Volunteer Spotlight: Michael Kloth

M_Kloth_Maebe_Michael-8556.jpg

 If you know Pima Animal Care Center, you know Michael Kloth's photos. His striking portraits of shelter animals showcase the personalities of some very special homeless pets. We sat down with Michael to get the scoop on his love of photography and his passion for pets.

What drew you to photography?

My interest in photography didn’t begin until the early 2000s when I bought my first digital camera. Sure, I made the occasional snapshot here and there, but it wasn’t really anything that held my interest other than as a way to record some of life’s events. I got my first digital camera in 2003. The immediacy of digital capture drew me in, but more than that, I really enjoyed the entire process – from the snap of the shutter through the editing in Photoshop. It quickly became the hobby that I didn’t know I was missing. It was only about a year after buying that digital SLR camera that our dog, Little Bit, was diagnosed with lymphoma. I realized that we had a precious few photos of her and I set out to document the rest of her life though journaling and photography. With treatment, she lived 19 months and we lost her in August of 2006.

Somewhere during that time, two key things happened. I started volunteering at a local humane society (Woodford Humane Society in Versailles, Kentucky), and I enrolled in my first photography class. I loved that class and working with the adoptable animals, so before I knew it, I’d created a portfolio of adoptable animal portraits and submitted it along with my application to graduate school. I continued working with adoptable animals through school and they became the basis for my thesis project. By the time that I graduated, I’d photographed over 1,000 animals and I had my first book deal. I haven’t looked back.

How did you get involved with PACC?

I moved to Tucson from eastern Washington in 2011. It took me a little while to find my way to PACC because of a heavy teaching load and my work with the non-profit HeARTs Speak, but I did work with a few smaller rescues during that time. I eventually made an appointment to meet José Ocaño, the PACC volunteer coordinator at the time. I told him about the work that I do and what I thought I could offer. I left that September 2013 meeting with my volunteer shirt. Officially, I’ve logged about 300 hours at PACC, however, that represents only a fraction of the time I’ve spent in service of the PACC mission because I haven’t logged time spent post-processing or working off site.

What’s your favorite thing about volunteering at PACC?

I find working with the animals very rewarding. It has been such an honor meeting and working alongside all of the people that are associated with PACC. It’s been a real privilege being a part of the work that saw the annual save rate percentages go from the low 60s to the 90s that we are at today.

My role in the PACC community is a bit different than most other volunteers. When I first met with José, I explained that as an imaging professional, I can not only photograph critters for their adoption profiles, but I could provide resources in support of PACC’s larger mission. That has manifested itself in a number of ways beyond what I could have imagined. Since I began volunteering at PACC, I’ve photographed and/or made videos of just about every area of the facility and it allowed me the opportunity to be a part of the public art committee. I’ve had a lot of fun along the way and I’m proud of the fact that my work has been used in such a wide variety of ways: from communication and marketing materials, to grant applications and fundraising appeals, as part of the public art sculpture (the outline of Sunny the dog was created from one of my portraits), and even on the back of the van that brings animals to off-site adoption locations.

Can you share a story or two about your time volunteering?

It’s hard to narrow down all those experiences to just one story because I have so many good memories. One of those was from last year. On one of the hottest days of the year, a puppy was found in the back of a pickup truck at the Park Place Mall. She was lucky that a dog lover spotted her when she did and called for an animal protection officer.

Once that puppy was evaluated by the veterinary team, Karen Hollish asked me to come in and photograph her for a fundraising appeal. Karen’s idea was to get both studio portraits and portraits of the puppy being examined by a vet tech. She was named Zoey at the time (now Rosey) and she was a real super model. It took me about five minutes to get more portraits than we needed so I just sat with her in my lap for about a half hour before the tech was ready for me to bring her over. She did great for that part of the session too and all told, I spent about an hour with her that day. It might well have been the quietest hour that she’d experienced since she was left in the back of that truck several days earlier.

Fast forward to a few days shy of six month later. Rosey had been adopted to a wonderful home in New Mexico and her new people brought her back to town so I could photograph her for the Top Saves of 2017 promotion. Rosey and her owners were visiting with the volunteer that fostered her when I arrived at the park. Given our short time together, I didn’t think she’d remember me but she was SO EXCITED to see me once I got out of the car that it was clear she knew who I was. I rarely (almost never really) know each animal’s story after I work with them, so it was extra special to hear about her happily ever after.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

One thing that I’d like people to know is that the studio portraits I make (not to mention the videos) are quite involved. I’ve been really fortunate to work with Reena Giola for most sessions at PACC for the past few years. Emily Ingram started working with us earlier this year. I can’t stress enough how helpful they are and working with friends makes my time at PACC all the more enjoyable. Anyone interested in working with us should feel free to give me a shout out!

See more of Michael's photography by clicking the logo below.

Sara Wolfe Vaughan