Introducing Jack’s SHERO: None other than Cat Race of CatsDog Photography!
The pandemic has been tough for many photographers but one of the positives that it has given us is more time to invest in what we love. It’s given me more time to work on the Don’t You Want Me Project, to upgrade my lighting set up, to find an assistant and to learn from and connect with other photographers.
One of those photographers is someone I’ve been wowed by ever since I first saw her work, and luckily for me, she agreed to a zoom interview - that’s right, one of my all time sheroes - the unmistakable personal and photographic style that is Cat of CatsDog Photography.
Here’s how the conversation went:-
Jack: OMG OMG OMG your work is amazing, tell me how you got to where you are today!
Cat: Awwww! Thanks lovely! I studied A-Level photography then worked for a fashion photographer whilst studying web and multimedia at the University of Central Lancashire. I’d always loved photography, but never considered it a realistic career choice - photography was just for fun right? WRONG. I got a part time job assisting a fashion photographer which not only gave me a huge amount of experience, but also made me see that there were so many different careers I could pursue as a photographer.
During university I began working at Venture, a family portrait studio that has an excellent reputation and where I learnt so many invaluable skills. If any dogs came into the studio I jumped at the opportunity to work with them but in doing so, I began to notice how much easier a session was outdoors when I had been practicing with the CatsDog mascot herself, Poppy the chihuahua! I decided to go part time at the portrait studio so that I could focus more on my own dog photography and within 3 months I’d built up enough of a base to go out on my own! And that was back in 2013 and it’s been a crazy adventure ever since! I love working outdoors, there’s far more variety and I just think the dogs are happier being in their natural environment.
Jack: Can you tell me a bit more about the crazy adventure?
Cat: It’s been a massive journey since the early days in 2013, but it’s also been a natural progression which I think many photographers can relate to. During the first year I was shooting 30 sessions a month, then I met Michael, the other half of CatsDog Photography (and also my other half!) in 2014, and business picked up even more so I started employing a couple of other photographers. I thought I’d really made it - my days in the studio had it drilled into me that the more the better but it was getting to a point where I realised I was working for myself, but not actually getting to do the things that I really loved doing. I wanted to focus more on the whole client experience, the creativity of the session to the end product and happy client. So CatsDog Photography went back to its roots; me, Michael, having fun and producing quality work. More of a high end boutique feel with a huge amount of fun involved.
Jack: You’ve achieved what many photographers can only dream of. What do you put it down to?
Cat: Isn’t life always a bit about luck? But I would add to that my education, training at Venture, consistency and a real go get attitude. We worked 7 days a week year round for the first few years, partnering and connecting with so many different people. We worked tirelessly and consistently on our social media, and I think it really helps when people feel like they know you. Finally, like you, I just happen to really really love what I do, and you betcha that helps!
Jack: Your photography has taken you to lots of different places - can you name a couple of your favourites?
Cat: Honestly, every time we’re commissioned to do a shoot abroad my heart just swells with gratitude and I love each and every experience, but we really loved Toronto - such a friendly amazing city - we’ll definitely be back!
Jack: What are your proudest achievements to date?
Cat: I placed in the British Photographer of the Year Awards in 2019 as well as placing three times in the Kennel Club’s Dog Photographer of the Year (including two category wins). I’m also a judge in this year’s Pet Photographer’s Club International Pet Photographer of the Year competition as well as other online dog photography awards. Opening the studio on Tulketh Brow so that we could host our gallery and staff was also a pivotal point in my career. A well known pet photographer in Chicago reached out to me and asked me to travel there to do a session with her dogs - which was such a compliment. But in all honesty, whilst it’s great to be recognised for my work, I think my biggest achievement to date is simply being able to do what I love every single day.
Jack: Have you had any pandemic silver linings?
Cat: Just like you, it’s given me more time to dive into work that had long been on my to do list. I’ve started playing around with editing videos on adobe premiere and it’s just the next natural step for the marketing of the business.
Jack: I totally love your aesthetic, do you ever get any pushback on the way you look?
Cat: I think because of my social media presence people have already brought in to who I am, and they feel like they know me when they arrive for their session. I’ve never experienced any downside personally and everyone seems to love my hair. I can only actually think of one instance when we had a super lovely, super tattooed guy working for us and a woman was a little cautious but as soon as she met him she obviously loved him. I think generally, in the creative industry there’s always the expectation that you’re a little more quirky.
Jack’s final thoughts: I still feel incredibly lucky to do the work that I do, but I wasted far too much time being scared and being stuck in a job I just didn’t love and certainly didn’t fit in. This is going out to anyone who feels too scared to leave something they don’t enjoy, too scared they’ll fail, people who feel not good enough - if you’ve found something that you want, work your ass off on getting it, rock your own style, and be you, unapologetically. I wasted 20 years of my life in a suit and a body that I didn’t belong in. Covering up and hiding parts of myself. I’ve found my passion now but it should have never taken that long. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is fleeting and that we must strive to find things that we love. Now go out there and don’t waste another second.
BE YOU, BOLD, BRIGHT, BEAUTIFUL.
You can follow Cat’s adventures on Instagram AND if you’re as obsessed with her work as I am, she actually has a couple of dog photography workshops coming up! How cool is that - get in touch with her if you’re interested!
The Don’t You Want Me Project - providing hope and support through a first of its kind Rescue Grant
The Don’t You Want Me Project documents the lives of queer people and their rescue dogs by creating a visual global platform for them to tell their stories. Finding strength and purpose in the unconditional love given by dogs we watch the project’s subjects heal and transform. The project’s aim is to highlight what happens when the marginalised receive unconditional love and support. This bond and the subsequent personal growth form the backbone of the Don’t You Want Me Project.
Last November the Project announced the launch of the Don’t You Want Me Rescue Grant. The DYWM Rescue Grant will enable someone from the queer and trans community (one person in Toronto and one in the U.K) who is struggling with mental health issues, the opportunity to adopt a rescue dog and be given ongoing support.
It is expected that the first recipient of the DYWM Rescue Grant will receive their dog this March. As witnessed throughout the project it is anticipated that the arrival of the rescue dog will have a profoundly transformative impact not only on the recipient’s mental health but on every aspect of their life.
Approximately half of the Project’s participants have said that their rescue dog saved their life.
Parties involved in the Toronto DYWM Rescue Grant to date include:
Friends of Ruby - Mental Health Partner
Friends of Ruby is a Toronto registered charity dedicated to the progressive wellbeing of LGBTQI2S youth (aged 16-29) through mental health services, social services and housing. Friends of Ruby will help determine a suitable recipient for the DYWM Rescue Grant and will provide ongoing mental health support as the recipient welcomes the rescue dog into their life.
Save Our Scruff - Rescue Partner
Founded by one of our Project participants, SOS, a non-profit organization in Toronto is dedicated to rescuing dogs and finding them safe and suitable permanent homes through adoption, advocacy and education. SOS will work closely with Friends of Ruby to match a suitable rescue dog with the chosen recipient of the DYWM Rescue Grant, waive their adoption fee and provide ongoing support. If deemed beneficial, SOS will assist the grant recipient in working towards training their dog to be a therapy/service dog.
Nood Pet Food
NOOD recipes are packed with ethically sourced proteins, superfoods and a range of vitamins and minerals to provide a complete and balanced diet for your pet. NOOD believe every pet — big and small — deserves the proper nutrition to live a healthy, happy life. And every single pet owner deserves to know what goes in (and what stays out) of the pet food they buy. No junk, no nasty surprises, no pesky fine print. NOOD is working to close the gap on pet food inequality and to make affordable pet food accessible to all. Nood Pet Food is donating 3 years worth of food to the grant recipient.
Doggy Dates Toronto
Doggy Dates Toronto is a trans owned, award winning dog walking and photography business founded by Jack and Jet Jackson. Doggy Dates Toronto will be providing dog walking services and documenting the journey of the grant recipient and their rescue dog through photo journalism.
Balmy Beach Pet Hospital
Dr. Singh comes from a traditional “Sikh” family. The word Sikh means student. To this end, Dr. Singh has devoted her life to honing her skills as a veterinary practitioner, to continue to provide the best medicine and care to her patients. Her goals as a practitioner are to provide affordable and professional veterinary care, maintain the highest level of transparency, and practice in an environment that is safe for pets, pet owners and staff. We are in the process of finalizing the contribution from Balmy Beach Pet Hospital.
Dogtopia of Bloor West Village in Toronto is your dog’s home away from home. The brand new dog boarding facility, owned by Jen McCain, makes your dog’s everyday like it’s the most exciting day ever! Through dog daycare, boarding, training and spa services they are committed to showering your pup with all the love and affection they deserve when you can’t be with them. Dogtopia Bloor West are donating grooming, dog training and job shadowing if desired.
Small Wonders Pet Store
Toronto’s landmark original independent pet store. Small Wonders will be providing $20 worth of treats each month to the grant recipient’s dog.
Still seeking - a dog bed, coat, leash, collar, toys, pet insurance, and training and behavioural services.
If you would like to help with a fiscal donation to subsidize the cost of important services like training, vet care and day care when needed, we are taking donations here.
We know times are hard for lots of people so your greatest gift would be to share this far and wide.
I am a perfectionist - I dream about photography, I am constantly learning and updating my knowledge and work obsessively at being the best I can at work that I love. I control and direct as much as is possible about the session which I structure and time around the sunrise/sunset. That being said, and in order to manage expectations, I stress to every client that this is outdoor, off leash dog photography, and dogs will be dogs (which is why we love them so much). We are not looking for perfection from the dogs - we want their personality to shine through, we want them to have fun, and that is what I aim to try to capture for you.
If your dog is regularly groomed, it would be great timing to get a groom done in the days leading up to your shoot. A quick nail trim also looks great.
Harness vs Collars
Unless your dog needs to wear a harness for safety reasons, I would strongly recommend your dog wear a collar for the photoshoot. If the collar is old, I might suggest treating them to a new one, or letting them go ‘naked’. I am unable to remove a harness in photoshop. We may also leash your dog at points during the session, and it is far easier to remove a leash in photoshop if they are wearing a collar.
Want to be included in an image?
Whilst the session is all about dogs, if you’d like me to include you in an image with your dog, please do put some thought into what you are wearing. Choose outfits that make you feel confident and stylish whilst also allowing you to move around and play with your dog. I would avoid any big logos or wild designs as they can distract from the dog. It’s always a nice touch to wear something that subtly connects you to your dog - let’s say you have for example red nail varnish, (or a scarf, lipstick, hat, shoes) etc and your dog has a red collar. Or your dog has blue eyes, you might want to wear something that features a hint of blue too.
The morning / afternoon of the shoot
Please arrive no later than the agreed time. The different locations/backdrops of the session have been purposefully chosen to work with the position of the sun, so if we start late, we will not only miss the sunrise /sunset, but the rest of the shoot won’t be as ideal as it can be. The beautifully saturated colours of the golden hour only last 15 minutes or so and we need time to acclimatize your dog to the camera and flash. I like to encourage sunrise sessions where timing allows - whilst I know it’s tough to get up early, it’s not only the best time photographically in terms of light and colour, but also there are less distractions around for your dog at this time.
We go through a lot of treats during a typical photo shoot so I strongly advise against feeding your dog prior to the session. Please bring some peanut butter and a selection of your dogs favourite treats. I will bring some liver treats, but it’s essential for you to have high value treats on standby. You will need more than you think you will need - we go through a lot of treats!
During the shoot
I will acclimatize your dog to the flash/camera and once they are comfortable we’ll go straight into the session. When I am doing close up work with your dog, I will need yourself or a friend to assist by holding the lighting/ strobe (you do not need any experience and full direction will be given). The strobe weights approximately 10lbs, and can get heavy after a while so if you have any concerns about this, please do get in touch to discuss. If you would prefer that we bring in an assistant this can be arranged at additional cost. At any point during the session, if you wanted to take any behind the scenes photos or video we always welcome any footage you can send or tag us in!
Training and tricks
If you want to incorporate a high five, a treat catch, a roll over, or any other tricks you might like your dog to do feel free to practice in the lead up to the photoshoot session. These extras are absolutely not essential, these are just for fun if you wanted to try them.
Extras you might want to bring
Water - there is one location during the shoot where your dog will not have access to water so during the hot summer months, you might want to bring some extra water. During the colder months, you may want to bring a blanket / coat for your dog, particularly if they are small or not winter loving dogs.
What happens after the shoot, when and how do I get my images?
Within 48 hours after your dog’s photo shoot session you’ll receive a sneak peak preview image on facebook / instagram. Within 5 days I will guide you through an online purchase appointment where you can select prints and product combinations from a carefully curated online gallery of approximately 20-25 images. Any prints or products ordered will be shipped to you directly from the photo lab within 4 weeks. Full payment for any products/prints will be made at the purchase appointment.
These last few years have taught us many things, one of those things being how much our dogs have been fundamental in helping so many of us during the pandemic. Hell yes, let’s celebrate them.
For more stories about unconditional love and the transformative power dogs have on our lives check out the Don’t You Want Me Project.
Feel free to share this blog if you want your doggo pals to get in on the Jack Jackson action!