Written by Scott Smith
HeARTs Speak is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization comprised of more than 600 artists working hard to give every shelter animal a chance of being adopted. Their motto says it best: “Creating a world where no shelter animal goes unseen.” The artists have their own careers, but for HeARTs Speak, they offer their services pro bono. When you’re this gifted, what’s better than giving those gifts away?
The artists of HeARTs Speak span across a vast array of professions: photographers, writers, painters, graphic designers, illustrators, and more. The one commonality that connects every one of them is their love for animals.
From left to right, Mary Hooker, a HeARTs Speak artist member and the owner of Yellow Neener Photography, Jill Flynn, board director of HeARTs Speak and owner of Visual Harmony photography, Caitlin Quinn, Director of Operations of HeARTs Speak, and volunteer, Valerie Bruder of Valerie Bruder Photography
The organization was founded by Lisa Prince Fishler in 2010. Its creation was inspired by her rescue pit bull mix, Iggy. Initially, it was the amazing pictures of Iggy from the organization that rescued her that drew Lisa in. From there, she started volunteering at Animal Farm Foundation. Drawing from her own experience with photography and adoptable pets like Iggy, Lisa strategically used photos to help Animal Farm Foundation’s rescues get adopted as well.
Having seen the benefits of using art to save animal’s lives, Lisa created a Facebook page called HeARTs Speak, with the purpose of building a community where artists could come together to share, collaborate, and ultimately save lives. Artists from around the world started flocking to the HeARTs Speak community.
Once again, life shows us when we’re passionate about something, we can move mountains and create miracles. Lisa’s passion for animals is delivering substantial results. With just their flagship program, Artists Helping Animals, HeARTs Speak is contributing 15,000 hours of creative services a month to animal welfare organizations, which includes one third of the shelters in the United States. Their efforts are positively impacting approximately 500,000 animals a year.
It’s that kind of goodwill that caught the attention of sponsor Petco Foundation. Susanne Kogut, the foundation’s Executive Director, states: “We love HeARTs Speak’s mission of bringing together passionate and professional artists with organizations that need their help the most. They are helping adoptable pets be seen by potential adopters in a fun, creative, positive light. I am proud that the Petco Foundation is able to support such innovative and lifesaving work.”
The last thing an innocent, voiceless shelter animal needs is to go unseen. Life has already stacked the decks unfavorably against them. The only way out is to be noticed. As proud HeARTs Speak artist member, Rita Earl Blackwell, said, “Most people are too afraid or don’t want to be ‘sad’ when they go to the shelter, so they just don’t go! I hope my photographs of the animals, along with the volunteers and shelter staff who love them, can change the opinion of all who shy away from visiting.”
That’s where HeARTs Speak steps in. The artists are the first line of defense for shelter animals. Because of HeARTs Speak, a shelter animal is not just an ID number anymore; they are distinct sentient beings who now have a voice. HeARTs Speak Board director and owner of Visual Harmony Photography, Jill Flynn said “Not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t break for homeless animals. The power of a photograph is far-reaching. It can raise awareness and shine the light on shelter animals. HeARTs Speak provides a place where like-minded people can connect, collaborate, and work together to save animals.”
In an article authored for sponsor Tru Vue, Director of communications Hannah Pearman writes that studies have proven that doing good feels good. It decreases stress, promotes good mental health, and leads to increased happiness over time. To further that point, HeARTs Speak artist member and owner of Boise Pet Photography, Dawn Burkhart, said HeARTs Speak brought purpose to her life. After surviving cancer, Dawn wanted to give back and serve others. She says that working with rescue dogs and cats has helped her find herself again.
HeARTs Speak realizes it can be heartbreaking at times to visit shelters and rescue organizations. A great friend and collaborator with HeARTs Speak, Jessica Dolce, has provided a publicly available downloadable PDF and blog post for emotional support. Jessica is a writer and educator specializing in stress management and compassion fatigue. She states, “HeARTs Speak offers such a unique perspective and expert skill set to the animal welfare field. One of the things I love most about what HeARTs Speak does is that they help shelter staff and volunteers gain the confidence and tools they need to develop creative and effective marketing approaches that ultimately help to send more pets home.”
The Perfect Exposure Project (PEP) is another of HeARTs Speak programs that is firing on all cylinders. The first two workshops were held in 2014 with Animal Care Centers of New York City (NYCACC) and the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT). Both workshops were funded by the Barkbox Hugo Challenge, which HeARTs Speak won by popular vote in 2013.
The purpose of PEP is to empower shelters and rescue organizations directly. HeARTs Speak recognizes their 600 creative professionals cannot be everywhere at once, so every visit must count. Through hands-on training, donated camera and studio equipment from Savage Universal, and camera cases and bags from Lowepro, animal welfare organizations can be self-reliant to positively and effectively promote animals in their care. Founder Lisa Prince Fishler reports that after a year of working with NYCACC and the Philadelphia ACCT, both shelters had established full-time professional photo studios.
During Perfect Exposure workshops, Operations Director Caitlin Quinn teaches the importance of positive marketing. While most people are aware of some of the suffering many shelter animals endure, the fact is that an animal is more likely to be adopted by being featured in an upbeat picture and story rather than one of horror and despair.
Photographer and Instructor for PEP Val Bruder had this to say: “You’ve heard the phrase ‘I can’t do everything but I can do something.’ Well, HeARTs Speak allows me to do the something that I do best and to make a difference in the lives of homeless animals. Having the opportunity to be an instructor for the Perfect Exposure Project workshops has deepened my compassion for both animals and the humans that care for them. I have learned so much from Lisa and the team. I love working with them, and teaching at PEP workshops is my all-time favorite job.”
Since the PEP’s inception, HeARTs Speak has held 15 workshops around the country, each year enabled by funding from either Petco Foundation, Purina, or Animal Farm Foundation, and many generous donations of equipment from Savage Universal and Lowepro.
HeARTs Speak EDU is the digital companion to the Perfect Exposure Project. Just as the Perfect Exposure Project looks to educate shelters and rescue organization on how to use professional photography to increase the chances of getting animals adopted, HeARTs Speak EDU looks to educate the general public and animal welfare community. The EDU program has a big future ahead of it, as HeARTs Speak has plans to add webinars, video learning, and more downloadable resources that the public can turn to.
I would like to thank Hannah Pearman for helping facilitate this feature story. It’s always a pleasure working with someone so passionate about their work. I also want to thank Dawn Burkhart, Marsha Steckling, Luke Salter, Jessica Dolce, Jill Flynn, Diana Bunch and Rita Earl Blackwell. Thank you to sponsors the Petco Foundation, Purina, Animal Farm Foundation, Savage Universal and Lowepro.
Featured image: Rescued dog Oracle before (left) and after (right) recovering from neglect. This image and all images in this story credited to HeARTs Speak.