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Linnea Lenkus shoots pictures of people all day long, but her favorite subjects have four feet, a cold nose, and a wagging tail.
“For some reason, I have an affinity with dogs. We just seem to speak to each other,” says Lenkus, owner of Linnea Lenkus Fine Art Portrait Studios. “They come over to me, and sit on my feet, and say, ‘Hey, you’re mine.’”
Lenkus is a busy portrait photographer with studios in Long Beach, Irvine, and Pasadena, Calif. Last fall, she returned the affection of her canine friends by doing something to help their buddies. Deeply concerned by the budget cuts that area animal shelters were suffering due to the bad economy, and saddened by the number of homeless pets who weren’t being adopted, Lenkus decided to take action.
She had heard of a photographer in another community who had raised funds for animal welfare organizations by shooting pet portraits in return for donations, and thought that she could duplicate the event to benefit shelters in her area.
Thus was born Dog Days 2011, in which participants paid $25 per pet for a 15-minute shoot with Lenkus , one 5-by-7 print (or an 8-by-10 if the owner could show proof the dog was a rescue), plus 10 percent off any additional prints or product s they ordered.
Al l the money raised went t o animal welfare organizations near Lenkus’s various studios. Lenkus didn’t make a dime from the event—she donated her skills and her staff’s time to the effort.
To get the word out, Lenkus blogged about the fundraiser on her website, sent e-newsletters to customers and others interested in her work, mailed cards to pet supply stores and groomers, and distributed fliers. She and her staff scheduled three full Saturdays over successive weekends in September—one Saturday at each studio—to shoot the pet portraits.
When people arrived for their pet ’s photo shoot, they were asked to write a check for $25 (or more, if they liked) to a local animal shelter.
All three days were soon booked up, then KTLA—a Los Angeles TV station— got word of the event, and asked to do a 6 a.m. live report at Lenkus’s Long Beach studio on the last day of the fundraiser. “When the news channel reported it, that’s when we got calls, and we added two more solid days after that,” Lenkus says. She estimates she spent about 35 hours shooting pet portraits of roughly 90 dogs. Some owners wanted to be pictured with their pet or pets; others wanted their dogs alone in the photos.
Among the participants were Long Beach resident Jeff Towns and his rescue dog Viki, an English bulldog. “I went in intending to spend $50, and I spent over $350,” he says. Towns donated $50 for a portrait of Viki alone, then spent $300 for prints of a photo of the two of them to use on his Christmas cards.
“You can just see when you go into her studio, she’s got a talent for photographing people and animals. [Dogs] have short attention spans, but she got Viki to pick her ears up and look,” he says. The event raised nearly $3,000, with the checks going to Los Angeles Animal Services–North Central Shelter; Friends of Long Beach Animals, an auxiliary of the city’s Companion Animal Village; and the City of Irvine, for the Irvine Animal Care Center.
Shirley Vaughan, president of Friends of Long Beach Animals, said her nonprofit group received $1,225 from the fundraiser. The money will support the group’s local spay/neuter program and its effort to buy more Kuranda beds.
“I have not ever met her,” Vaughan says of Lenkus, “but I’ve certainly heard enough about her to know where her heart is.”
Spending all of those hours shooting pet portraits was physically challenging—“I was down on my knees a lot,” Lenkus says, laughing— but the event was rewarding, and not just in terms of dollars.
“They’re more than pets; they’re part of your family. If I can capture a dog’s soul, it’s like the best thing.”
To watch a video of Linnea Lenkus shooting pet portraits for the Dog Days 2011 fundraiser, visit linnealenkus.com/blog/.