When Rachael Rodgers snapped and posted a photo of her dog, Denali, sitting in a canoe surrounded by snow-capped mountains in December 2016, her Instagram post got picked up by dog-lover accounts with millions of followers. Suddenly, six thousand people were following Rodgers’ own Instagram account, @trailsandbears.
“I had a lot more followers than I knew what to do with,” Rodgers told Know Your Value. “I didn’t really know why I had Instagram, so I kept trying to think of ways to use it or what to do with the followers, and then I just realized, ‘They’re all dog people. Why not show them dogs — dogs that need a home?’”
Now, the 36-year-old Canmore, Alberta resident spends her free time shuttling back and forth to dog shelters and foster homes to photograph adoptable dogs. She documents their day together with photos and videos and posts them on her Instagram account for her 73,000 followers to see, along with captions describing the dog’s personality.
In the two years she’s been volunteering, Rodgers has photographed more than 200 dogs. Though it’s hard to figure out precisely how many have been adopted, feedback from the shelters she works with and interaction on social media with the people who have adopted dogs she’s photographed show that her efforts are helping more dogs find homes faster.
“I think because I’ve seen it be useful, I feel responsible to do it as much as possible,” she said.
Rodgers, a skilled artist whose digital paintings are on display around town and at the pub where she works as a server, said the concept is similar to online dating. She’s not trying to make each dog into an Instagram star; instead, she’s trying to give potential adopters insight into what the dog is like in hopes of finding the right match.
“That’s exactly what you want to do with the dog, is show them as you would an online dating profile,” Rodgers said. “It’s a dog in their element doing what they love to do, so that you can cut out all the not-good suitors and head right for someone who loves that kind of dog.”
Her style is a candid and often humorous look at the dog, always at eye level and always expressive. Rodgers loves landscapes and being outside, and her photographs show it: the dogs are regularly seen traipsing through the snow, sitting by her feet in an open-top kayak, or hiking along a rugged mountain trail. She takes a few hundred photos of each dog to get ten or so favorites to cull from the bunch, edit, and post to Instagram and Facebook. The shelters also post them to their web pages and social media. These days, she thinks the videos she posts might be the best assets for future adopters. She pairs all her photos and videos with a diary-like captions that give her followers a rundown of the day.
“The behind-the-scenes is not glamorous at all — it’s a lot of driving and a lot of editing,” Rodgers said. Some days, the dog she’s photographing is dropped off by their foster owner, and other days, she drives into town to pick up a dog, then to the mountains for their photo shoot, and then back to the shelter. Some of the shelters she regularly works with are a three-hour drive from her home.
From the first moment they spend together, Rodgers works on getting the dog to warm up to her and come out of its shell — a crucial step toward getting a photo that shows their true spirit. While offering food is a great helper toward building a bond with most dogs, anxious pups can be more challenging.
“It’s just about stopping the car, getting out, walking around, getting down to their level, and petting them and chatting with them,” Rodgers said. “I talk to them the whole time. It’s just me and the dog, and I make sure that they know that I’m always paying attention to them — paying really close attention to their needs and body language.”
Rodgers is eager to share her tips with shelter workers and aspiring photographers, many of whom direct message her for advice. She hopes that her work will inspire people to consider choosing an adopted dog over one from a breeder.
“There’s just too many unwanted dogs,” Rodger said. “I guess my goal is to show how amazing just any random dog at a shelter is, [and] usually I take the dogs that are harder to adopt. But if those dogs are amazing, then why get a family pet from a breeder?”
Her digital guide, “Instagram for Adoptable Dogs,” gives advice for putting together “the perfect #pupfolio” and can be downloaded from her website. Her first book, “Adventures with Adoptable Dogs.” is a combination how-to guide and photo book and will be published in March by Rocky Mountain Books.
“I want everybody that wants to do this to know how and take all the perceived barriers out of the way and help if they can,” Rodgers said, “because I think there’s so much potential for social media for the whole system, not just an individual dog, but helping society think differently.”