The Rover Story
By Andrew Grant
I’ve always loved animals, especially dogs and cats. While producing Rover, my parents repeatedly told the story of how I begged for a dog for months and months when I was a first grader. When my father came home with a goldfish, my response was, “You can’t hug a goldfish, Dad.” Days later, they took me to a shelter where we adopted a dog I named “Benji.” Benji was a great dog, but barked. A LOT. I recall a doorbell once interrupting Benji’s dinner and my frustrated Mother scolding, “Don’t bark with your mouth full!”
Benji, like most dogs, had full reign over the house, but she wasn’t allowed in the front living room and especially not on the “fancy” furniture. We regularly found evidence of Benji’s visits to that room while the family was away. Fur on the couch and cushions warm to the touch were dead giveaways, but he would never confess to his transgressions. One day, the family piled into the car and drove off to church. Everyone, except for me. I hid quietly in the closet in the adjacent foyer and peered through the louvers in the door. Minutes later, and just as I had predicted, I spied Benji stroll into the living room, hop up on the couch and curl up in a ball for a relaxing nap. I opened the door, snapped a picture of Benji on the forbidden bed and laughed. I still have that photo today. The expression on his face is clear. “Fine. You caught me. I’m guilty. Congratulations. Now would you mind leaving me alone so I can get some rest?” That all happened nearly 30 years ago, but we all still laugh about it today. Those are the fun and memorable moments pets bring to our lives. They truly become part of the family, and the void they leave behind when they’re gone is profound.
We are truly blessed to have animals here with us. They enrich our lives in so many ways. They make us laugh. They provide us with companionship. They give us a sense of purpose. They protect us. They have an uncanny ability to provide comfort when we need it most. But most of all, they show us what it means to love unconditionally. But we can’t forget that they’re just innocent animals that depend on us to provide them with food, care and shelter. It is our responsibility to take care of them, and we’re failing them. Millions of them.
Four years ago, I had an idea to produce an art book of dogs after having fun including two dogs in a photograph for an advertisement for Chef Works in San Diego. I’m a rather impulsive person to begin with, but after I learned about the staggering number of cats and dogs that are euthanized each and every year, I began production of the first Rover book weeks later. I did so without having done any research on book publishing or looking at other dog books. I just knew this was something I should do, as I knew a book like that could bring attention to the crisis.
My idea was to photograph dogs living in rescues or shelters. A book filled with portraits of shelter pets would be incredibly poignant, moving and powerful, as readers wouldn’t know the fate of any of the faces in the book. Were they adopted, still living in the rescue or euthanized? Unfortunately, when confronted with the incredible costs associated with producing, printing, distributing and marketing a book (along with the logistical challenges of photographing dogs in rescues), I was forced to consider other alternatives, and that would turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
I never photographed a dog in the studio before, and I put my first subject, a large husky, on a large table with a rather slippery surface. He slid around and didn’t seem very comfortable. I quickly determined I would have to photograph the dogs while lying on the floor with them. The first few shoots were very difficult, and I didn’t capture many compelling shots, as I had very little experience working with dogs and knew very little about training them. Eventually, I learned how to make my subjects more comfortable and how to elicit and capture compelling expressions that capture their diverse personalities. During the next six months, I photographed about 100 dogs for the first 300-page book and spent hundreds of hours preparing images and designing the book. At first, it seemed impossible to complete a book in just a few months, but I had an incredible amount of serendipity in my life when I began production of the first book. Everything I needed to produce the book seemed to fall directly in my lap. So much so that I was able to manifest an idea into a book in just six months. I had the idea for the book in February of 2009, began photographing dogs in March, finished preparing the images and designing the book in August, performed color press checks in September, and the book was featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in December. That serendipity remains in my life today and is a constant reminder that I’m on the right path.
During the last four years, I’ve spent about 500 hours photographing 400 dogs and thousands of hours preparing the images for print, designing the books, organizing fund raisers and promoting the books. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but it’s worth it. I’ve watched and listened to people as they flip through the books. I’ve seen how people react to the dogs’ faces, and I’m certain Rover has inspired many people to help rescue pets.
Every year, millions of cats and dogs like Jammy Dodger (opposite) enter pet shelters and rescues in the United States. I believe animals must feel lost, displaced and alone when they’re living in a rescue. Many of the dogs I visit at rescues seem scared and sad. It’s unmistakable. But the moment you take them for a hike, they come out of their shell and their true personality is revealed. It’s clear that their only want in life is a home.
Most of the dogs inside these pages, including the purebreds, once lived in a rescue or shelter. Some of the dogs were living in a rescue when they were photographed and remain there today. Some of the dogs were rescued after being discarded on the streets. Some of the dogs were rescued after their family was forced to give them up after losing their home to foreclosure. One of the dogs, “Hero,” was once used as “bait” for dog fighting. After years of gentle and patient care, he’s a happy, playful, trusting soul.
Some of the Rover dogs are cared for by pet advocates who made a generous donation to have their dog photographed and featured in the pages of Rover. This program generated donations of over $300,000 to rescues we selected in several states. Immortalizing your best friend in a popular book is an extraordinarily unique opportunity. As a result, the rescues we’ve selected to benefit are able to recruit and attract new donors who weren’t familiar with the rescue’s efforts in the community. It excites me to know those donors will continue to support those worthy organizations for many years.
Finally, Some of the dogs in the Rover books were rescued literally minutes before they were scheduled to be euthanized. Each and every time I see their pictures, I am struck by the fact that their precious experience of life was nearly ended years ago, simply because nobody offered to give them a home. There are absolutely beautiful, smart, fun, healthy purebreds and mixed breeds available for adoption at rescues. I hope the grateful and loving faces inside will inspire you to welcome a shelter pet into your home.