Over the past six years, photographing animals in Australia, Alex Cearns noticed a growing trend: pet owners bringing in animals that had overcome physical adversity.
From dogs with three legs to cats born without eyes and birds recovering from an accident, these pets had one thing in common: they not only survived – they thrived.
The parent to three rescues herself – Macy the cat, Pip the Kelpie-cross and Pixel the Greyhound – Cearns started the photo series “Perfect Imperfection” to capture the subtleties “that make all creatures precious and unique.”
The leading animal photographer chatted with us about the photos that have been shared around the world, and why she’s become an overwhelming advocate for homeless animals.
Why photograph animals with disabilities?
I love every animal I have the privilege of photographing, but those perceived as “different” hold a special place in my heart. These are the creatures who have lost a leg, been born without eyes, or are still showing the scars of former abuse. Most animals with “afflictions” don’t dwell on them. They adapt to their bodies without complaint and they survive with determination. They push on, always, wanting to be included and involved in everything as much as they can, and as much as an able bodied pet does. They are so inspirational.
The project [Perfect Imperfection] has been ongoing for the past few years and recently I began to collate all of my images to share with others. People’s reaction to it across the globe has been heartwarming. I’ve received dozens of emails and messages from people sharing the stories of their own Perfect Imperfection pets, and there’s been so much love coming back for these wonderful animals.
The series is dedicated to Savannah and Rowdy. Why were these disabled dogs so special to you?
Rowdy and Savanna were both clients dogs, owned by two separate people. Their owners brought them both in for studio photos. They had their legs removed in a hope of stopping the spread of cancer, but in both cases it sadly seeded elsewhere in their bodies and they both passed away. Rowdy passed about a month after her photoshoot and Savannah about seven months after. They were much loved and are sadly missed. Rowdy was just shy of seven years of age and Savannah was four years of age.
Some people think rescue dogs aren’t as good as ones from a pet store or breeder. What do you think about that?
Many pet stores (especially in Australia) source puppies from puppy farms, so purchasing that cute doggie in the window from a pet store is likely to mean you are supporting an industry that factory farms dogs.
There’s no need to buy a dog from a store these days. You can find any shape, size and breed of dog at a rescue Centre. There are even ‘breed specific’ rescues that help to re-home just one breed.
Twenty years ago, many dogs in rescue were there due to behavioural issues – not all, but some were given up just because they barked or dug holes. Hardly reasons to surrender a pet but people didn’t have the training resources available that we do today.
There are many new reasons people surrender their dog to a rescue group, because sadly some people place a different value on animals than others: the arrival of a new baby, not being able to devote enough time due to work hours, divorce, moving house, moving country, shedding hair etc.
In my experience dogs in rescues are no different to any other dogs. You can find the perfect fit for your family through rescue.
What would you say to someone who was hesitant about adopting a shelter pet?
Shelter dogs are screened for behaviour and temperament so it’s very easy for a shelter to match the perfect dog to your home. Some dogs are great with other dogs, and animals like cats. Others prefer to be the only pet in the household. Through their testing, the rescue organizations generally know whether a dog is ok around food, is reactive to other dogs, or is a barker. All of these behaviours can be rectified through consistent training but knowing all these things in advance lets you make an informed choice as to who you adopt and whether a particular dog is the right fit for your family and lifestyle.
You can find any shape, size and breed through rescue and if you aren’t ready to adopt a dog, foster caring is a great alternative.
You can follow Alex’s photo journey on Facebook.