How One Deaf Dog Inspired a Series on Forgotten, Abused Animals

Filed in Writing for Change by on July 9, 2015 • views: 2313

I’m so excited to be featuring Melissa and her work with deaf and other disadvantaged dogs in “Writing for Change.” Melissa is doing great work to raise awareness about the mistreatment of unique groups of animals. She was recently honored with an “Honorable Mention” in the 22nd annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

Melissa and Sadie Header 2I adopted my dog Sadie from a local shelter.

She was born deaf. Shortly after adopting her, I found out that thousands of deaf dogs are put down every year because people believe deaf dogs are untrainable and that they will turn aggressive.

I knew this wasn’t true.

Sadie was just like any dog, except I just needed to use hand signals with her, and I could never have her off-leash outside unless I was in a fenced in area. Those were the only main differences.

I knew I wanted to raise awareness about deaf dogs, and so, several years after adopting Sadie, when I found myself in a position where I could stay at a job that I wasn’t enjoying or quit and start a photography business doing something I loved, I jumped at the chance to start The Photo Book Projects, and my first book in the series, Deaf Dogs.

Photo Books Offer the Perfect Creative Outlet

I knew I wanted to do something creative. I have always wanted to write for a living (I studied English in college), and I enjoyed photography and often got compliments on my photos.

Photo books just seemed like the perfect blend of my two passions. And I donate a portion of the proceeds to rescues and shelters to help homeless animals.  That was important to me from the start, too.

Taking Pictures of Nearly 200 Dogs

I worked on the first two books in the series at the same time because I knew it would be cheaper to have them printed simultaneously. I have started and stopped many projects in my life, so it was very important for me to see these two projects through.

Melissa took pictures of hundreds of dogs, including rescue dog Harry.

Melissa took pictures of hundreds of dogs, including rescue dog Harry.

I was photographing dogs all over the country. It was a huge undertaking. In total, there were almost 200 dogs that needed to be photographed.

There were countless road trips and thousands of photos to sort through and hundreds to edit. I needed to then collect, write and proofread the dogs’ stories.

It took almost almost two years from the time I took the first photograph until the time I had the finished books in my hands. There were many ups and downs, and the costs were many times more than I had anticipated.

I can say, though, now that I’ve completed four books in the series, that I do feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that I achieved what I set out to achieve, and that I followed through on all four of the books. I was lucky in that my boyfriend was and has always been very supportive.

It is surprising, though, when you are undertaking something so huge how many people will tell you that you can’t do it or that you shouldn’t do it.

You just have to tune them out and listen to others and the voice inside your head that tells you that you can.

Looking Back

The biggest change for me has been that I now have the experience of starting and finishing a huge project. I’ve done it multiple times now.

I can now take that experience and apply it to other creative endeavors in the future and that gives me the confidence to see those projects through, as well.

Melissa’s Books Are Opening Minds

Melissa hopes to change minds about pit bulls and other misunderstood dogs, like Angel, here.

Melissa hopes to change minds about pit bulls and other misunderstood dogs, like Angel, here.

My books have won six awards, and while it is wonderful to have my work acknowledged in that way, my biggest sense of accomplishment comes from the people who write to me.

I love receiving emails from people who tell me I changed their minds about deaf dogs, rescued dogs, pit bulls, etc. They often include photos of the dogs they adopted after reading my books. That is extremely rewarding.

I also wasn’t expecting, after undertaking these projects, that I would inspire others to undertaking creative projects of their own. It never occurred to me that that would happen, but it has been a nice surprise.

Advice for Others Considering Such a Project

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking the exact route I did (self-publishing and getting physical books printed in the U.S. is extremely expensive), I can definitely recommend undertaking a personal creative project.

Just decide what it is you want to do, make a plan for how you are going to do it, and get started.

What Melissa Hopes People Take Away from Her Work

I really wanted people to read the books and for the books to change their minds about certain dogs that they might have been uncertain about in the past.

The problem with doing a book on a specific topic is that typically only people who are already interested in that topic will want to read it.

Melissa hopes photos of deaf dogs like Simba will encourage people to give any dog a chance.

Melissa hopes photos of deaf dogs like Simba will encourage people to give any dog a chance.

One of the reasons I did a book series was that I wanted people who read one book and liked it to then consider trying the other books in the series. And that has happened. People who have a deaf dog have since read my book on pit bulls, or people who read my book on rescued dogs have since read my book on deaf dogs, etc. I think the series has helped change a few minds in that way.

And currently, I am trying to get the books into the hands of as many people as possible (especially children and teenagers), and so I’m holding a “book donation drive” on my website.

I’m asking people to donate $5 per book, and in return I’ll give any of the 4 books to a library or school in my area.

I have had a fantastic response, with over 300 books donated so far. I think the book drive will have the greatest impact of anything I’ve done yet, which is all I can really hope for.

* * *

Melissa McDaniel is a writer and portrait photographer and the founder of The Photo Book Projects, a series of photo books designed to raise awareness about issues affecting companion animals, especially those animals who are discriminated against, mistreated or misunderstood. The four books in the series are Deaf Dogs, Rescued in America, Pit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs, and Puppy-Mill Survivors. Melissa lives in Philadelphia with her deaf dog Sadie, hearing dog Bella, and her two cats.

For more information on Melissa, her creative work, and her work with animals, please see her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Melissa also offers unique dog calendars on Lulu.

Deaf DogsDeaf Dogs: A beautiful award-winning coffee-table book, Deaf Dogs features the gorgeous portraits and stories of 78 deaf dogs who were lucky enough to find their forever homes.

Thousands of deaf dogs are put to sleep in the U.S. each year simply because they are born deaf. This photo book dispels the myths that deaf dogs are untrainable and turn aggressive and shows these dogs as the loving companions that they are.

Available at Melissa’s website, and at Amazon.

Rescued in AmericaRescued in America: This heartwarming photo book profiles adorable rescued dogs who were lucky enough to find their forever homes.

Contains 105 beautiful portraits of former shelter dogs and strays and their touching stories.

Available at Melissa’s website (best price!), and at Amazon.

Pit BullsPit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs: Eighty-two portraits and stories of pit bulls and pit bull type dogs that will forever change your attitude about this “breed.”

This book is about all pit bull type dogs (not just American Pit Bull Terriers) that are discriminated against because they have a certain look and are therefore labeled as “pit bulls.”

Available at Melissa’s website, and at Amazon.

Puppy MillsPuppy-Mill Survivors: This book will tug at your heartstrings. Filled with personality-packed photographs and heartwarming stories, it depicts the remarkable tales of courageous dogs who have been to hell and back.

These are the puppy-mill survivors. Rescued from living as unnamed breeder dogs existing in filth and pain in isolated cages, they made the (sometimes difficult) transition into their new lives as much-loved family pets.

Available at Melissa’s website, and at Amazon.

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  1. Chere Hagopian says:

    Thank you for what you are doing! As the pet parent of a rescued pit bull mix, I can tell you that education on misunderstood dogs will save many lives and make the world a better place. My husband and I were leery about adopting a pit at first, knowing nothing about the breed but what you see on the news, but his big smile won us over. He has been nothing but a joy and a blessing, sweet to our other dog, fabulous with our young nieces, and friendly to all of our guests. Only the bunnies and ground squirrels on our property need to fear him. So I appreciate your getting the word out on this breed and other dogs that need great homes!