Meet the Photographer Who’s Using Her Skills to Help Neglected Dogs Find Homes

Teresa Berg discovers how a little pampering can turn a dog's life around.

Photographer Teresa Berg replaces a Rottweiler’s collar with a bright pink scarf. She picks the perfect string of pearls to complement a dachshund’s coat. She’s taking glamour shots of shelter dogs, from miniature poodles to Great Danes, in the hopes that her spiffed-up subjects will be adopted more quickly. “Most photos show dogs in cages, looking dirty and mangy,” says Berg, 56. “I consider my work like an antismoking campaign. We have to make adopting cool.” Join the cause–these dogs need a home before 2020.

When her father wouldn’t allow her a dog of her own as a kid, Berg roamed her Minneapolis neighborhood rounding up homeless canines and hiding them in the family garage. “As soon as my dad came home from work, he would let them go,” Berg recalls. Her father did, however, show her how to use a camera. Together, the pair took pictures and developed them in the darkroom at his office.

Living in Dallas at 24, Berg found her perfect roommate on the street: a Border collie–Shetland sheepdog mix she named Gypsy. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the ones that don’t have anyone to love,” says Berg. (If you love dogs, learn more about these dogs who saved their owners’ lives.)

Over the years, she worked as a real estate agent, but she finally quit in 2006 to launch a photography business. Searching the Internet for a dog to adopt as a companion for Max, her Pomeranian, she was instantly put off by the photos she found online: “They had dirty laundry, dirty dishes, and empty pizza boxes in the background,” she says. “Sometimes it was hard to see the dog.”

hometown heroes all dress up with no place to goCourtesy Teresa Berg

Berg finally found Flash, a 12-year-old long-haired dachshund who was part of a Dallas rescue group. She went to pick him up and ended up volunteering to take pictures of all 25 of the rescued dogs there for free. As more dogs went to the program, she took their pictures too. In the following year, after the photos went up on the website of the Dallas–Fort Worth Dachshund Rescue, the group’s director noticed that adoptions had doubled compared with the previous year. She attributed this to the professional photos—Berg’s work had paid off. “When dogs are adopted that quickly, it makes room for others off the streets,” Berg says.

With this success in hand, she created studios in two different shelters, with lights, reflectors, rolls of backdrop paper, and platforms for her subjects to sit on.

Over the years, Berg has developed a few tricks to snap flattering pictures of the dogs: position them so that light falls on their faces, and shoot at eye level. “I spend a lot of time lying on my stomach,” she says.

In 2011, hoping to inspire more photographers, Berg posted video seminars on focusonrescue.com. About 75 people per month now watch her offer tips for taking quality pet photos. She’s gratified to see the recent wave of well-shot dog photography on shelter websites and social-media sites.

[pullquote] When dogs are adopted that quickly, it makes room for others off the streets.[/pullquote]

In the past couple of years, Berg has added two dogs to the Dallas home she shares with Flash and her husband, Tom McCaffrey, a high school teacher: a dachshund named Jasper and a Pomeranian named Maggie. “I want to take all the shelter dogs home; that’s the hard part,” Berg says. “I have a particular affinity for dogs with gray muzzles.”

Considering adoption? These kinds of canines are known to bark less. See more dogs available for adoption at collincountyhumanesociety.org.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest