A Derry photographer has taken on a unique project to try and raise awareness about rescue dogs.
Keith Rutherford and his partner Suzanne are passionate about rescue dogs, with Suzanne working with different charities for almost 10 years, and Keith volunteering his time taking photographs for rescue centres to help with appeals.
“It’s something the two of us are passionate about, and this time of year it’s just about raising awareness.
“Derry is a town of dog lovers, but there’s also the side of it that isn’t too good.
“Going through a rescue centre you’re getting a dog that’s been checked over, socialised, assessed, vaccination, spayed or neutered.
“You’re getting a complete dog. You don’t get the puppy side of things, but at the same time, how do people know that the puppy they get at Christmas is going to be suitable for their family,” said Keith.
In recent months, Keith has taken on a new project alongside his rescue work; using flower crowns to show the softer side of Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
Keith has followed the work of American photographer Sophie Gamad for quite some time, and she has pursued a similar project with Pitbulls in America.
“It is about trying to engage as many people as possible, but it’s also about trying to change people’s perceptions of rescue dogs and Staffies in general.
“Sophie has been doing it with Pitbulls, and in America they are found in rescues more than other dogs, and it takes longer for them to be rehomed. There is a stigma attached to them, and it is the same with Staffies.
“Staffies stay for too long in rescues, and they don’t do well in kennel envrionments, they’re family dogs,” he said.
After getting some helpful tips from Ms. Gamad, good fortune came into play, when local businesswoman and flower crown creater Aoife Doherty of Sass and Halo posted some of Ms. Gamad’s work on her social media account.
“I had heard about Sass and Halo before, so I messaged Aoife to see if she wanted to work together.
“She messaged back and said ‘absolutely, what do you need’, and we started working from there.
“Aoife has been a massive help. As much as the project needs photographs taken, it also needs crowns.
“She has donated her time and I think we have five crowns now to jump between for different sized dogs, and also a Christmas crown,” he said.
Keith added that by working along with Aoife and Sass and Halo, the project reaches a different audience.
“It’s about trying to reach different people and a different audience.
“Aoife has her own following on social media, a trendier, predominantly female market, who wouldn’t necessarily be looking at a pet photographer.
“They’re now getting to see these Staffies and the flower crowns, and the stories behind them.
“It’s about trying to change people’s perceptions, and if it’s one person at a time so be it. The response we’ve had is fantastic.
“We started off that it was going to be exclusively Staffies, and rescue Staffies at that, but as it’s morphed into something else, it’s taken on a life of its own,” he said.
Keith said it is essentially “cross pollination” across different platforms, to get the message about Staffies and rescue dogs to a wider audience.
He also praised Aoife at Sass and Halo for her support: “She has been a massive supporter of this from the day I mentioned it to her.
“I think it’s going to be an ongoing thing, and it gives her something different to post to her friends and followers, it benefits everyone really.”
Keith said he hopes the Staffies project will continue, with at least five more dogs lined up.
He has also linked up with Northern Ireland Staffordshire Bull Terrier Rescue, and hopes to start working alongside them in the run up to Christmas.
“They don’t rehome over Christmas, so it’s a good time to get down and touch base with them.
“They have more of a specific audience than my page does, so it’s trying to engage as many people.
“Rescue centres dont want to rehome during December, because the chances of those dogs being reutrned after Christmas are massively increased.”
Keith’s partner Suzanne has also set up a rescue page to help people in Derry, but she has also had enquiries from people from across the North asking for help.
“She has been involved in rescue for the last eight or 10 years, and between the two of us we have branched out into other rescues. This new project has taken on its own lease of life,” he said.
As well as his work with rescue Staffies, Keith has also donated his time to work on the Pet FBI calendar for 2018. The idea was only put forward by the Pet FBI team in September, and the project came together in just a few short weeks.
“I spent around a fortnight taking photos. We set up a studio in their centre, and then had an outdoor shoot for dogs that couldn’t get to the centre. It was pulled together in no time.
“If the photographs sell more calendars and raise more money for Pet FBI, then it’s a job well done.
“The rescue photographs, people ask me if it is paying me to do this. It’s a charity, I’m not going to contact someone and that I’ll take photographs, but it’ll cost you.
“It’s not the way things are done.
“You’re taking dogs that might be in the flesh be bypassed normally. some wee scruffy, scrappy looking thing that no one would really entertain.
“With the photo of Lenny in the Christmas flower crown. Rainbow sent me a message asking if I could make Lenny look a bit cute, a bit softer.
“He’s a five stone Staffie who’s nearly eye level with me when he stands up.
“He’s dopey, you can show that he’s playful.
“I find the dogs quirks and work with that. If it’s timid, I’ll show that it’s timid.
“Let people see that this dog is absolutely petrified and you’ll get 20 comments online below it saying ‘poor wee dog’. If one of those people come down and take a shine to it, then job done,” he added.