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Q & A with Fred Ni: Toronto's Pound Dog Publicist
Meet the volunteer blogger putting Toronto's shelter dogs in front of more eyeballs to get them rescued

Photo by Fred Ni

“Every dog has its own story.”

Fred Ni has taken this philosophy and turned it into Pound Dogs, a blog that showcases his beautiful photographs of the dogs from Toronto Animal Services South, their stories, and adoption information. He’s a publicist for dogs that many people may have overlooked either because they think shelter dogs are inferior, or they are simply unaware they exist.

He writes, “The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals.“

For the past three years, he has dutifully written the stories of every single dog that is brought into the shelter. It is solely a labour of love — he receives no payment for the blog.

 

How did Pound Dogs get started?

Where I used to work, the office was five minutes from animal services near exhibition place. So one lunch time I walked over there. I thought, I’ve been here years and I’ve never seen this building because it’s not in a great location. I walked in and saw all these dogs there and just kind of volunteered on the spot. They didn’t get back to me for six months so I thought maybe they forgot. Then they did get back, so I started dog walking a couple times a week just to get a break. At work, I sit in front of a computer all day so it’s nice to deal with something that was not electronic. I’d just get grounded, I guess. One of the things I noticed about it was that nobody really knew about it — not that location anyways. I thought, hey, maybe I’ll try and get them some publicity. The photos that they used to have on the adoption pages weren’t so great, so I thought maybe I’ll help them out with the photos. I just started taking photos of the dogs and then putting them up on the blog.

Are you a professional photographer?

No. I used to be semi-professional, years ago.

How long does a typical shoot take?

15 to 30 minutes. It depends on weather, and who is around. It’s too noisy a lot of times. A lot of these dogs, they don’t come from good backgrounds, so they get freaked out by a lot of things. We are down by the CNE, so there’re hockey games in the winter, there are soccer games. This weekend it’s Honda Indy. There’s all sorts of stuff going on, so a lot of times they are really anxious. In which case I try to get them outside, take some pictures and get them inside before they completely freak out. But then with other dogs, they’re totally fine. I can spend as much time as I want with them.

Do treats work?

Usually I walk them. I think the most important thing is to get them to trust me. I’m just some guy. They have no idea who I am. A lot of dogs in there are fairly traumatized, some dogs are totally fine, maybe one in ten, they just don’t care. The rest of the dogs, to some degree, are totally traumatized. Just as any person would be if they were taken out of their home environment and then stuffed in a cage.

I try to get them at least a little bit trusting of me. Obviously I can’t do that in 15 minutes or 30 minutes. I don’t take them outside and pull out the camera right away. A lot of dogs don’t like having that big lens stuck in their face. A lot of dogs are similar to people — they just hate it. So I try not to pull out the camera right away. It wouldn’t work. So I walk them, sit down with them, spend some time with them, and then there’s other factors: weather, noise, the temperament of the dog. When I feel I’ve made some headway in that regard, then I’ll start taking photos of them. 

How much time does the blog take up?

It takes about a full day every week. Spending the time down there, processing pictures, writing, keeping on top of the facebook page, comments, all that stuff.

What has the response been like from the shelter?

Initially, when I started, I didn’t even tell the shelter because I didn’t know how they were going to respond. I just took pictures of the dog, described them, and linked back to the original animal services site. But eventually they found out, and they were thrilled with it, they were fine. There were probably a few people that were like, who is this guy, why is he doing this? But for the most part, it lessens their workload, it also gets the dogs out. Some of the shelter people there are really into animal rescue. It’s much more than a day job for some of those people. So when they see the dogs getting picked up quickly, they’re fine with that.

Does your blog expedite the dogs getting adopted?

There was a dog from Quebec, Basquiat, I posted on him in April. He basically started his whole life — from when he was an 8 week old puppy to when he was an adult — in a cage in a pound in Quebec somewhere. In a lot of places, the community is just not of the mindset where they’d adopt a dog. So that dog just sat there and sat there. And it was really sad. They showed us a picture from when the dog was a pup. It was really cute and everything and you just think of how long it sat there in a cage. So animal services pulled that dog from that pound and did an intermediary rescue. They brought the dog here, I took some photos of it, did a write-up, all that stuff.

I posted it at around four o’clock, five o’clock in the afternoon, and then over the course of that night there were about 800 shares, according to Facebook it passed 60,000 pairs of eyes. Anyways, next morning, before the shelter even opened, there were 8 people lined up for this dog. In that sense, it is great because it basically just sat in that Quebec shelter for over a year and no one looked at it. And overnight here — I post about it, 8 people show up – and it gets adopted the next day. Obviously, it doesn’t happen like that all the time, but for whatever reason, a post kind of tweaks with the public, and the dog gets picked up right away. And it may have sat there for quite a bit longer if it wasn’t posted.

There are lots of dogs there that have had really traumatic lives that do get adopted — I believe a lot quicker — because of the post. Somebody’s heart breaks and they rush in there and take the dog out.

How do you cope with seeing all these traumatized animals every day?

For the most part, after about a couple of years of doing this — at first it was kind of tough, but you learn to just kind of steel your heart and put the armour up

Do you have pound dogs?

The first I got from animal services was a Doberman named Rocky several years ago. I adopted him because I thought he was basically going to die. No one was looking at him and he was older, he had lots of health problems, and he’d been in the shelter for months. His health was really declining. He was coughing, his blood count was really bad, his hips were going on him, he had an eye infection, he was losing hair. They were thinking about euthanizing him because nobody was interested him and he was getting really sick. I have to say, in animal services, that will happen maybe once a year, where a dog goes in and they cant find a home for him and he gets sick. Normally they’ll keep a dog in there until they can find a home for them. So I took him home. When I brought him back he started to get healthy! I was only expecting to have him living for a couple weeks. The way his health was declining, I thought these are his last few days on this planet. He was just so sick. But he sprung back to life and lived another three years. Eventually he got lymphoma and had to be put down. It goes to show you, as much as they can try to help the dogs out, a shelter environment isn’t very conducive for a dog’s health, just from all the stress and who knows what else. There was Rocky, Smitty (a bearded Collie), and now Simone, who is a mutt.

How long will you do the blog?

I don’t know, there’s no end date. Sometimes I think I need to take a long break. But right now, there’s really no end date. They’re getting less dogs through there now, I don’t know why that is. I suspect it is city cutbacks. So it used to be that I’d post once a day, now I’m posting maybe half that. So that’s a result of there’s just not as many dogs I’d post on. So the workload is a bit lighter and there’s not as much pressure. But in terms of longevity, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do it for. I think about splitting up the work with someone else sometimes but I’d have to find someone who could do it consistently. I think about how difficult it is for myself to do it, so I don’t know — at some point, if I do decide I can’t handle this anymore and I don’t have enough time, I’ll try to look for somebody to replace me. 

What’s the most gratifying part?

Seeing the dogs get adopted. Well, it’s all equally gratifying — seeing the dogs, meeting them, hanging out with the people there at the pound, taking the photos, coming up with nice photos. It’s the whole package.

Visit Pound Dogs here, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter.

____

Tiffy Thompson is a writer and illustrator for the Toronto Standard.  Follow her on Twitter at @tiffyjthompson. 

For more, follow us on Twitter at @TorontoStandard and subscribe to our newsletter.

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