All of the dogs depicted in this project were abandoned and ended up in animal shelters; both kill and non-kill shelters. At the time of their being photographed, many were still in the shelters in hopes of a new life. "The (Unwanted) Pooch Puzzle" is a project developed in coordination with the SPCA in Wake County (a no-kill animal shelter), and the Davidson County Animal Shelter (a kill-shelter), both of which are located in North Carolina. The project’s goal was to help rescue these domestic pets from euthanasia and find loving homes for them. The project also seeks to cultivate a fresh perspective using the photographic arts to raise additional awareness and support for the problem of unwanted domestic pets. Every 9 seconds, an unwanted domestic pet is put down in the U.S., based on studies from the National Council On Pet Population which estimates that 3.7 million are put down each year.
In 2014, North Carolina animal shelters euthanized 119,751 dogs and cats due to an "unwanted" status. Sadly, many of these domesticated animals were just starting their lives and shared an eagerness to learn about and be a part of this world as much as humans. The problem of high kill rates is not necessarily lower for smaller shelters versus larger ones. A closer look at the statistics from the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture reveal wide variances between animal shelters. For example, a smaller shelter in Polkton, NC, took in 678 dogs in 2014, killing 587 of them (86.6%). By contrast, a larger shelter in Henderson, NC, took in 1,566 dogs in 2014, and only killed 39 of them (2.5%). So why is Henderson's animal shelter so much more successful with their pet adoption rates than Polkton's animal shelter?
Proximity does not play much of a role either. Two small towns next to each other and of approximately the same size, have startling different euthanasia rates. Salisbury, NC, took in 2,250 cats and 2,189 dogs in their shelter in 2014. Of those, they terminated 20.36% of the cats, and 10.28% of the dogs. They ran a very effective adoption program, whereby 1,511 cats were adopted and 1,584 dogs were adopted. Lexington, which is about 15 miles away, took in 2,849 cats and 2,757 dogs. Of those, they terminated 91.82% of the cats and 67.39% of the dogs.
Fortunately, concerned citizens of Lexington, NC, fed up with the high kill rates in their town, convinced their county commissioners to vote five to two to turn over the County's animal shelter from the sheriff's department to a nonprofit organization on Dec 9, 2014. This organization was currently running Guilford County's animal shelter, which increased adoptions there from a paltry 3% to 52% as of 2014 and increased return of animals to rightful owners nearly 20%.
Sadly, as long as people are regarding domestic pets as disposable property, this problem will remain difficult to resolve. However, concerned advocacy at the local level, as occurred in Lexington, NC, can start to show surprisingly better results. This project seeks to provide creative support for organizations seeking to address this problem. Through donations of this work for benefit auctions, to raising community awareness and combining animal welfare with artistry, the Artist hopes to inspire renewed energies for tackling this global problem. The metaphor of the puzzle used in this series is done in part to describe a difficult problem that can be solved, as well as to appeal to the viewer to reach out and to be the missing pieces in these unwanted dogs lives through adoption. Thus, the Artist is donating all proceeds he receives from the sale of this work to a local charitable animal rescue organization.
The SPCAs are a group of local humane societies around the world that operate independently from each other and are not affiliated with a national organization, as most people may presume. Each SPCA is a separate entity governed by its own policies and board of directors. To learn more about the Wake County SPCA in North Carolina, please visit their Web site at www.spcawake.org. On October 11, 2015, twelve metal prints from this collection were donated to their Annual Fur Ball Benefit Auction to help raise funds to support their operations.
The opening reception is tonight, Dec 1, from 6-8pm at Soho Photo Gallery. The public is invited. The gallery is located at 15 White Street, between W. Broadway and Church Street in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City. Gallery hours are available by visiting their Web site at http://www.sohophoto.com . Also, a special event is being held at the Gallery on Dec 13th, from 1-6pm, with Mighty Mutts Rescue and WaggyTail Rescue bringing their dogs available for adoption to the gallery for a special awareness event, that will feature a silent auction to make for an exciting afternoon. All proceeds from the sales of these works have been donated to these two animal rescue organizations.
The (Unwanted) Pooch Puzzle
The above image is an actual jigsaw puzzle of the animals photographed at the Davidson County Animal Shelter, presented in the exhibition.