Downeast Dog News

Maine Artists Give Back

By Susan Spisak | Apr 01, 2018

They’re all animal-lovers who give of themselves, sharing their talents for Maine’s dogs in need. I had the opportunity to speak to these wonderful artists who willingly make time in their lives to better the lives of shelter animals. Here’s a smattering of who these friendly ladies are and what they do to give back.

A professional photographer for over 30 years, Jill Piper is the owner of Lasting Image Photography and Furry Kids Pet Photography in Minot. Animals own her heart--and giving back is a huge portion of her business, albeit it’s pro bono work. She travels to shelters and humane societies across Maine to take photos of their harder-to-adopt and long-term dogs. She adds another layer to that effort by sharing those pictures and blogging about those pets on her website. “Hopefully, it gets them noticed, where they haven’t been noticed before,” says Piper. She’s done this for a few rescues for 14 years, and state-wide now for four years.

She holds photo events throughout the year for various non-profits, with all proceeds going to that group. Her “Santa” and “Easter Bunny” photos--folks bring their dogs in for a pic with either--have raised over $23,000 so far. She humbly admits she cannot do it without helpful volunteers. She’s also used her graphic design skills to create calendars for rescues to sell--chalk up another $15k. She feels good knowing she’s helping animals.

It’s not just about cash proceeds for Piper, either. She and her husband, Jason, have fostered over 20 dogs for three rescues, and they currently have three dogs of their own. And she volunteers at Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills bi-weekly, cleaning kennels and walking dogs.

Piper is also a member of Hearts Speak, an international organization made up of 600 volunteer artists. Through their program, Artists Helping Animals, they utilize their talents to make shelter animals more visible and to support and empower animal welfare organizations.

Debra Bell is owner of Bell's Furry Friends Photography and the “mothership business” of Bell Imaging & Design LLC. in Hermon. A professional photographer for 14 years, she delved into snapping dog shots five years ago because something about canines clicked. “If I could do nothing in my life but pet photography, I’d be a happy girl.” Like Piper, she’s a member of Hearts Speak and is a supporter of many animal non-profits. She’s loyal to her “give back work,” by advancing the message of shelters and rescues, raising awareness and money, and creating good will.

For the past nine years, she’s held the Holiday Photo Session Event--hosted by Don and Paula Hanson of Green Acres Kennel Shop--that benefits the Furry Friends Food Bank (and For Dogs in Holden also hosted for a few years as well). It’s a very worthwhile organization that helps seniors and those with disabilities feed their pets so they’re able to keep their beloved companions. She estimates that she’s donated several thousands of dollars to them. She’s also worked on their website revamp. “I do a lot with them. They’re my pet charity per se.”

Bell supports The Bangor Humane Society by providing event photography. She also captures recently adopted dogs as artwork to hang on their walls, free of charge. She says the goal is that when potential adopters see them, they’ll want to find that perfect pet to have showcased as a success story, too. “It gives me a good feeling that what I’m doing matters…and helping to find homes for adoptable animals.”

Humane Society Waterville Area, Greater Bangor Bark for Life and Maine Greyhound Placement Service have profited from Bell’s generosity as well. (She and her husband, Bill, rescued a Greyhound named Buddy, and lost one named Laura, who helped her with pet photo techniques.) She takes pictures of their adoptables and hopes to show off each dog’s best side by capturing its soul. She currently is creating artwork for their lobby, too.

Becky Lowe, owner of Becky Lowe Photography in Camden, is the proud “mom” to a 5- year-old Olde English Bulldogge named Boston Strong. Instead of fostering or adopting more dogs--her home is full with a husband, two boys and the much-adored Boston--she gives back to area shelters by holding holiday-themed photo events at Maine’s award-winning pet supply stores, the Loyal Biscuit Co.

“Heidi [Heidi Vanorse Neal, co-owner of Loyal Biscuit with husband Joel, does a fantastic job of dividing up the funds to provide food for those shelters. Heidi and I started this with a Spring Pet Portrait shoot in 2015, not realizing how big it would really end up getting. We had over 100 dogs and one hedgehog come through with this past holiday shoot between all five [Loyal Biscuit] locations.”

Channel Your Inner Artist pet portraits is part of Marie Spaulding Art, owned by the artist of the same name. She dabbles in paints, preferably acrylics, and has been at it all her life. In 2015, she was encouraged to offer pet portrait classes. “I gave it a shot,” says Spaulding.

She initially collected pet food and accepted donations for shelters at her classes. Vanorse Neal, the aforementioned co-owner of Loyal Biscuit Co., took one of her Waterville classes and suggested that she offer one in Rockland for Pope Memorial Humane Society. Spaulding agreed and also began donating a portion of each attendee’s fee.

They’re very popular and are usually held at the facility they’re benefitting. The often skeptical painters are asked to send in a photo of their pet prior to the class, so Spaulding can lightly sketch their friend on a blank canvas. She says when the class is finished and the brushes are put down, most cannot believe what they’ve accomplished. Spaulding’s done a few for Pope Memorial, Humane Society Waterville Area, The Bangor Humane Society, and P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center in Camden.

Spaulding said some people paint a much-loved pet who has passed as a memorial, and enjoys helping them through their grief. And this helps her--she lost her yellow Lab to lymphoma but hasn’t had the heart to rescue another dog. “I really enjoy doing this. I know people love their dogs…I’m living vicariously through their pets and enjoying their excitement about them. And it’s also just my way to give back to animals in the shelters.”