Exciting things have been happening on the Don’t You Want Me photography project that we sponsor! Recently Jack was approached by Pet Valu after they saw the Toronto star article to ask how they could support the project!!
With Pride just around the corner we decided to amplify our existing stories from the project through video. Pet Valu immediately got to work hiring the best of the best for the job. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out that Westside Studio’s Angie Bird was to direct the videos. For anyone that doesn’t know Birdie, she’s a hugely respected award-winning director, part of the LGBTQ community and has a rescue dog! Check out one of her award winning groundbreaking videos here.
Fast forward a week and the participants for the videos had been chosen, Birdie had held zoom interviews with all of them, the outfits had been decided upon, and even the dogs had all had a little makeover and manicure!. Everyone was getting excited for the big day. I’ve never actually been to a proper film set but it was seriously impressive.
Pet Valu had provided a dog handler, a craft table just for the dogs (obviously), all the refreshments we needed and Birdie had the washroom signs changed to gender-neutral. Everything was done to make our participants (both doggo and human) feel as comfortable as possible. I got a really heartwarming text from one of the project’s participants at the end of the day saying it was the first time in a long while that they had not felt ‘othered’ be that through race, sexuality or gender. I distinctly remember the first time when I was in a group of people and just blended in (it was at an awesome dog photography workshop!). I wasn’t ‘other’ and I wasn’t visibly queer and I felt a calmness that I’d never felt in a group setting before. Let’s hope as a society, we reach a place where visible minorities no longer carry with them such underlying fear and anxiety.
We couldn’t have been happier with the final videos, the one below having received well over 2 million hits to date. Yes you heard that correctly!
Huge thanks To Pet Valu, Angie Bird and her team and of course all of the Don’t You Want Me participants and their dogs, without whom we wouldn’t have this project. If only these once abandoned unwanted dogs knew how instrumental they had been in changing the course of our lives.
How can you help?
If you believe in the power of storytelling and dogs as much as we do please share this blog on your social media. The project is looking for more people to sit for photography sessions. To be eligible to be part of the project you must identify as LGBTQ, have a rescue dog and have a story of transformation that you are willing to share. This could be anything from the arrival of your dog being the catalyst for a major life change, to your dog dramatically transforming your mental health or to an exciting new adventure instigated by the arrival of your rescue dog.
Finally the project has a very big announcement to share with you in the lead up to Trans Awareness Week on 13 November so if you, someone you know or your employer wants to be part of this timely social impact initiative the time to come on board is now! Let’s start a conversationabout how we can help each other and let’s save some lives in the process.
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:OMGOMGOMG 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.
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.
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.