Debbie Fleetwood is still new to the world of pet photography, having spent most of her career doing human portraiture and architecture and landscape work.
But it didn’t take the Kansas City-based photographer long to arrive at one realization regarding her newest endeavor.
“The pets,” she said, “usually are the easy ones.”
As a volunteer for Santa Paws, the annual fundraiser for the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City in which families can bring in their pets for a holiday-themed photo shoot, Fleetwood faces the unenviable task of wrangling everyone involved — cats and dogs, babies and toddlers, frenzied adults — long enough to snap a nice, suitable photograph.
There are the pets, who — planted in an unfamiliar terrain — can be become curious and hyper. And then there are the owners, who can become so wrapped up in trying to control the pets that they themselves become difficult to corral.
Of course, in this case, it’s all for a good cause — with the entirety of the $10 to $15 photo donation going to the Humane Society.
Though a drop in temperatures limited Plaza foot traffic Sunday, the season is off to a quick start for the group, according to Gina Levra, volunteer and education coordinator for the local Humane Society.
More picture-taking will also take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 21 at that Plaza location, 200 W. 47th St.
Levra estimated that about 25 to 30 groups had stopped in on Saturday, when temperatures climbed above 60, and an additional 25 or so came on Black Friday.
For her part, Fleetwood — who owns Exposed Art Photography in Kansas City — is learning quickly, having already developed a few tricks of the trade.
Next to the small photo area that has been set up inside the storefront near the intersection of 47th and Wyandotte streets on the Country Club Plaza, she keeps a small box at the ready. Inside it are a number of pet-friendly items — dog treats and toys, even a pair of reindeer antlers that are occasionally plopped onto the head of a visiting pup.
Behind her, she has an assistant squeak a dog toy in an attempt to draw visiting animals’ attention toward the camera.
In pet photography, Fleetwood is learning, it’s all about getting everyone to look at the camera at the same time.
“That’s the challenge right there,” she said.
For the most part, things tend to go smoothly — though anytime animals are involved, there’s always the potential for excitement.
Alan Hood, who over the past decade has regularly volunteered to dress as Santa for the event, has mostly managed to avoid being scratched or bitten, but he does remember hearing about an incident in which another volunteer Santa fell victim of a family’s loose-boweled pet rat.
Still, the job of Santa, he says, suits him well.
“I can be a prima donna,” he said Sunday. “Just sit in my throne and take pictures.”
A few minutes later, the shop’s door opened and in walked Violet and Indigo, a pair of year-old German shepherds.
The dogs’ owners — Guadalupe Alcantar and Andrew Felix, who are engaged — had learned about the event on Facebook and thought it would make for a good Christmas card.
The four gathered around Santa for a photo.
For a minute or two, it was gentle chaos, as everyone jostled for position and Violet continually attempted to jump onto Santa’s lap
But for a moment, everything calmed and the dogs looked up toward Fleetwood and the camera clicked and another holiday photo was in the books.