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When Dan Egeler looked at the set from the Encore Musical Theatre Company’s production of “I’m Not Rappaport”, starring The Love Boat alumni Fred Grandy (Gopher), Ted Lange (Isaac) and Jill Whelan (Vicki Stubing), he thought there had to be some way that the beautiful stage could be used during the Theatre’s dark hours.  Egeler, who volunteers at the Encore with set construction and also devotes significant time to help various dog rescues (in 2020 he ran 4 marathons in 24 hours raising over $150,000 for 2 such charities), knew that the Encore’s stage would be a perfect location for a fun photo shoot for shelter dogs.  “When I saw the fantastic set designed by Sarah Tanner (Encore Technical Director, Set Designer), I knew it would be a great spot to capture the whimsical and fun nature of so many dogs that are stuck in shelters and fosters waiting for their ‘furever’ families.”  The play takes place in New York’s Central Park and features a pedestrian bridge surrounded by colorful trees in a fall setting.

Shelter dogs take the stage. All 9 dogs are available for adoption. Photo courtesy of Christine O’Brien (Ruff Life Photography).

Shelters throughout Michigan are busting at the seams with the number of dogs in their care.  The result is that there are many dogs that have been looking for a permanent home for long periods of time.  But to bring attention to those long-termers can be a challenge.  The rescues know they have to draw in possible adopters by highlighting the features of these great dogs with eye-catching promotions.  This issue/problem sparked the photo shoot idea for Egeler.

Egeler reached out to Dan Cooney, Encore Theatre Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director, to see if the Encore would be willing to assist by providing the Encore stage for a dog rescue photo shoot.  Cooney had no hesitation whatsoever.  “I loved the idea and welcomed the opportunity for the Encore Musical Theatre to continue to support the community and charitable organizations including dog rescues”.  Egeler later chuckled that the only concern he had about approaching Dan Cooney was that Cooney would have reservations because his wife, Jessica Grove’ – Encore Marketing Director, would want to adopt all of the dogs.

a Dog named Butters is on stage at The Encore Theatre.

‘Butters’ poses for his glamor shot”. Photo courtesy of Christine O’Brien (Ruff Life Photography).

With the rapid, positive support from the Encore, Egeler then contacted Christine O’Brien, owner of Ruff Life Photography, to enlist her support in this photo shoot adventure.  O’Brien has a strong passion to help dog shelters, rescues and fosters by providing photos, at no cost, that will draw attention to dogs that struggle to be adopted.  She recently organized a photo event at Ford Field in Detroit that assisted numerous shelters with highlighting dogs that would be great family member additions but just needed their opportunity to be seen in the spotlight.  “When Dan [Egeler] approached me about using the Encore Theatre set, and showed me a picture, I was immediately hooked”, exclaimed O’Brien.  “My mind immediately went into over-drive thinking about all of the beautiful photo opportunities that existed at this location and how we could help dogs in need.”

Photographer Christine O'Brien sets up a camera. 

Photographer Christine O’Brien (left) works with Gail Gorske (right) to set up a shot”.  Photo courtesy of Dan Egeler.

O’Brien and Egeler quickly went to work to arrange for 9 dogs to be brought to the theater’s location in Dexter on Monday, April 15.  The canine stars were supplied by Waggin’ Tails Dog Rescue, The Un-Shelter, Dog Aide, Jackson County Animal Shelter, and District 5 Animal Alliance. Volunteers from Force Free Dale Dog Training and other rescues helped to wrangle the dogs into position.  “As you can imagine, it takes a lot of skill and patience to place the dogs where are they are comfortable being photographed, particularly in an unusual and whimsical environment”, remarked O’Brien.  “But when you have skilled handlers that are trained in force free dog handling, the task is so much easier.”  Egeler commented: “Christine [O’Brien] is a rock star!  Her ability to draw the attention of the dogs to get perfect shots is remarkable, even if it means crawling on the ground and using numerous noise makers and distraction devices.  We had a great crew of volunteers helping during the entire day, and it all came together quickly and effortlessly.”

One of O’Brien’s goals is to bring rescues together to help in finding families for all of the dogs that exist without permanent homes.  “We all have the same goal – to find placements for these wonderful four-legged companions.  I believe through collaboration we can make a significant difference, which is why I am passionate about bringing attention to so many dogs that are placed with so many different shelters, fosters and rescues.”

Egeler closed with praise to the Encore Musical Theatre Company for making their location available for the day, and with a good reminder to all: “Adopt, don’t shop.  There are hundreds of fantastic dogs available for adoption through shelters and rescue charities!”  Readers are encouraged to visit the websites and social media posts of the organizations mentioned in this article to find your next canine companion. All of the photos can be seen at: https://rufflifepetphoto.com/

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