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'Pup-a-Razzi' spotlights four-legged shelter dwellers

SPCA rescues 32,000 animals annually

Shelter dogs, cats and rabbits around the province are getting ready for a chance in the spotlight as they prepare to be photographed at B.C.'s first Pup-a-Razzi Day today, May 16.

Pup-a-Razzi Day, a new campaign created by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), will allow professional photographers to take pictures of shelter animals outside of their cages and kennels in a friendlier environment. Five of the province's 36 SPCA branches will participate, including the Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, Prince George and Campbell River locations.

Lorie Chortyk, the general manager of community relations for the SPCA, said aside from being part of Adoption Awareness Month for May, the pilot project is designed to showcase the animals in a different light and reduce the stigmas about shelter animals. "Unfortunately, I think we judge people based on appearances or surroundings. I think that's what happens to shelter animals, too," said Chortyk. "They have to make their first impressions on people from behind the bars of a kennel or a cage, so it's hard for people to sometimes visualize them as pets."

Ashleigh Wells, a photographer and cocreator of the campaign, will be in charge of taking pictures for the Vancouver location. In addition to shooting some pet photography, she has owned two shelter animals-a beagle and a cat.

She said that she developed the idea along with Rachel Thexton from Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm, as a way to encourage adoption. "We're going to be taking pictures of the animals that are there and up for adoption and hope that we can get them homes sooner and also change people's thinking a little bit about who those dogs are," Wells said.

Pets that won't be too stressed out by the experience will be photographed against a grey backdrop. Props will be used sparingly to avoid giving potential adopters a prescribed notion of the animal's personality.

The photos of each animal will be put online on each pet's adoption profile on the websites for the individual SPCA branches. A copy of the file will be given to the new owner, should that pet get adopted.

Chortyk emphasized the day is a reminder about the need to think of adoption from a shelter before getting a pet elsewhere. The SPCA rescues 32,000 animals in its shelters every year and adopts out approximately 20,000. "It's really just reminding people that if they are making that decision to bring a pet into the family that we really hope they'll check out the SPCA or another rescue group," she said. "There are so many groups that have animals waiting for homes."

While this year's Pup-a-Razzi Day is a pilot project, Wells said that if it is a success, she's willing to do it again. "There's definitely a group of us out there that would be willing to do it in the future and hopefully continuing on it will change people's minds about what those personalities are," Wells said.

Pet photos will be available for some pets on as of May 16. They can be found on the SPCA adoption website at bcspcapets.shelterbuddy.com.

mickicowan@gmail.com Twitter: @mickicowan