Pet cause: Staples photographers focus on shelter dogs' plight
Updated 8:15 am, Sunday, March 6, 2011
Sad eyes peer from the bars of cages at animal shelters, pleading for a chance at a life in a loving home before their time expires and a needle takes their life.
Not everyone gets to see those forlorn eyes so eight members of the Staples High School Photography Club decided to bring the plight of shelter dogs to the forefront. Because of their efforts, the eyes of several dogs impounded at the Bridgeport Animal Shelter peer from 11 framed photographs on the walls of the Westport Arts Center's Studio Gallery.
The exhibit, titled Dog Show, opened Friday at the center on the same day as a display of photos taken by children in Haiti. Both exhibits run through May 18. Helen Klisser During, director of visual arts for the Westport Arts Center, and curator of both shows, said the simultaneous exhibits work well together because they call attention to animals and children in need, both imprisoned by their circumstances.
"There are so many dogs that need help," said Callie Loparo, 16. "They're sitting there in a cage invisible. It's sad to see but we want people to see," said Loparo, whose mother Julie Loparo is president of the Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.
Callie Loparo hopes the dog photo exhibit will encourage donations and adoptions at the Bridgeport shelter and elsewhere. Loparo said the students are grateful to Bridgeport Animal Control Officer Jim Gonzalez, who gave the students access to the shelter, where they created two make-shift photography studios to document the animals.
Loparo's entry shows a pit bull with penetrating green eyes. "There was something about the eyes. They're eyes of desperation, really," Loparo said. "Each dog has a story."
Most of the Westport Arts Center's shows are booked a year in advance, but the quality of the students' work and the compelling stories led Klisser During to re-arrange the center's schedule to accommodate Dog Show immediately.
"Callie e-mailed a couple of images to me. I was struck by the strength of the photographs of the dogs and the reason the students went to the pound," During said. "The students could make a difference through their creativity, through their talent, through their art. The cause is always there but it wouldn't work if the art wasn't good," During said.
The title of the exhibit was influenced by the recent Westminster Dog Show, which placed a spotlight on the nation's prized purebreds. During said the shelter dogs "should be at Westminster, but they're on Death Row." While some no-kill shelters exist, the Bridgeport Animal Shelter does not have the resources to house animals indefinitely and often must resort to euthanizing them.
"The Bridgeport shelter has only so much space," Loparo said, adding that it is often overcrowded with more than 60 dogs.
Few shelter dogs are given names. Most receive in-take numbers so the students -- Loparo, Lucas Smith, Samantha Saccamano, Joanna Arcee, Jenna Ellis, Spenser Fox, Peter Arnold, and Gillian Manantan, identify their photos by those numbers rather than titles.
Klisser During said both the Dog Show and Hope in Haiti exhibits are about the underdog. "Where's their voice? It's important for the community to give voice to the voiceless," she said. "The art center is a wonderful place for people to look at humanitarian issues and through art bring awareness to the public." The aim of both photographic exhibits is to improve the lives of the subjects. Hope in Haiti is raising money to build an orphanage in that impoverished country. Dog Show aims to improve the quality of life for shelter dogs and find homes for them.
Catherine Sippin, the visual arts coordinator for the center, said literature will be available to explain the high school photographers' project, and a link will be provided to the Bridgeport Animal Shelter.
Dog Show will continue through May 8. For more information call the Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Ave., at 203-222-7070 or visit the website at www.westportartscenter.org.