About the Project
On the first day of my senior thesis class, my professor asked us what we could think about for nine months straight and not get tired of. From that moment on, the question turned from what I should do my thesis on to how I could turn my life-long love for dogs into a legitimate senior thesis project.
If I’ve learned anything from all of the time I’ve spent around dogs, and the time I’ve spent working on this project, it’s that dogs add a value to our lives that we can’t find anywhere else. There’s something in their infallible joy when you come home and the trust and safety they feel with you at the end of the day that reaches inside of you and touches your soul. I’ve thought for years now, honestly and truly, that dogs are a thousand times better people than we could ever dream to be.
Adoption was a logical focus for me to center my project on; since I was old enough to understand what a shelter was and why it was needed, it’s broken my heart to know how many of our best friends spend the better part (or the entirety) of their lives without a house to call home and a family to call their own. (In case you didn’t know, about 3.3 million dogs enter animal shelters and humane societies every year. About 1.6 million dogs are adopted every year, but about 1.7 million dogs aren’t, which leaves about 670,000 dogs that have to be euthanized because shelters can’t afford to care for them).
As someone without the money or the means to adopt all of the dogs in all of the shelters, I figured the least I could do is to try and appeal to the people who do have the money and the means, and to show them the value and the impact that adoption can have—not just in a dog’s life, but in their lives too. And from that, this project was born.
To start this project, I did a lot of brainstorming and talking with my professors and peers about exactly what I wanted to center my topic on and what the best way to show that was. I was really excited at the idea of photographing dogs and telling their stories, so once I decided to do that I worked on what story would be best to tell in that format. I also knew right from the start that I wanted this project to be about the dogs, not about their humans. The human part of caring and connecting with dogs could come from actual people engaging with the end product.
Before beginning to interview people, I looked at projects similar to the one I was planning to see what was out there and how mine would differ from theirs. I read up on the connection between humans and dogs, which no matter how strongly it's felt, still seems to elude a clear explanation. I brainstormed what questions I would ask people about their dogs, and then asked my friends what questions they would ask or what answers they would want to hear.
Once I had done some background research and figured out the questions I wanted to ask, I started thinking about the logistics of finding people to interview and what I would have to do to get the interviews done. I made up a list of the questions I'd want to ask that I could bring with me to each interview, as well as a waiver for owners to sign to ensure clarity of exactly what they were agreeing to.
To start meeting with people, I started connecting with friends and friends of friends who had all adopted. One of the people I interviewed was my thesis professor's friend, and she then connected me with someone else to interview. Pretty quickly I had set up all of my interviews and they were well underway.
For this project, I met with ten people, two of which owned two dogs. I photographed their dogs first and then went into the interview, asking the following questions:
How were they adopted? What was their history before you adopted them? Were they previously adopted? Do you own other dogs? Were they adopted? Why did you want a dog? Why did you choose to adopt? Who else is in your family? Where does your dog sleep? Are they allowed on the furniture? Why/why not? What is your favorite thing about your dog? What is your least favorite thing about your dog? What are their quirks? What was it like when you first brought them home? How did their history affect their response? How do they act now? Do they like to play? Do they like toys? How do they play? What’s your favorite moment with your dog? Have their been any funny moments? Do you regret anything about adopting? Is your dog appreciative? How do they show it? What do you think your dog has added to your life? Where would you be without your dog? Have you ever bought a dog from a store? Now that you’ve adopted, would you even buy from a store again? What would you say to someone who wants a dog and isn’t sure if they should adopt or buy?
Once I had conducted the photo shoots and interviews, I went on to editing the photos and selecting which ones were the best for each dog. I spent the first semester collecting my content, so I didn't deal with the actual interviews until later.
In November I and my peers presented our thesis proposals through a Pecha Kucha - a short twelve-slide, four-minute presentation where the slides advanced on their own and one project moved directly into the next. It was a great way to show what I had done so far, what I planned to do, and to explain exactly why I wanted to do this.
In December for our class final we met and reviewed everything everyone had collected and done towards their thesis projects, and conducted small critiques for those who needed more direction or advice. When we broke for winter break I took a step back from my project, leaving it alone until I came back to school so that I could get some distance and better perspective on the outcome I wanted to create.
When I returned to school, I dove into the making side of my thesis. I knew I wanted to create a website as my main creation so that it wouldn't be a one-time in-person experience but something that would be accessible to people all over and could be shared for a while even after my class and thesis show was over. I spent the first part of the semester dealing with how to create it - I knew coding it entirely myself was out, but I wanted to be able to have control over the code in certain places. I bounced between Cargo Collective and Squarespace for a while before finding the right theme in Squarespace for how I wanted the home page to look and sticking with it.
Once I had the host and the theme, I started creating the pages and the style. I built all of the pages myself, arranging the different features and block elements Squarespace had to offer and adding markdown code blocks when needed to get the look and feel I wanted for the website. Once I had the style down, I started throwing in the content.
I spent Spring Break and most of the two weeks afterward listening through all of the interviews, selecting engaging quotes, and writing up the biographies for each dog. Once that was done and all of the photos were filled in, I moved on to filling in the resource page with shelters and their information, and then my personal about page and this process page.
For the rest of the weeks up until the Thesis Show, I dedicated all of my time to messing with the CSS code for the website and creating markdowns where I could write in the HTML code to create more aesthetic, interactive, and responsive designs. Coding pieces of this website was no joke, and actually did take weeks. If you're wondering, the major coded sections of this website (aka the pieces built by me and not Squarespace) include the hovers over gallery thumbnails, the main image on the home page in the mobile view, the "Why Adopt?" section on the homepage, the entire Adopt page (images, text, buttons, and responsiveness), and as well as minor bits of code in the gallery arrows and the site tagline to make them more aesthetic.
I also took some time to create dog-related merchandise to sell to make back some of the money I've spent on this project, and then I took some time to create banners, photo cards, and takeaways for the final thesis show to make my project more interesting and accessible.
And now, here we are at the end. The site and all of the project's deliverables have been created and the site is live. I hope you enjoy it!
At the true end of this project, I hope that what I've made will encourage people to choose adoption as a first resource when getting a dog. I hope they learn that dogs in shelters and humane societies are not broken or any less dog than puppies found in a store or with a breeder, but are sometimes even better. They're unique and they're kind, and most of the time their histories make them even more loving and appreciative, not to mention interesting.
So if you or your friend or family member wants to share their life and love with a dog, check out your local shelters and humane societies first. You might just find your soulmate inside one of the kennels.
A thousand very gracious thank yous to everyone who participated or otherwise contributed to this project—it never would have been possible without you.
Participants: Gary C., Ron C., Daniella D., Mahira G., Rebecca J., Cara K., Rachel M., Liam N., Dimitry T., and Elisa V.
Special thanks to: Amy P., Dimitry T., and Kristoff L.