Sniffing out bed bugs, searching for a missing child, detecting cancer—the life of a working dog isn't easy. These noble pups deserve some glory—or at the very least a glamour shot and an extra belly rub. That was the thinking of two professional models who have moved behind the camera to give these hard-working dogs their moment in the spotlight: Nicole Ellis and Brandise Daneswich, whom you might recognize from countless ads and TV spots including Project Runway, are the masterminds behind a coffee table book called Working Like a Dog that features stunning portraits of these exceptional service dogs. We talked to Ellis about their passion project:
OLLIE: Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds and love of dogs?
NE: First, there's my dog Maggie. I adopted her from a city shelter and had no idea the people we would meet together. She's traveled to numerous hospitals with me, to play piano and do handstands for some special kids that could use an extra smile. She showed me the true capabilities and what a difference a dog can make in someone's life.
The other side of the story is of an untrained dog that Brandise knew. In a tragic incident, this dog bit Brandise in the face, almost ending her modeling career. But the silver lining of this is that I got to experience with her firsthand the beauty of working with well-trained dogs and how amazing they can be. Through every dog involved in this project, she saw that you can trust them.
OLLIE: How did the idea for your book come about?
NE: Mostly we are just two girls that love dogs and are blown away by just how extraordinary these animals can be. After Brandise's attack and some late nights out together, we started talking about training and everything animals can learn and how to build awareness. Not long after this, we were buying photo equipment and testing new flash lights in a studio. Every piece of this project has been out of our pockets and filled with love, which I think makes each photo even more powerful.
OLLIE: How did you find models for your book?
NE: We were the creepy girls at the service dog events trying to pet all the puppies. We researched and reached out—I figured the worst case scenario was that someone says no, and that did happen, but others said yes—lots of them.
OLLIE: What did you hope to capture in the photos for the book?
NE: We love showing two sides of these dogs, the regal, working, passionate side of them, the side that shouldn’t be disturbed. And then the goofy side. These are dogs that chase tennis balls at home and cuddle on the couch. We tried to capture both sides of these amazing, beautiful animals.
OLLIE: What is a typical photo shoot like?
NE: Absolute mayhem. There was the time we bawled our eyes out seeing search and rescue dogs being matched with their handlers, or the time our batteries died in a forest photographing sled dogs just as another truck full of sled dogs pulled up. Each shoot is filled with some awkward glances, squeaky toys, lots of dog hair, lots of batteries, usually a few new amazing friends, and some life long memories.
OLLIE: Your work highlights the many, many different types of service dogs perform. Any unusual service dogs?
NE: Where do we start? Arson detection, bed bug detection, latex detection, cancer detection, peanut allergy, Autism dogs...there's too many to list! Dogs that literally give people the ability to leave their house, and live on their own, and make a life for themselves. These are things you and I don’t think twice about and it’s time to recognize what a huge impact these dogs make.
OLLIE: You've met a lot of them by now—is there a consistent characteristic in all Service Dogs?
NE: Dedicated handlers. It sounds silly but from Search and Rescue to PTSD to Cancer Detecting there is a strong amazing human behind that dog (and often more than one), cheering him on to succeed and reward him with belly rubs and kisses.
OLLIE: What's the most important thing you hope people will takeaway from your book?
NE: We want to educate people not to pet working dogs while they are on duty, yell out to them, and other ridiculous mannerisms—these dogs are saving lives. We are trying to do our part to make things a little better for handlers and dogs alike.
Also, working dogs come in all shapes and sizes—they aren’t all labs or golden retrievers. But don’t presume someone isn’t disabled [because of] the breed of their dog.
Lastly, we are trying to show everyone the amazing things these dogs can do with some training. These dogs come from all paths of life and are making a difference. With a little training, every dog can be special and maybe fewer dogs can end up abandoned in shelters.