"I once split my pants photographing a Finnish spitz on the cliffs above Sutro Baths," the lovely, energetic Kira Stackhouse laughed over drinks at Blackbird Bar in the Castro last week. She was recounting some very interesting stories about her ambitious Project Dog -- an attempt to meticulously photograph woofy representatives of all 170 official American Kennel Club registered breeds next to purebred counterparts from dog rescue agencies.
"A big part of my mission is to photograph as many of these dogs as I can in iconic San Francisco and Bay Area settings, sometimes I'm trying to shoot five or six dogs a day. It's not like I travel around with a change of clothes --but apparently there's no lengths I won't go to! So I just tried to hold my legs together until I got the shot."
Stackhouse, who left a high profile job in marketing to expand her Nuena Pets photography business, launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month to help fund a full-color coffeetable book that will come out of Project Dog. (The campaign wraps up in three more days.) I asked her to explain the motivations behind the project -- which has become a viral hit in the Bay Area and beyond, and has garnered several local accolades -- and what she hoped to accomplish.
"It was weird how the idea came about. I love pets, but I always thought of myself as more into cats -- until I got a dog of my own a couple years ago and fell completely in love. The dog was a purebred from a breeder, a Boston terrier. And when I would take him out, people would give me such shit about not going to an animal rescue place.
"So I thought, 'You know, most people don't know that rescued animals can be purebred -- or that almost all official breed groups contain rescue organizations.' It dawned on me that one way to get this message out would be to start a project that gets these dogs side by side in a format that would be instantly recognizable and appealing to people.
A sample layout from the forthcoming Project Dog book, featuring Basenjis -- one from a breeder and one from an animal rescue organization.
"On top of that, I wanted this to be a community effort -- so I asked people to submit their purebreds for picture consideration and tell stories about them on the Project Dog site. People really got into that -- some of the stories are so funny, and we attracted entries from people like the mayor of Carmel! Then I could see what was out there and choose which dogs to photograph.
"But another community function I wanted to fulfill was building a platform to host the debate about purebred rescue dogs. People feel passionately -- some owners are afraid rescue purebreds will diminish the 'brand' of the dogs, and some rescue dog fans are really vocal about their opposition to breed fetishization. This is somewhere they can all go at it.
And of course, I get to photograph some really beautiful dogs -- and get really creative in a way I feel can benefit the community."
It's true, she does -- some of the photos and test layouts for the book are stunning. But Project Dog, which is partnered with the SPCA, is also helping to enlarge perceptions of rescue dogs, usually knee-jerked as mangy mutts (not that those aren't cute!), when in fact any kind of dog can find itself in need of a loving home. The Project Dog motto is, "Every dog is a work of art," and Stackhouse's dedication is proving that true.
Preorder the Project Dog book for three more days on the Project Dog Kickstarter.