When Terri Jacobson meets a dog, she immediately encourages it to go a little crazy. Her antics might lead you to believe she is a fool for canines, literally. But Jacobson says this is an important step in capturing an animal’s personality in a portrait: make the dog happy.
Making dogs happy is Jacobson’s mission in life — and not just because it makes them easier to photograph. Being around dogs and people who love them brings joy to her days.
Although the 53-year-old has almost always had a dog, her involvement in canine adoption and rescue — which moved seamlessly into pet photography — didn’t begin until around the end of 1999.
“I was taking a public bus tour around Vancouver Island, B.C.,” she said. “I got off the bus to walk around a small town and noticed a young couple walking toward me with the cutest pair of dogs I had ever seen. Two Italian greyhounds greeted me like we were long-lost friends.
“I had lost a little terrier a year earlier, and my heart was beginning to heal. Once I met the ‘Iggies,’ I knew it was time for a new puppy. I began looking for one the minute I returned from Canada.”
During the search, someone mentioned the possibility of adopting a retired greyhound racer. She stuck with her original plan and found two Iggies, but the idea of getting a retired racer remained in the back of her mind. She finally met one two years later, and it was “love at first sight,” she said.
When she adopted her second greyhound, she decided to volunteer for Oregon Greyhound Adoption, helping place dogs in good homes.
“I couldn’t adopt them all, no matter how much I wanted to,” she said.
“I have always believed that everyone should volunteer a portion of their life, but for me it had to be something I really enjoyed and believed in. I really believe in the greyhound adoption program. It’s important that we call it adoption, not rescue. The greyhounds that come off of the track have not been mistreated. I love securing a safe home for the dogs after they retire.”
Jacobson didn’t just find homes for the dogs; she found a home for herself as well. One day in 2002, Karen Lee came to an event, hoping to adopt a greyhound.
“She already had a Weimaraner and a basset hound, so she wanted to adopt just one dog,” Jacobson said. “I had two beautiful black greyhounds that needed a home, and I was very persuasive.”
As Jacobson tried to convince Lee that her one-acre yard had enough space for four dogs, the women became friends. Soon they found that their casual conversations over cups of coffee turned into something more meaningful. As Jacobson likes to say, “The dogs and I packed our muzzles and moved in.”
One Special Pet
Jacobson and Lee started their new life together as partners, and they continued to work in greyhound adoption. Jacobson bought a camera so she could document life at “Greyhound Gardens,” the name they gave to their acre. She started a blog that gave her a place to share her dogs’ stories — and her growing collection of photos.
“I think greyhounds are beautiful. And they have beautiful souls. I wanted to capture that with my camera,” she said.
Her hobby got serious when she photographed Buddy, a dog she and Lee had adopted when he was 6 years old and who, at 14, had become quite ill. She knew they didn’t have much longer with him, so she wanted to get a good portrait of him while she still could.
When she saw the rich colors of the fall leaves at Chemeketa Community College, where she works as a graphic designer and photographer, she knew the campus was the perfect location for Buddy’s portrait.
“Greyhounds are amazingly stoic dogs, and Buddy was no different. As long as he didn’t exert himself too much, he was fine. I parked the car as close to the location as I possibly could so that Buddy wouldn’t have far to walk.”
The result was a warm-hued photo of Buddy standing tall among the fallen leaves. He died just two weeks after the shoot, and Jacobson knew then that she wanted her photography to be more than just a hobby.
From Hobby to Livelihood
In 2012, she started a business, Terri Jacobson Photography, to help others forever capture their pets’ personalities, the way she had done with Buddy.
“People who want portraits of their pets tend to think of them as family members,” she said. “They have their photos taken for the same reason you might take a portrait of your child who is graduating high school. They love their pets and want to show that with a portrait over the fireplace or even a coffee table book.”
Getting dogs to pose and show their personalities for the camera isn’t easy, she said.
“Treats don’t work; the dog just keeps running for the treat. I whistle a lot. For some dogs, toys work well,” she said. “You need to get down with the dogs and keep their attention.”
“If I don’t go home with nose prints on my lens,” she adds, reciting one of her favorite mantras, “I haven’t done my job.”
It’s a talent that comes naturally to Jacobson, according to her clients.
“Terri is more than a photographer; she’s an artist,” said Terri Ellen, owner of Nature’s Pet Market in Salem, where Jacobson has photographed events. “She has a talent for capturing a dog’s expression.”
Jacobson has shot photos of Ellen’s dogs, and the two worked together on the Salem Pet Calendar, benefiting the Willamette Humane Society.
“Terri gets right down on their level and looks them in the eye,” Ellen said. “She doesn’t try to get a dog to sit still. She takes lots of action shots, when the dogs are playing and happy.”
Alan Koch, owner of Focus Resources in Portland, used to work at Chemeketa with Jacobson and is the owner of a pet therapy dog.
“I believe the human-animal bond is important,” Koch said, “and Terri is very sensitive to that bond as well. She has a gentle spirit, which is important around dogs, and can put both the dog and its owner at ease.”
The Family Portrait
When photographing pets with their owners, Jacobson said, the most important thing is not to direct what happens — to let the person and the dog interact normally.
“Otherwise, you just get unnatural grins and glassy eyes staring at the camera,” she said.
Recently she took a photo of Mabel, a black greyhound owned by Herb Caballero, at a fundraiser for Oregon Greyhound Adoption. After the shoot, Caballero’s wife asked Jacobson to photograph her husband and his dog together.
“I realized that Herb was a very gentle and loving man,” Jacobson said. “He needed to be at Mabel’s eye level so the camera could capture the magic that already existed between him and his dog. I asked him to sit on a stool so they could be up close and personal. After a few images, he took the dog’s face into his hands and started talking to her, making my job very easy.
“Later, his wife told me that every time they would leave Mabel alone, her husband would gently take her face in his hands and tell her they would be back soon. It was actually very sweet. If you leave people and dogs alone to be themselves, you can capture the relationship that already exists.”
The Gift of Giving Back
Jacobson’s relationship with Oregon Greyhound Adoption is the longest and, she says, the closest to her heart, but she also volunteers for Joys of Living Assistance Dogs, photographing the puppies’ training process; Marion County Dog Shelter, where she takes “glamour shots” to give the dogs a leg up on adoption; and other rescue organizations.
In November, Jacobson took photos for a Rhodesian Ridgeback rescue group’s fundraiser. A few weeks later, she received a call from a woman whose dogs she had photographed.
“She asked if I had taken any more photos of one of the dogs,” Jacobson said. “Fortunately, I usually take several extra. It turns out that the dog had been diagnosed with cancer, so the owner wanted any photos I had. They had to say goodbye to their pet the next day, so the memories preserved in those photos were very important to the family.”
There is a growing trend for shelters to have more professional photos taken of their dogs, in the hope that it will make them more adoptable. When Jacobson approached the Marion County shelter offering to photograph the animals, Allison Barrows, shelter operations manager, said they jumped at the opportunity.
“We want to avoid making the dogs look like they are in a shelter, and Terri does a good job of that,” Barrows said.
It makes sense that Jacobson would give so much of her time to helping dogs find new families — the animals already helped her find her own. In the decade they have been together, Jacobson and Lee have fostered nearly 70 greyhounds.
Jacobson said their philosophy is best summed up in something she wrote on her website:
“Our dogs make us laugh, and when we cry, they lick away our tears. I can’t imagine life without them. Every day when I come home, it doesn’t matter where I have been or what kind of day I’ve had, I’m greeted with wagging tails and sloppy wet kisses. Everyone should have that experience — being greeted as if you are the most important person in the world.”
Salem Top 5
During her 21 years living in Salem, Terri Jacobson has discovered many things she loves. We asked her to name her top five — here are her responses:
1. Fuji Rice Time
2. Riverfront Park at twilight
3. Proximity to the ocean and the mountains
5. The people I have met
Melaney Moisan has lived in Salem for more than 30 years. For 25 of those years, she has been lucky enough to write for a living. It doesn’t get any better than that.