and all kinds of stuff with him,” Yearout said. “He almost cried. He had that cat since he was a kitten. It was so sad.”
Shortly after, the calico found a new home.
Growing up on a farm, Yearout is no stranger to pets. He currently owns a cat named Emma, which he adopted from the shelter 10 years ago.
“Sometimes it’s hard — you see an animal you fall in love with and want to take home,” Yearout said. “I moderate that sadness with the fact that I know the picture I took of them will help them get adopted. That keeps me going.”
Hall said this month brought in 110 volunteers to the shelter, a larger number than usual. Right now, volunteers are tasked with helping care for 26 kittens brought into the shelter this month. Other volunteers help walk and socialize animals, as well as maintaining the shelter’s Facebook page.
The shelter will offer two June classes for potential volunteers. While the dates are still yet to be determined, Hall said the classes are offered one Wednesday and Saturday each month, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for volunteers who want training to work with both dogs and cats.
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