Professional portraits reveal shelter animals' true selves

Jan. 30, 2012 at 3:24 PM ET

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Toby and Lafayette pose for a portrait by photographer Richard Phibbs.

Fashion and portrait photographer Richard Phibbs has taken photos of celebrities, politicians and musicians, but furrier models are one of his true passions. Phibbs has photographed the adorable shelter animals from the Humane Society of New York for the second time, turning their adoption center homepage into a gallery of glamorous shots that contrast with the photos normally taken for display. Using colorful accessories, Phibbs makes these animals' personalities shine through the camera.

Phibbs told he took the photos for three reasons: “To take a portrait that would move people to see the beauty, uniqueness and vulnerability of each animal; to demonstrate that shelter animals are not ‘damaged goods,’ and to move people to action, either to contribute financially, volunteer or adopt.” Even part of the proceeds from his book, “Chasing Beauty,” is donated to the Humane Society.

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One of the shelter dogs, Elizabeth, from the Humane Society of New York.

Phibbs told he’s often shocked by the cruelty he’s seen humans inflict on animals during his travels as a photographer. These incidents have reinforced his belief that animal rights is an important cause. “I am often stumped as to how issues like these animals could not be an important cause to all of us. Animals are amazing gifts that share this planet with us, and I can’t understand why all humans don’t treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”

To Phibbs, these photos aren’t so much flattering as they are real. By adding a little color with a scarf, he can attract people’s attention to an animal they may have overlooked otherwise. And according to Sandra DeFeo, executive director of the Humane Society of New York, Phibbs’ portraits have certainly made a difference.

“We have had a tremendous positive response. There has definitely been an increase in applications, at least 50 percent the first time [that Phibbs took photos] and more like 75 percent the second time.” Sixty percent of the animals photographed by Phibbs this time around have been adopted, and others have good prospects.

“His portraits of them truly reveal each animal's personality. This is so important, because the person looking at the photo gets a real impression of that animal,” DeFeo told Phibbs has done two photography sessions at the shelter in the past several weeks, and hopes to do more.

“Would I do this again? The answer is definitely yes!” Phibbs told “I can’t wait to do it again, and would love to help other shelters in other parts of the country."

If you’re interested in adopting an animal from the Humane Society of New York, you can go to their website or call them at 212-752-4842. Check out more of Phibbs’ adorable shelter animal portraits below!

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You can see more photos and which animals are left for adoption here.

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Lisa Granshaw writes and produces for She's only ever owned fish but has her heart set on adopting a shelter pup one of these days!