Photographer Jolie Gordon of Lake Point is locally renowned for photographs that capture Tooele Valley’s beautiful sunsets and wildlife, as well as portraits of individuals and families.
But now she is taking her skills to another level — perfecting the art of animal shelter portraiture.
Gordon, 46, became fascinated with the Humane Society of Utah’s website and she frequently browsed it looking at animals and reading their stories. Then she heard about an animal photography class at the shelter taught by the shelter’s main photographer, Guinnevere Shuster. Gordon said she had admired Shuster’s photos on the website for a long time.
So, naturally, she signed up.
“I need to do this,” Gordon told herself.
Since then, she has found the work has added new meaning to her passion for photography.
“For me, I wanted to make a difference,” she said. “I want to be on this earth and do something meaningful.”
Gordon said she began photographing animals in May 2016 and has helped over 1,000 pets find new homes. Gordon said she has found that helping animals find new owners is more fulfilling than she expected.
Photography has always been a big part of Gordon’s life. Her interest in the art and craft of taking pictures started with her grandfather, followed by support from her parents. Gordon got her first camera when she was in the third grade.
Before taking photographs for the humane society, Gordon started taking landscape and wildlife photographs in 2004 when she and her husband, Tony, moved to Tooele County. Gordon said her husband has been very supportive of her new service project. However, she said he isn’t much help when asked for his opinion on which photos to submit because, “he likes them all.”
Even though she has shot thousands of landscape, wildlife and people photos, working for the humane society has been a real education for her.
“I get to see, learn and photograph all different types of animals,” she said. “… I love to let their personalities show through in the pictures.”
One of Gordon’s most memorable photo shoots was with two bonded animals — a rat and a cat. She said it was an unusual duo she won’t soon forget. Usually, when animals are close friends or bonded, the shelter photographs them and adopts them out together.
Rats are actually one of Gordon’s favorite animal subjects to photograph. But this wasn’t always the case. She remembers picking up her first rat and freaking out that she was holding a rodent.
Of all the animals, Gordon said ferrets are the hardest to work with because of their high energy level. Yet, most of the time she deals with well-trained animals. Gordon is happy when they immediately respond to her commands to sit, roll over or lie down.
Other than being highly trainable, Gordon believes dogs have another attribute few people know about.
“A lot of dogs smile,” she said.
Besides rats, cats and dogs, other animals Gordon has photographed include birds, hedgehogs and hamsters.
While photographing, Gordon said she looks for the animal’s best qualities. She tries to highlight those features so that potential owners will connect with the animal’s personality. She sees her job as a service — to do her best to get animals into perfect homes for them.
Gordon takes her job seriously and she works with each animal to make them feel relaxed. When the animal is relaxed, she said it shows in the photos.
Many shelters just take a quick snapshot of scared animals using a cell phone. But Gordon said she likes to bring out the animal’s “happy.” She said she goes to the shelters, interacts with the animals, and tries to get them comfortable and excited.
While Gordon has helped many animals connect with their new owner, she has also taken the challenge to adopt shelter pets herself. She has re-homed a total of eight dogs, most of whom were senior canines. Currently she has two dogs, Jasper and Mocha. Both are adopted from the shelter.
Gordon said that older dogs are usually dropped off because of age, health — and people simply not wanting to care for them anymore.
Gordon’s current dogs are younger, but she doesn’t hesitate to give older dogs a home, though she knows she will lose them sooner than her younger pets. The senior dogs are the ones that tug the most at Gordon’s heartstrings. She says they also appear to be the most grateful.
“I think they know they are getting a second chance,” Gordon said.
Gordon said that all adopted pets from the humane society are fixed, have their shots and are healthy. This cuts down on the future health problems animals might have. In addition, the precautions can also save the animal’s life.
Gordon said common misconceptions about shelter animals is that they’re unwanted, they misbehave, or there’s something wrong with them. Usually, this is far from the truth. Gordon said she believes they are more appreciative.
When adopting or buying a pet, Gordon advises it’s essential for future owners to “do your research.” Learn about the breed, how to care for them, and what and what not to do.
Gordon added many people buy a pet without educating themselves about it and end up abandoning it or dropping it off at shelters when they feel overwhelmed, find their energy level is incompatible with the family, or when the animal isn’t easily trained.
Gordon is passionate about her charity work. She said it is amazing and rewarding to see people react to her photographs.
In addition, she loves seeing the photographs people take of their pet once they are in their new home. She loves the follow-up stories, too, she reads on the humane society’s website or Facebook page, and says many people will post that they found the “love of their life” when they adopted their animal.
Gordon feels satisfied to know she is making a difference by combining the two things she truly enjoys — photography and animals. As an added and unexpected bonus, she never knew it could be so rewarding.
Finding your passion to make a difference is a worthwhile pursuit, Gordon said. She believes everyone can find something to help the world become better in some way.
Her advice to others is to find their niche.
“Find a mentor that is an expert in what you are passionate about,” she said. “Learn from them and enjoy every minute of it.”
The Human Society of Utah, 4242 S. 300 West, in Murray, Utah, became a no-kill shelter for animals in 2015. The shelter saved 11,318 animals that year, according to its website. The Humane Society of Utah’s website is utahhumane.org. People can donate money to help, report abuse anonymously, and find animals to adopt or read about success stories of animal adoptions.