Steve Hohensee is a Leavenworth Animal Welfare Society volunteer who videos animals in order to help find them good homes.
1. As a Leavenworth Animal Welfare Society volunteer you obviously work hard to find homes for stray or unwanted animals. How did you get the idea for shooting videos of the animals?
I'm retired, and have the luxury of free time. At the beginning of this year, I decided to devote a little time to some good cause. I had over the years been aware of the compassionate work LAWS was doing on behalf of homeless dogs and cats. So I called LAWS. Andrea Mamaux returned my call and immediately put me to work. She wanted someone to shoot videos for dogs and cats at Animal Control who were in need of adoption. I dug out the flip camera I had purchased several years earlier, but had never used, downloaded some video editing software, and embarked on my new career as a film mogul. One of the first videos was "Hugo (a Dignified Cat)". << http://youtu.be/SkO1H6Bp_Mo>> A recent kitty video is "Toes and Lickey" << http://youtu.be/zipxI4pVVzI>>, two kitten siblings. "Toes" got his name because he's polydactyl — an extra toe on each foot.
Videos don't do anything by themselves. They have to be watched. Viewed by people. The Leavenworth Times has been wonderful in publishing these and other videos of homeless pets. Those greatful dogs and cats in need of adoption have asked me to convey their heartfelt thanks: "Thank you, Leavenworth Times!!"
2. Do the videos personalize an animal's character in ways that spark a deeper emotional connection for viewers than by simply seeing a photograph?
The short answer is 'yes'. Here's an example: Cleopatra << http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7imrQcQS-fE&feature=share&list=UL7imrQcQS-fE >>.
Each artistic medium has its own unique qualities. The written word tells a story and provides a high degree of granularity in description. Music, on the other hand, even without lyrics, reaches a different part of the human spirit than do images and words. There is magic in the human voice, too. And in the voices of animals. For example, we did a video a while back with background music using a jazz piece featuring a saxophone which mimicked the howl - rather, the song of a wolf . . . the melody of the saxophone sounded eerily like the voices of the Huskies in the video. <>. Just like people, each animal has a unique personality, history, appearance, etc. A video helps convey all of those aspects as a whole. The plight of these animals is tragic. They have been abandoned, for one reason or another. As compassionate beings, we humans are able to feel the loss, pain and worry of these abandoned dogs and cats. A video, if successful, sparks an emotional connection which draws on the empathy and compassion which exists in every human heart.
Page 2 of 4 - 3. Do you video both dogs and cats, and if so how do they behave differently when being filmed? Do you find one species or another more camera shy and are there some real hams who love the star treatment?
We do videos of both dogs and cats, but dogs seem to get more attention, for some reason. Filming takes place at Leavenworth Animal Control on Second Street. We film the dogs in the dog runs in back of the building, or sometimes on the pretty green lawn in the front. We film cats in the cat adoption room. Dogs and cats do behave differently. Dogs seem to pay attention to human requests. Cats, in contrast, are notoriously independent. For example, how many of us have sufficient personal charisma that our cat will obediently come when called? Not me, that's for sure. I'm lucky if my cats twitch an ear when I call them — unless it's for a treat, in which I don't have to use my voice at all. The mere sound of opening a plastic bag galvanizes all cats and dogs in the vicinity.
Both dogs and cats can usually be bribed with treats to remain still, come within camera range, stop barking or mewing, or sit staring fixedly at the treat one is holding above their head. I haven't noticed that either dogs or cats are more or less camera-shy. That's more of an individual trait. Many of the animals are insecure and frightened. Some have been abused. Others are naturally timid. Most dogs and cats like to be praised and rewarded. It's anthropomorphic of me, I realize, but I do get the feeling at times that a particular dog or cat enjoys performing for a crowd of appreciative humans. An example which comes to mind is Sadie, the Brittany Spaniel << http://youtu.be/4GYlpVEyhGk>>.
Dogs sometimes jump over fences. Caleb <<http://youtu.be/PmFKWn4diiE>>, a young black lab mix, could jump over the eight-foot chain link fence at Animal Control. Cats crawl up onto ductwork or other high places and refuse to come down. So far I've been lucky. No dogs over fences, and only a few close calls with kitties who didn't feel like coming back down. Roxie << http://youtu.be/TESC1lZ7rjA>> for example, decided that she preferred to remain on the top of the cat kennels. She ignored my blandishments for a good half hour, before she finally allowed me to put her back in her kennel.
I couldn't manage to shoot these videos by myself. I almost always have the help of other LAWS volunteers or shelter staff if they are available. We express affection by talking with and petting the dog or cat, and the dog or cat almost always expresses affection in response — which makes for good video. The volunteers and staff have a great deal of animal expertise, which I use in making the video — breed, age and shot/health history, and also personality and character. Closeup shots of the face and eyes are important visual elements in evoking emotion. Unfortunately, closeup shots of the face are also difficult to obtain! When cats and dogs have the chance to leave their kennels they tend to be very frisky. Cats refuse to remain still. Dogs tend to to sniff poop, explore remote overgrown corners of the dog run, wiggle and pull strongly on a leash. From personal experience, I can attest that trotting after one of these mobile video subjects tends to produce a lot more closeup footage of the hind end than the front end. It's a team effort. For example, the recent video we did for Leroy <<http://youtu.be/3vtJ6iRdt30>>, a sweet mixed breed dog.
Page 3 of 4 - 4. When you video an animal what behavior and emotions are you most trying to communicate to potential human companions and do you do anything specific to elicit the most appealing behavior from animals while they are being filmed?
Above all, our goal is to communicate love. Or more accurately, loveability. Video substitutes for in-person presence and interaction. People — and animals, too — relate to the face. Eyes and eye contact is all-important. It's true: eyes are windows of the soul. Emotional bonding requires personal interaction. However, videos often manage to display personality and expressiveness, primarily through closeups of the face and eyes. Eyes express love. And fear. And sadness. One can see the sadness in the eyes of almost all of these dogs and cats, which feels very much like the sadness one sees in the eyes of a human friend or relative who has lost a loved one or come into hard times.
The best way of evoking appealing behavior (especially the capacity to be affectionate) is to express affection to the animal. Each dog or cat is different, of course. A large dog such as Boo the English Mastiff << http://youtu.be/Y3LTwzk6L54>> is slow and gentle. Boo's way of showing affection is to lean gently against one's legs. Mitzi << http://youtu.be/KdATrlLYnwg>>, a chocolate lab huskie mix, shows affection by being very active — such as crawling between one's legs, which can be disconcerting during a film shoot. In the case of Cher << http://youtu.be/z1X-vAA165w>>, a foster kitty who was filmed in a room at the foster owner's personal residence, the foster owner was present to help with the film shoot. This motivated the kitty to do all kinds of cute things.
5. How do you choose the animals and have there been more adoptions of animals on video compared to those who are not?
I rely on the suggestions of the LAWS volunteers and Animal Control personnel in selecting video subjects. Often the dogs and cats we choose as video subjects are the ones who have had the longest stays at Animal Control, are difficult to adopt for one reason or another, are older animals or animals with a physical defect or health problems. Our goal is that all animals be adopted. Cute little kittens and puppies usually have an easier time finding a home.
The great majority of animals in these videos have already been adopted or have been successfully placed with rescue organizations. We have anecdotal evidence and comments that people notice and enjoy the videos. To my chagrin, there have also been people who think the videos are silly (because of the first-person POV narration) or too schmalzy. But most of the feedback has been positive. There have been several occasions at Animal Control where someone comes in and asks about one of the dogs or cats featured in the videos, and subsequently winds up adopting. The videos have proven very effective in helping to rescue hard-to-adopt animals. The videos of Sophia <http://youtu.be/x4Ae-iyDm0k>, a beautiful Doberman, and Trixie <<http://youtu.be/MRX8xSC7fCQ>>, a Great Dane mix, are recent examples of videos which we are sending to rescue organizations. Both of these sweet ladies are currently in need of adoption. An example of a video we did earlier this year was Gabriel <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6a5WvgGXSQ&feature=share&list=ULV6a5WvgGXSQ>, a brave little Cocker Spaniel who went to rescue. Many of the rescue organizations are in other states, and have no opportunity to actually meet the animal. The videos have been effective in getting a number of these animals into rescue.
Page 4 of 4 - The key to making the videos effective is viewership. It's so sad — there are so many cats and dogs in the Leavenworth area who are in desperate need of adoption, and who could provide a lifetime of love to some lucky owner. The fine people at Animal Control do their best to find homes for these animals. The volunteers at LAWS do our best, too. The support of the Leavenworth Times is very important. The more people who view the videos, the more dogs and cats get adopted. Many people grow up in homes without pets, and may not realize the joy and companionship that a dog or cat can bring to one's life. There are also people who are already familiar with pets, who may be thinking of adoption. Coverage by the Leavenworth Times of homeless pets, including these videos and other coverage, is a spark that leads to the saving of many a wonderful dog or cat.
— Rimsie McConiga