Sophie Gamand: Saving dogs one photograph at a time

Blossom was adopted four times but had the misfortune of being returned thrice, each time for no fault of her own. (Image credit: Sophie Gamand’s IG)

Mention “pit bull” and the first thought that comes to mind is far from pleasant.

Pit bulls have long garnered a reputation as dangerous, vicious dogs that are more likely to be found mauling an opponent in a dog fighting ring than frolicking in someone’s front yard.

While Malaysia has technically banned the import of the breed, other nations such as Belgium, France, Denmark and Canada have laws that outright ban the ownership of pit bulls as pets in the name of public safety.

Perhaps keeping these supposedly dangerous, savage beasts off our streets is for the greater good after all? Well, not quite.

Animal activist Sophie Gamand thinks that the bad reputation that pit bulls have is unjustified and has since set out on a personal mission to change public perception about them.

Animal activist and photographer, Sophie Gamand, shares her work with a curious furry friend. (Image credit: Sophie Gamand’s IG)

Gamand launched her Pit Bull Flower Power campaign where she photographs pit bulls from shelters with floral crowns adorning their heads.

Her many previous careers, the award-winning photographer said, led her to use art and her voice to fight for the voiceless.

Asked by FMT on why she decided to turn her lens on animals, she answered, “What I love the most about it is how genuine and authentic animals are in front of the camera.”

Despite being a smart and loving dog, Patton had to stay in his shelter home for two years. (Image credit: Sophie Gamand’s IG)

“Their true vulnerability allows for a deep intimate connection. That’s beautiful, and not as easy to achieve with people, I suppose.”

When Gamand first started photographing shelter dogs in 2011 and 2012, her knowledge of pit bulls was limited to the idea that they were “scary”.

However, she soon grew to learn that the misconception of pit bulls as hell hounds had deadly ramifications; the poor dogs stood very little chance of adoption and were thus doomed to euthanisation.

Gamand disagrees with the notion that dogs can be “vicious” for the word implies that dogs have a moral sense, which is not how dogs operate, she said.

“The dog is never vicious. The dog does what they are good at, and taught to do.”

It is up to humans, she concludes, to humble ourselves and understand dogs better by acknowledging that their aggression comes from fear.

Realising that photography could offer the public a new, positive image about pit bulls, Gamand set out to challenge the media’s demonisation of the breed with her trusty camera.

Her Pit Bull Flower Power project started out as a small scale affair in the summer of 2014, intended to boost the pit bulls’ adoption rate.

It then exploded online.

With shelters across the United States begging for her help, it became clear that her mission had just begun.

When Honey first arrived at the shelter, she was overweight and had to lose five kg to undergo necessary surgery. (Image credit: Sophie Gamand’s IG)

As of now, some 450 portraits of pit bulls with floral crowns have been made, with most of the models happily being adopted.

Gamand believes that “good photography saves lives”, knowing that good shelter animal portraits project a better image of animal rescue, which leads to more people considering adoption.

In her first photo shoot of a former dogfighting victim, a nervous Gamand feared the dog would be large and angry.

She was assaulted by a smothering of kisses before Murdock the dog climbed on her lap begging for belly rubs.

“Even though humans put him through hell, Murdock was still trusting and loving. It made me want to defend these dogs even more.”

Getting the dogs to pose for her photographs is easier than one might think, as the dogs are just happy to get out of their cages. The tide is now changing in the favour of pit bulls, likely because of her efforts.

Gamand noted the increased advocacy of pit bulls and the heightened public awareness of the issue.

Calling the restrictions on pit bull ownership in certain countries outdated and misguided, Gamand said such laws punish good dogs and their owners while ignoring the true problem of bad dog owners.

“There is a reason these bans are being reversed in many places…Now pit bull owners have a voice, and they stand up for their doggies.”

To support her charitable deeds, follow her Instagram, visit her website and buy some merchandise, or become a monthly patron of her work via Patreon.