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May 12, 2019

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Zhang shines a light on stray dogs

PET photographer Zhang Tianhang adored the little dog pictured right on the right when it was brought in to be photographed. You can imagine his surprise when he was shown the picture on the left, and found out that it was the same dog when it was a stray.

“We first saw the stray dog when it was already groomed, it was so adorable. We were in shock when we found out how it looked like before this,” said Zhang.

Stray dogs can be of many different breeds. Many of them have fur so matted that they resemble a piece of rag when they’re lying on the ground.

“All stray dogs can be cute. When we shoot stray dogs, our intention is simply to help them find a new home,” said Zhang. He photographed one puppy that was eventually adopted by Gao Yuanyuan, a famous Chinese actress and model. It affirmed his decision to photograph stray animals. Over the past eight years, Zhang has taken tens of thousands of pictures of stray cats and dogs.

Last month, Zhang helped shoot dozens of strays found at a park in Beijing’s Changping District. “They were a family of schnauzers abandoned by a dog kennel,” said Zhang.

As soon as dogs open up to him, Zhang brings out snacks and toys that he prepared earlier and begins shooting.

“Stray dogs and pet dogs are actually no different,” said Zhang during a recent photoshoot. “If you know how to communicate well with them, it then becomes a smooth shoot.”

Zhang sees every one of his photoshoots as meetings with “friends.” Some pets he may see again if they are adopted locally. Others he may never see again if they adopted by people from other places are sent to adoption centers overseas.

Years of domestication has led to dogs losing their ability to live in the wild, especially small dogs. Raising a pet requires years of responsibility, so people should also think twice before getting a pet. Zhang also hopes people will consider adopting a pet instead of buying one from a breeder.

Zhang has been a dog lover since he was young, and has always had one as a pet. When he was a graduate student in the UK, his research topic was “Canine Photography” and he even set up a pet photography studio there.

Zhang graduated in September 2011 and returned to China. While his classmates gained employment with major companies, Zhang was instead planning to reopen his studio in China. This was met with some disapproval by his family, as they did not see pet photography as a lucrative career.

“My family will still try to persuade me to change my career even if my studio is making money,” said Zhang. He understood his family’s worries, but still wishes to pursue his dreams. There are only a handful of pet photographers in Beijing.

Eight years ago, Zhang recalls that it required a lot of time and effort to familiarize yourself in an industry. But the Internet has shortened this duration drastically, giving everyone the opportunity to show their talents online and gain recognition.

The Internet is also a business opportunity for Zhang. By promoting pet photography online, Zhang’s Taobao store has gained traction. More customers are making bookings, even as far ahead as next year.


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