HeARTs Speak - Because Every Voice Matters

Scott SmithOct 16, 2017

Hearts Speak is a 501C3 nonprofit organization comprised of more than 600 artists making sure every shelter pet has a chance of being adopted. Their motto says it best: "Creating a World Where No Shelter Animal Goes Unseen." The artists offer their services Pro Bono to maximize the chances of animals getting adopted. They already have their own careers. But when you're this gifted, what's better than giving those gifts away?! -- HeARTs Speak's artists have chosen a life of service. A life of "We" instead of "Me," because every voice matters. 

The artists of HeARTs Speak span across a vast array of professions: photographers, writers, painters, graphic designers, illustrators, and so on. The one commonality that connects every one of them is their love for animals. They are literately a Love Army.

The organization was founded by Lisa Prince Fishler in 2010. Its creation was inspired by her rescue Pit Bull mix, Iggy. Lisa is a big-time animal lover and has always had a kinship with them. Initially, it was the amazing pictures of Iggy from the rescue organization that drew Lisa in. From there, she started volunteering at Animal Farm Foundation. Drawing from her own experience with photography and adoptable pets like her Iggy, Lisa strategically used pictures to help Animal Farm Foundation's rescues get adopted as well.

From left to right, Mary Hooker, a HeARTs Speak artist member and the owner of Yellow Neener Photography, Jill Flynn, board director of HeARTs Speak and owner of Visual Harmony photography,  Caitlin Quinn, Director of Operations of Hearts Speak, and volunteer, Valerie Bruder of  Valerie Bruder Photohgraphy

Animal Farm Foundation now sponsors and collaborates with HeARTs Speak. Talk about coming full circle. Here's what they had to say about HeARTs Speak; “Animal Farm Foundation is grateful to be able to help support Hearts Speak’s mission. We have seen first hand the excellent job they do getting to know each organization individually in order to provide them with the resources to set them up for success. The animal welfare community is fortunate to have them as a valuable tool in their toolbox.”

Having seen the benefits of using art to save animal's lives, Lisa created a Facebook page called HeARTs Speak with the purpose of building a community where artists come together to share, collaborate and, bottom line, save lives. Artists from around the world started flocking to the HeARTs Speak community. 

Once again, life shows us when we're passionate about something, we can move mountains and create miracles. Lisa's passion for animals is delivering substantial results. With just their flagship program, "Artists Helping Animals," HeARTs Speak is contributing 15,000 hours of creative services a month to animal welfare organizations, which includes 1/3 of the shelters in the United States alone. Their efforts are positively impacting approximately 500,000 animals a year. 

It's that kind of goodwill that caught the attention of sponsor Petco Foundation. When the Petco Foundation is one of your sponsors, you're doing something very right. Susanne Kogut, the foundation's Executive Director, states: “We love HeARTs Speak’s mission of bringing together passionate and professional artists with organizations that need their help the most. They are helping adoptable pets be seen by potential adopters in a fun, creative, positive light. I am proud that the Petco Foundation is able to support such innovative and lifesaving work.”

Love is the universal language. All species speak it. 

The last thing an innocent, voiceless shelter animal needs is to go unseen. Life has already stacked the decks unfavorably against them. The only way out is to be noticed. Proud HeARTs Speak artist member, Rita Ear Blackwell, said back in August that "Most people are too afraid or don’t want to be ‘sad’ when they go to the shelter, so they just don’t go! - I hope my photographs of the pets, along with the volunteers and shelter staff who love them, can change the opinion of all who shy away from visiting."

That's where HeARTs Speak steps in. The artists are the first line of defense for shelter animals. Because of HeARTs Speak, a shelter animal is not just an ID number anymore; they are separate and distinct sentient beings who now have a voice. Hearts Speak Board director and owner of Visual Harmony Photography, Jill Flynn said "Not a day goes by that my heart doesn't break for homeless animals. The power of a photograph/art is far-reaching. It can raise awareness and shine the light on shelter animals. HeARTs Speak provides a place where like-minded people can connect, collaborate, and work together to save animals." 

Director of communications, Hannah Pearman recently authored an article for sponser, Tru Vue. In it, she writes how studies have proven that doing good feels good. It decreases stress, promotes good mental health, and leads to increased happiness over time. To further that point, HeARTs Speak artist member and owner of Boise Pet Photography, Dawn Burkhart said HeARTs Speak brought purpose to her life. Being a cancer survivor, Dawn wanted to give back and serve others. She says that working with rescue dogs and cats has, in fact, helped her find herself again.

Just another day at the office 

HeARTs Speak realizes it can be heartbreaking at times going in and of shelters and rescue organizations. A great friend and collaborator of HeARTs Speak, Jessica Dolce, has provided a downloadable PDF and Blog Post publicly available for emotional support. Jessica is a writer and educator regarding stress management and compassion fatigue. She states "HeARTs Speak offers such a unique perspective and expert skill set to the animal welfare field. One of the things I love most about what HS does is that they help shelter staff and volunteers gain the confidence and tools they need to develop creative and effective marketing approaches that ultimately help to send more pets home."

As a human dad to 7 dogs and Pet Editor, I could not be more impressed with HeARTs Speak. I had not heard of them until this past May thanks to Rita Earl Blackwell. Apparently, I was not in the know. But now that I do know, ConsumersAvdovate.org and I will personally be making a donation. People can make a one-time donation or become monthly donors. Funds could not be better spent than on HeARTs Speak.

Operations Director, Caitlin Quinn focuses on directing and growing HeARTs Speak's core programs. During Perfect Exposure workshops, Caitlin teaches the importance of positive marketing. 

The Perfect Exposure Program is another HeARTs Speak program firing on all cylinders. The first two workshops were held in 2014 with NYCACC and the Philadelphia ACCT. Both were funded by the Barkbox Hugo Challenge, which HeARTs Speak won by popular vote in 2013.

The purpose of the Perfect Exposure Program is to empower the shelters and rescue organizations directly. HeARTs Speak recognizes their 600 creative professionals cannot be everywhere at once, so every visit must count. Through hands-on training, donated camera and studio equipment from Savage Universal, and camera cases and bags from Lowepro, animal welfare organizations can be self-reliant to positively and effectively promote animals in their care and save lives. Founder, Lisa Prince Fishler in a podcast with My Rescue Rocks back in 2015 mentioned that after a year of working with the NYCACC and the Philadelphia ACCT, both shelters had established full-time professional photo studios into their operations.

Operations Director, Caitlin Quinn focuses on directing and growing HeARTs Speak's core programs. During Perfect Exposure workshops, Caitlin teaches the importance of positive marketing. While everyone's aware of some of the horrors taking place in the animal welfare world, of which, we should not turn a blind's eye, the fact is an animal is more likely to be adopted by being featured in an upbeat picture and story rather than one of horror and despair. 

Photographer and Instructor for the Perfect Exposure, Val Bruder had this to say "You’ve heard the phrase 'I can’t do everything but I can do something.' Well, HeARTs Speak allows me to do the 'something' that I do best and to make a difference in the lives of homeless animals. Having the opportunity to be an instructor for the Perfect Exposure Project workshops has deepened my compassion for both animals and the humans that care for them. I have learned so much from Lisa and the team. I love working with them, and teaching at PEP workshops is my all-time favorite job."

Dog, Oracle before pic on left and after pic on the right by HeARTs Speak member, Diana Bunch 

Diana Bunch, HeARTs Speak member and owner of petpawtography.com, says "Animal shelter and rescue photography can be technically and emotionally challenging even for photographers. My HeARTs Speak membership has provided me with so many benefits. However, the personal friendships I have developed over the years have inspired me to become a stronger photographer and volunteer to support animal shelters and rescues. I am a proud member of HeARTs Speak".

Rich Reiser, COO of Savage Universal says "HeARTs Speak is a wonderful and admirable organization, leading the way to connect creatives with the resources they need to give back to their local animal welfare communities and to help save the lives of many. We're very proud to support their innovative Perfect Exposure Project and other endeavors."

Since the Perfect Exposure Picture program's inception, HeARTs Speak has held 15 workshops around the country, each year funded by either Petco Foundation, Purina, or Animal Farm Foundation, and a lot of kind donations of equipment from Savage Universal and Lowepro. 

HeARTs Speak working their studio magic with the help of camera equipment and backdrops from Savage Universal  

Purina stepped up to the plate in 2017. Libby Davidson of the Purina Pet Welfare team says “The work that HeARTs Speak does to combine the talent of artists and the love of pets is remarkable, and we’re happy to support their mission. Purina shares their passion for bringing pets and people together through adoption, and the Perfect Exposure Project is an incredible way to bring out the best in shelter pets to improve their chances of finding forever homes.”

HeARTs Speak EDU is the digital companion to the Perfect Exposure Project. Just as the Perfect Exposure Project looks to educate shelters and rescue organization to use professional photography to increase the chances of getting animals adopted, HeARTs Speak EDU looks to educate the general public and animal welfare community. The EDU program has a big future ahead of it. HeARTs Speak is going to add webinars, video learning, and a lot more downloadable resources in that the public can turn to. 

Friendship across species lines. What a wonderful world it could be. 

If there were any doubt about the positive snowball effect created by this an organization, you need only ask the artist members of HeARTs Speak about their experiences working with and for shelter animals. Marsha Steckling of Evie Photography says "I really enjoy being a part of the Hearts Speak organization. Not only do they provide incredible services to help shelters and photographers create beautiful images to help animals get adopted, they also provide a positive and supportive community to their members. They are organized, innovative, encouraging and always positive. I'm proud to be a Hearts Speak member!"

And that is, perhaps, the best part of volunteering for such a noble cause. In giving you also receive, by getting to be a part of something bigger than yourself and working alongside other talented, deeply compassionate individuals. Luke Salter of Luke Salter Photography states the following with regards to his work with the organization: "I volunteer my time as a pet photographer to create exposure for animals that haven’t had the best start in life, shelter animals are often perceived the wrong way, it’s so important that the image captures the adopter’s attention and shows them at their best self, their true personality to get that eye-catching first impression. HeARTs Speak gives me access to technical resources, emotional support and a community of like-minded individuals that makes everything I do that little bit more special." 

Spectacular photograph by HeARTs Speak 

Images with a HeART is another HeARTs SPeak program with a bright future ahead of it. Images with a HeART merge the promotion of pet adoption and rescue animals as subjects in stock, as well as providing artists with a sustainable and ethical platform from which to sell their work. Many of the pets featured in the galleries were once awaiting adoption at shelters and rescue organizations  across the United States and around the world. 

I would like to thank Hannah Pearman for helping facilitate this feature story. It's always a pleasure working with someone so passionate about their work. I also want to thank Dawn Burkhart, Marsha Steckling, Luke Salter, Jessica Dolce, Jill Flynn, Diana Bunch and Rita Earl Blackwell.

Thank you to sponsors, the Petco Foundation, Purina, Animal Farm Foundation, Savage Universal and Lowepro. 

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