Camera-ready canines have their day in the spotlight

  • Meg Sibley spends quality time with Dory, a 6-year-old Catahoula mix stray, to develop a sense of trust before taking her photograph. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • Suzie, a two-year-old hound, allows Sibley to take her photo while getting her lay of the land in the yard at the Hawaii Island Humane Society in Waimea. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • Zazu is a spayed cat that is available for adoption at the Waimea shelter. Its former owner developed an allergy and surrendered it there several months ago. (COURTESY PHOTO/MEG SIBLEY)

WAIMEA — Meg Sibley usually devotes around 10-12 hours each week volunteering for the Hawaii Island Humane Society. Instead of cleaning crates, feeding or walking the animals, she has a unique role as the dogs’ and cats’ personal photographer.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, Sibley visits the Waimea location to get up close and personal with animals, making them comfortable to be photographed. She then edits and forwards the images to HIHS, while helping to spread the word.

“I email the photos, along with my descriptive blurbs in the voice of each animal, to the Waimea shelter staff for the animals’ online profile pages,” Sibley said. “I also send the same email to Whitney Sickels, who works in the Kona office and often uses my photos in printed marketing materials, on the HIHS website and on their Facebook page. I post on Kona Dog Lovers, Kona Town’s Dog Community, Big Island Dog Rescue, Hawaii County Adoptables and Hawaii Island Animal Advocates pages. I also post on my personal Facebook page and sometimes put favorite photos on my photography page.”

She got the idea two summers ago when Lisa Benn Garske, the original Kona shelter photographer, who was featured in West Hawaii Today in June, posted a request on Facebook asking for photographers to join her efforts at the other two HIHS locations on the island.

“I saw her post and thought, ‘I could do that,’” Sibley said. “When I first started, all I had was my iPad. After using it once or twice at the shelter, I purchased and taught myself how to use a Nikon compact camera. After about six months, I took a beginners DSLR class at Tutu’s House and then acquired a Canon Rebel T5i that I still use.”

Helping animals find homes is a team effort islandwide. Garske and Kevin Chatfield take photos in Kona, while resident Deborah Hillman takes photos of dogs in Keaau.

One of the challenges can be making timid or scared animals feel comfortable enough to be photographed.

“I do my best to establish a relationship with each animal, using gentleness, vocal praise and reassurance, singing, petting, treats, play, as well as basic obedience training as positive reinforcement for the dogs,” Sibley said. “I try to listen to each animal and let them take the lead.”

Doing a good deed can be beneficial for the volunteers as well.

“This is one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done,” Sibley said. “The animals are my teachers. I feel heartfelt appreciation for my relationships with members of the Waimea shelter staff. I have enjoyed getting to know them over time and learning from them. I also appreciate the fact that my volunteer job at the shelter has trained me in photography. After two years, I am now taking professional photography jobs.”

HIHS is equally grateful for her support.

“Meg is wonderful and has done a great job for us,” said Donna Whitaker, executive director of Hawaii Island Humane Society.

The Waimea, Kona and Keaau shelters continue to look for more volunteers.

“I would like to encourage anyone who feels drawn to volunteer at the shelter to do so,” Sibley said. “It just requires taking volunteer training and showing up to be with the animals. Even if you can only take one dog out of the yard, or just sit and talk to the cats in the cat room, your contribution will be important and meaningful to everyone involved, including you.”

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