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These Pictures are Worth a Thousand Homes

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Sheri Berliner photographs homeless pets at animal shelters and posts their portraits online in a quest to get them adopted. The 46-year-old barks like a dog to get a pooch to pay attention as she snaps her camera.

"I make a lot of funny noises,'' Berliner said. "I imagine they're wondering, 'Just what is she doing?'''

What Berliner is trying to do is find them a home.

"I put them in a studio setting so they look like objects of art instead of creatures in a cage,'' Berliner said. "I do it as if I were photographing a wedding.''

Berliner posts the pictures on two Web sites, 1-800-save-a-pet.com and petfinder.com, and writes a brief story about each orphaned animal. She reaches out to an e-mail contact list of some 4,000 people.

It's working

Her work has led to countless adoptions. "I'll get notes, sometimes years later, from people telling me how happy they are with their pets,'' she said. "But I'm the one who is grateful to them for giving the animals a chance.''

Berliner started her enterprise, Petraits For Pets, in 1995. She also photographs "happily spoiled, well-cared-for animals.'' A graduate of the University of Missouri with a degree in photojournalism, Berliner is the full-time manager of publications for a Chicago railroad tank car manufacturer.

Her passion for homeless animals dates to nearly 20 years ago, when she overheard a co-worker mention casually that her husband was going to come home that evening and drown a litter of stray kittens.

At the time, Berliner had no pet -- not even a thought of having a pet. "In fact, I came from a family of cat haters,'' she said. But she was appalled by the idea of such brutality.

"Can I come and take a look at them?'' she asked the co-worker. "That night, I came home with a box of kittens.''

The last of them still living, Bugsy, is now 19, and sleeps on Berliner's pillow every night.

A rescue-filled home

Berliner now shares her home with seven cats, two dogs, a bird, and a rabbit -- all of them rescues. At the moment, she also has a foster dog. She routinely takes home animals until she can find a good home for them.

Two weeks ago, she took a dog from a shelter in Terre Haute, Ind., a collie mix that had been living in a car with a homeless man and a beagle. After a fight with another dog, the collie wound up in a shelter. The homeless man retrieved the dog. But not long afterward, the collie was found on a highway guarding the body of the dead beagle. Nobody knew what happened to the homeless man. Berliner find a home for the dog, Champ, who was adopted "by a wonderful couple.''

Finding the right home

While so many homeless animals go unwanted, people often line up to adopt the adorable dog or cat Berliner has photographed. When deciding where a pet should go, she tries to put herself in their paws. "If I were this dog, where would I want to go?''

Berliner finds homes for all kinds of animals: three-legged, one-eyed, elderly.

For every two hours Berliner shoots, she spends another four hours editing and writing the stories. Besides her regular job, she spends time on little else.

When she photographs the animals, she always brings treats. Bits of liver, she has found, tends to work very well.

The job is not without its occupational hazards. Berliner has been bitten and scratched in the line of duty.

But the biggest challenge, she said, "is trying to get them not to pee on my backdrop.''

Photo courtesy of Sheri Berliner.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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