OAKLAND -- Heidi Eder was having a tough time with Thomas O'Malley during his first photo shoot. The finicky model spent much of the session battling a bout of camera shyness that kept him hiding at the back of the studio.
It also didn't help that Georgia, several years O'Malley's junior, frolicked around the studio and stole the show, allowing Eder to capture the look that will surely grace a few posters.
For the past two years, Eder has volunteered her time to photograph models of the feline and canine variety in Dublin and Oakland for the East Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A San Ramon resident, Eder has logged more than 1,111 volunteer hours and photographed more than 2,700 cats and dogs during that time.
"The past few years we have focused on better-quality photos," said Allison Lindquist, the East Bay SPCA's president for the past eight years. "Before it was just staff trying to get a face shot. The longer an animal is here the harder it is to place them, and when people are scanning photos they will stop on the better-quality pictures."
The East Bay SPCA adopted out 2,861 animals in 2013, and staff and other volunteers credit Eder and the work of the SPCA's five other volunteer photographers for helping the animals find homes. The SPCA offers a variety of services to the public from animal checkups, trainings, adoptions and spay and neutering services and will be able to house a combined 600 animals at its two facilities once renovations are complete at the Oakland facility.
With the help of another volunteer, Pipi Diamond, Eder has worked to replace all the intake photos of the animals with pictures taken by Eder. She spares no expense when trying to capture the perfect shot of the animal, toting around two suitcases of equipment filled with colorful handmade Indian paper as backgrounds, squeaky and crunchy toys to get the animals' attention and an array of flashes and lights.
"It's totally about patience," Eder said about capturing the right image. "It is about a connection that I am looking for and I wait to get it so that whoever is looking at (the picture) sees that too."
Eder is a former marketing and communications specialist who left the profession 18 years ago to stay at home and raise her three daughters. In addition to spending anywhere between four to eight hours a week at the two SPCA locations, Eder also balances her daughters' swimming careers and school activities and running her own photography business. She started at the East Bay SPCA after a friend and neighbor recommended it and as a way to spend more time with her daughters.
"When (people) come in and specifically request a pet based on my pictures and I hear that from the staff I'm like, 'That is my payment,' " Eder said.
Eder is especially fond of older animals and those that have some physical disabilities. The older animals are often harder to find homes for, said Lindquist.
King George, an 8-year-old pit bull mix, has been at the shelter for the past three months. When he came, workers thought he was an all-brown dog. After a bath, they discovered he was a brown dog with white spots. Since then, the staff has worked with King George and treated a skin condition caused by the poor hygiene upon his arrival.
"The challenge is to get people to look beyond some of the stuff the animals come in with," Eder said. "All the animals here are awesome and adoptable."