If you have ever had a pet then you have experienced the beautiful unconditional love that they bring to a relationship. During the pandemic especially our pets have been there for us in profound ways. Mindy Dutka is a photographer who believes that Dogs are among the unsung heroes of Covid-19 and she is on a mission to share their stories with the world through her project Tales of Support. Nectar news had the privilege of sitting down with Mindy (virtually) to learn about her career, her company Dogs I Meet, and what inspired her to document the stories of pets and their owners:
NN: Mindy, you take these beautiful photographs of dogs. Have you always photographed dogs? Where did this journey begin for you?
Mindy Dutka: About five years ago, I decided it was time to create a career just purely of what I loved. And I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs and I’ve always loved photography. And as I was researching, what can I do? What can I do? I stumbled upon some things on the internet about dog photography. That made me think “Hmm, that looks like it’s a thing. I think I’ll do that.” It’s been a journey since then of really trying to create a brand and drill down to what my mission is. It’s evolved over the last five years. In the beginning, I was just doing private commissions. Now I do a lot of work for pet-related businesses.
NN: How wonderful.
MD: Yes, I’ve also started doing wall art for any business because there are so many benefits to having dogs. People can’t always have the actual dog in the workplace, but even pictures of dogs on the wall, they’re a real icebreaker. They create trust. I also do a ton of rescue work, that’s my passion. Before the pandemic, I was traveling and I did some work in Mexico and Puerto Rico. I was kind of blown away by all of these organizations, well basically they’re individuals. They do it all as a volunteer. And they just do remarkable work of saving these dogs and finding them in bad condition and rehabilitating them. So without the photos, what they’re doing, nobody knows.
So I come in and photograph the rescue dogs and then spread the word through my social media and in any other way I could. I have been able to raise about $30,000 for these various rescue organizations over the last few years, so that’s been great.
NN: How did the pandemic affect your work?
MD: When the pandemic came work kind of came to a halt. It’s hard to be a photographer in a pandemic. So after a few months, I thought I want to keep working. If you don’t keep photographing, you lose your skills. And I had been thinking so much about dogs. I lost my almost 16-year-old dog in September of 2020. So that was for me, the silver lining of the pandemic that I got to spend the last five months of her life with her. And that wouldn’t have been the case otherwise. So that really was a gift. And then I adopted another dog a few months later, and it was an interesting experience adopting a dog during the pandemic. It really got me thinking about how the dogs are such an unsung hero of this moment in time, they’re giving comfort and support and therapy and purpose to people during the pandemic. So I decided I’d like to create a project called Tales of Support and photograph people with their dogs and tell their story along with documenting it.
I feel like it’s a really important part of what we’ve gone through. And when you look back, even if it’s just my small project, to just have it documented what dogs did, and always do, but how it was kind of their shining moment because everybody was stuck home. So I started interviewing people and getting all these different stories and it was really interesting. I think that people really enjoyed the opportunity for the photoshoot and to tell their story and have it documented.
NN: Tell me about the upcoming collaboration you have with Sober Voices.
MD: Yes, Sober Voices is an organization for sober and sober-curious individuals. They put on two virtual conferences a year and they have all kinds of interesting speakers and panels about sobriety, getting sober, staying sober and living life sober. They reached out to me because what they’ve discovered as well is that dogs play a pivotal role over and over again in people’s lives and they were hearing from people that it was their dog that either helped them find sobriety or stay sober. So they contacted me and wanted me to do stories of their members and the people that they work with. At their next virtual conference, the end of September, we’re going to have the pet happy hour, and between now and then I’m working on documenting stories from their community members who want to share their stories. And for that, we’re looking for sponsors, so that we’re able to promote it and push it out there.
NN: That’s so fantastic. I’m curious, are there any Tales of Support that have really stuck with you over the years, or maybe moments that are really special to you?
MD: There are, I mean, for the Tales of Support, it was a broad range of people that I interviewed. A few of the health care workers’ stories really stuck out. There were two different camps. The people who were the essential workers and were gone 12 hours or whatever of the day. So they weren’t home with the dogs, but the dogs were there to help them when they got home. And then there was everybody else who never left the house. So the healthcare workers are out there, really being superheroes, but then they would come home exhausted. One woman I documented came home and told me when she came home to her dog and that was like the light of her day. And even though it was late and it was dark, she would take the dog out for a walk and they would walk and walk and she would talk to the dog about what happened to her day. It was how she processed everything and also made it so that she could go back the next day and keep working. She talked about how her dog even matched her energy. At night, he walked a little slower, and then in the morning, when they went for their morning walk and she had to gear up again, then go out there again, the dog was peppy and it was like, “come on, come on.” She says the dog just got her through. If she didn’t have her dog to come home to every night, she didn’t even know that she could re-energize and go back to it again. She worked in eldercare, so that was really tough.
NN: Wow, that’s so moving.
MD: There was another woman who was working in the emergency room and she has two dogs and she talked about the same thing. Interestingly, she had two dogs, and one was like her physical therapy dog because he was real snuggly and would always cuddle with her. And the other one was more cerebral, and that’s the one she talked to, and she would tell him about the day. There was also a family I documented, a woman who had two boys and they rescued two dogs during the pandemic. Her older boy was actually afraid of dogs. And the mom said of her son, “He doesn’t adjust to change that well,” but after they got one dog, a few months later they got another one and he just took to the dog and the dog gave him a purpose. He started training the dog. He didn’t like being on Zoom during school, so the dog would sit in the chair and be the boy’s face on the Zoom. Serving as his stand-in.
NN: How beautiful. The dog also must have made all of the other kids in the class very happy.
MD: Oh yes.
NN: I hear during the pandemic a lot of the shelters were empty because so many people adopted dogs. Is that true from your perspective and what do you think is in store for rescues moving forward?
MD: It is true. It was almost impossible to get a dog during the height of the pandemic and I hope having stories like what I’m documenting out there will remind people of how the dogs were there for them. But unfortunately, people are returning many dogs now back to the shelters. You’re starting to read stories of the shelters being full now. Also, for the dogs that came during the pandemic, it was hard to socialize the dogs properly. So a lot of them suffer more from separation anxiety. There are people that are just, “Oh, it’s not working now. Thanks, thanks for your help.” Not the stories that I’m documenting, because those are the people that worshiped their dogs. But there are plenty of people out there who are just like, “it’s not fitting in with my life.” So that’s really sad. That’s why I feel like, the more stories out there about the work and the help that dogs did the better. I know that a lot of rescues and even a lot of the dog trainers and people are really out there trying to give information to people so that they can learn how to deal with their dogs who have separation anxiety, or any of the other issues. I have a saying, “it’s never the dog’s fault.”
NN: Well thank you for the work that you are doing. I’m also very curious, what are some of the challenges of being a dog photographer, and what are some of the perks?
MD: The perks are that you get to meet and hang out with a lot of dogs. The challenges are educating people on the value of dog photography and the value of paying for a professional photographer because people kind of minimize it. “I have my iPhone” or “I’ll use a stock photo.” It’s getting people to understand the value of it. People want me to take pictures of their dogs, and then they wind up telling me how it’s the most priceless thing that they have. Pretty much everybody that has had their dog photographed by me, talks about how great it is. But other people are like, why would I pay someone to take a picture of my dog? They forget I’ve invested in equipment. I’ve invested in education. It’s just like anything else. Why do you hire a plumber? You know, because they have skills that you don’t. And the same thing with businesses, especially smaller businesses, they think “I don’t have the budget for it. I’ll just throw pictures in.” But I always say, I think it’s backward because there’s so much content out there that without a really, really good visual, you go right by it.
So I think businesses should be focused more on the visual and the photo. And then take that a step further. The photos should tell your story and that’s the beauty of photography, of freezing a moment in time and telling stories through the photos. So, as I mentioned, I photographed for the Veterinary Emergency Group, and what’s so unique about them is they don’t separate you from your pet when you take your pet into the emergency hospital. And they understand how crucial that is for their clients. They hired me to photograph their staff in action. They decorate their hospitals with large canvases of the photos I took. They understand the value of telling their story through photos. So I’d say that is the biggest challenge, getting people to understand the value of paying for professional photography.
NN: My challenge would be not crying every time I couldn’t take a dog home or had to leave a shelter.
MD: I know. My husband’s like, “What’s the matter?” I’m like, “Monkey died.” And he was like, “Which one was that?”
NN: That’s what I mean, I don’t know if I could handle it, but it’s so wonderful. I mean, you’re doing such a service. And so I know we spoke about the Tales of Support that you’re doing with Sober Voices, but just to circle back to that, how can we support that? I know you’re looking for sponsors.
MD: Yes, we are looking for businesses to sponsor this project. It’s a really great opportunity because there’s definitely exposure. At the pet happy hour, which would be my section, there’ll be speakers there and we’ll open it up with the stories. So whoever does sponsor would be helping two causes: the sober community and the dogs. If you’re in the pet industry, you get exposure for that. And if you support, it’s National Recovery Month, so it’s two causes that you’re supporting and by having these stories and the stories live on. So once I capture them, they’re there for people to find and read and start to think about, it starts a conversation and it gets people thinking about the human/dog bond and just how strong it is.
To Learn More and Support Dogs I Meet Visit: https://dogsimeet.com/