When Karen Stevenson walked into Old Lyme Animal Control a few years ago, her only intent was to adopt a cat. She never expected that it would be the first step in helping raise money for eight animal rescue agencies across the state.
Stevenson owns Thumbnail Designs, a graphic and web design business, and recently moved to New London from Old Lyme. This is the third year she has put together the Shelter Me Project, an independently produced calendar showcasing animals ranging from dogs and cats to horses and ducks.
“One of my goals is also to raise awareness, because I don’t think a lot of people realize how many rescue agencies there are,” says Stevenson. “There’s 300 in Connecticut alone.”
How it started
Upon adopting her cat, Stevenson found that the woman working at the Old Lyme Animal Control did not have much experience with digital photography. Stevenson started volunteering her services to help spread word about the animals at the shelter, taking photos and uploading them to the adoption service PetFinder.
When the woman at the shelter retired, she was replaced by a person who knew more about photography and sharing images of the animals online. Stevenson soon found she missed helping out in this way.
“It was just a lot of fun and it felt good to make a difference,” she said.
Stevenson came up with the idea of putting together the calendar and selling prints of her photos each year to help the shelters. The first few that agreed were places she adopted from, including the Meriden Humane Society and Forgotten Felines in Clinton. The scope of the project has since expanded to include these shelters and rescues:
- Forgotten Felines, Clinton
- Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary, Lebanon
- Ray of Light Farm, East Haddam
- Greener Pastures Rescue, Salem
- PAWS, Norwalk
- Meriden Humane Society, Meriden
- Beech Brook Farm Rescue, Mystic
- Hop-A-Long Hollow, Norwalk
Stevenson says she hopes to get a dozen shelters participating in the project. She tries to diversify the types of animals showcased in the calendars and photographs, and came up with a few basic standards as well. The shelter or rescue must be a privately funded nonprofit, and it must have a no-kill policy.
The photographic process
Stevenson starts taking photographs at the end of the summer. Although she only spends about one or two hours taking pictures at each site, it’s enough to rack up hundreds of images from each site.
She says it is usually pretty easy to narrow the collection down to a top 20, but it’s a more difficult experience getting those down to the 12 pictures to be used in the calendar. For this year’s picks, a poll among family and friends determined that the photo that appears in November—a cat rolled over onto his back—would make the cut.
Stevenson has adopted four cats, and discovered the joys and challenges and photographing rabbits and miniature donkeys with the latest rescues to join the project. Her favorite animal to photograph, however, is the ducks at Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary.
“I could spend hours photographing them,” said Stevenson. “They’re so beautiful, and the water and the reflections, it’s just gorgeous.”
Once the calendar is set, it goes to for printing. The image takes precedence over a small bar showcasing the month, animal’s name, and name of the shelter where it is staying. There are also pages describing the rescues and the Shelter Me project itself.
In its first year, the Shelter Me Project was known mostly to Stevenson’s family and friends. Last year, sales spiked with a mention on the blog DailyCandy and the calendars raised $900.
“Hopefully we’ll match that or exceed that this year,” said Stevenson. “It’s still in its infancy.”
Stevenson says she does not know how much of an impact the project has on adoption rates, but she has gotten several e-mails inquiring about the animals. She said one of the most difficult parts of the project is seeing some of the same animals year after year. One goal of the project is to combat a stigma sometimes attached to animals in shelters or rescues.
“You see these animals and they’re wonderful,” said Stevenson. “I think this is the personification of the shelter animals, that they’re the rejects and no one wants them. I don’t think it’s until you experience these shelters and go into them that you realize they’re not.”
How to help
Stevenson’s calendars are $20 apiece plus shipping and handling. The cost of prints varies depending on the size of the photo.