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Lights, Camera, Adoption

Sheri Berliner uses her photographer’s eye to adopt out homeless animals

by Jason A. Heidemann

If you’ve ever received an email that begins, “Dear Friends of Petraits,” and contains a beautiful image of two artfully posed kittens or perhaps a mutt showing off his pearly whites, then you’re probably already familiar with the work of pet photographer Sheri Berliner. If not, then you should consider joining her e-mail list.

In addition to running a successful petportrait business (Berliner’s diverse portfolio contains everything from majestic closeups of horses, to artful black-and-whites of families cuddling their dog and cat friends), she also uses her photographer’s eye to place shelter animals in loving homes.

As far back as her teenage years, Berliner was already an emerging shutterbug and could be found chasing her pets around the house with a camera. Years later, she graduated from college with a degree in photojournalism and took a job as a corporate photographer. It was her friends who suggested she make a career switch.

“I have a lot of pets and have photos of them all over my walls, my friends encouraged me,” she says of starting her own pet-portrait business. She began by putting up flyers in pet stores. Today, Petraits is a successful business.

But as an animal lover and longtime volunteer for the Anti-Cruelty Society, Berliner was a natural for combining her love of photographing animals and her devotion to animal advocacy.

“My photos were being displayed in an Anti-Cruelty art show and a board member from Lake Shore Animal Shelter, said, ‘Hey, would you come and photograph the dogs up for adoption and make them look this great?’ I said sure. After that, I had calls from just about every shelter in the Chicagoland area. I’d go in, set up a little portable studio, photograph their pets and hopefully make them look a lot more appealing.”

Six years later, Berliner has placed hundreds of unwanted cats, dogs, and many other animals in need at a low cost to the shelter involved. “I charge a small fee,” she says. “I think once you start doing something for free, sometimes people don’t assign value. It’s like giving an animal away without an adoption fee. When you pay for something, somehow it assigns a certain value.”

Berliner is also her own one-woman adoption agency, often fostering pets that are brought to her from guardians who can no longer take care of them. She’ll photograph the animals in her home, send out e-mails, post the pets on her adoption website, and let prospective parents come to her house to meet the lucky cat or dog (or other pet). Her success rate so far has been 100 percent.

“Everyone that I’ve worked with eventually gets adopted,” she says. “Some of them I worry aren’t as adoptable as others…but eventually, if you hold onto them long enough and care for them, [they’ll be adopted].”

Still, it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending and Berliner admits that the hardest part of her job is finding out an animal she photographed was euthanized.

“The most frustrating part is when the pet’s just not able to be socialized because of abuse or neglect, no matter what you do with them,” she says. “I’ve had a couple of dogs that were eventually put down by the people who adopted them, and these are people who have degrees in animal behavior or are trainers. People who’ve said, ‘I’ve tried, but I can’t change this animal.’”

On the other hand, Berliner says she’s placed hundreds of animals over the years and has been privileged to witness many wonderful adoptions.

“Everyone loves the pet that they’re taking home. Months or years down the road, I see a pet being part of someone’s family and someone saying, ‘Oh my adopted dog is doing great with my new baby,’ or ‘My dog was in my wedding.’ I get those e-mails all the time and that makes it worthwhile.”

As the success stories continue to pour in, Berliner will never get
too comfortable to enjoy them all; she’s too busy photographing more adoptable animals. “Two weeks ago I adopted out two cats and a hamster, this week I’m adopting out one dog and one cat.”

Lucky for them, all they have to do is look at the camera and bark or meow.

For more information about Sheri Berliner or to join her email list visit www.Petraits.com.

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