Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – Sassy bounces across the screen, a toy in her mouth. The dog is happy to be out of a cage, playing in the exercise yard of the Humboldt County Animal Shelter. In the video, the camera work is joyful and the music upbeat. Patrons at the Minor Theatre watch as the video explains, “Sassy has been in the shelter since November 2016. Please help us find her forever home.”
Cassie Moore, a volunteer with a camera, is trying to change the fate of Sassy and the many other dogs waiting for homes. Some are abandoned; some were lost; many have medical issues or suffered injuries from mistreatment. Walking through the shelter filled with barking dogs, it can be hard to see the virtues each one has.
Moore is showing their potential through world-class still portraits and inspired videos. The videos and slide shows of the portraits are on Facebook and are shown as opening shorts at the theater.
“I try to take the photographs at [the dogs’] eye level,” she said, “rather than from above.” Anyone who has ever looked at the shelter’s website or at the lost dogs on the local lost animal sites (bless them!) can conjure up the usual type of photograph: sad animal, standing against a concrete wall, or huddled on a wrinkled towel, looking lost or confused. Moore works to change that.
She goes to the shelter every weekend and sets up her light stands and seamless backdrop, getting everything ready for studio portraits that rival anything William Wegman does. Volunteers help her by walking the dogs to be photographed to get the wiggles out before the sitting. Then she does her magic with an old Canon Rebel T3i camera and love.
“It takes about 30 minutes to photograph each dog,” Moore said. “They have to be walked to get the energy out or they are too excited to sit. I couldn’t do this without the help of two volunteers, Lindsey Wright and Cailey Carson. They help with the sitting and hold treats and toys.”
Some dogs love humans and always want to be next to one. That, she explained, can make it difficult to photograph them: “You squat to take the photograph at eye level and they want to come to you.”
Moore works in the front office of the Arcata Police Department as her day job but her volunteer work is close to her heart. She’s been in Humboldt County for a little over a year. She met her girlfriend, who is from Humboldt, on spring break when Moore was still in Los Angeles. “We went straight into a long distance relationship,” she said, and now she’s moved up here.
Her girlfriend is studying zoology at Humboldt State, so they share a love of animals. “I’m obsessed with animals,” said Moore, “so when I moved here I found the shelter site and applied to be a volunteer.”
Moore, who majored in anthropology at UCLA and minored in film and TV, brought her skills to the volunteer job. She started doing the still photographs and then moved into videos at the shelter, “once I learned about the longest resident.”
Moore shoots the raw video footage for around two hours and then edits the video for some five hours. The care and artistry are evident in the finished products. She is interested in reaching a different crowd than Facebook as well and has expanded to an Instagram account, @humboldtshelterpals.
These videos highlight the dogs that have been in the shelter, awaiting adoption, for the longest period of time. Moore’s first video was of a dog named Nikki. “He’d been there for a while,” she said. “I’d made music videos in the past and thought, I can use this skill to get his name out there. He got adopted and I was so excited!”
Recently, Sassy, the star of the video described above, was adopted and a photograph of her wearing a graduation cap, surrounded by fireworks, was posted to the shelter Facebook page.
Her most recent film, a parody of the current hit horror movie It, features current longest resident Diesel and Moore herself. The video pokes fun at fears about pit bulls: “Pit bulls don’t make good monsters,” it declares, all the while showing goofy Diesel frolicking in a clown wig and looking not the least bit scary. The video, which is already nearing 20,000 views, can be seen on the shelter’s Facebook page.
Moore is interested in film and would love to do a small indie drama or a documentary, she said. She may go the studio route, she said, get into a studio and work her rounds or just save up enough money to do her own film and go the festival route. She was an extra in an Iggy Azalea video, “Fancy,” so she’s seen the work involved in production.
For now, she’ll continue to do Facebook videos or viral videos. Perhaps a show of her dog portraits could be in the future. Galleries?
She’s thinking that her next dog video may have a superhero theme, “as soon as I get some superhero costumes for the dogs,” she said.
And Moore should get a superhero costume for herself. She and the dedicated group of volunteers at the shelter, those who walk the dogs regularly, pet and socialize the cats, help with the hard and distasteful jobs, write the columns that make the reader fall in love (the Union’s own Mara Segal and Ayla Glim), are all superheroes.
See Moore’s work on Facebook at Humboldtanimalshelter. Official site for the shelter humboldtgov.org/377/Animal-Control-Division. The shelter is located at 980 Lycoming Dr. in McKinleyville, (707) 840-9132. Hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
And, yes, Moore does take commissions for pet portraits; contact her at [email protected].
Cassie's doggie gallery: