A Brooklyn-based photographer spent the past year getting to know some of New York City’s cutest dogs on a more paw-sonal level.
Heather Weston, 48, is the photographer behind the upcoming book “Canines of New York,” featuring hundreds of portraits of city canines. The inspiration for the photo series came from the likes of popular “Humans of New York” blog and 2015 book “Felines of New York,” as well as the Instagram account The Dogist.
“There are amazing photographers doing this, but I thought ‘it’s OK, I haven’t done this!’ So, the more dogs the better. I didn't want to shy away because it had been done before,” the Boerum Hill resident said.
A former full-time freelance photographer, Weston thought she’d put her passion for snapping scenes behind her when she became a parent coordinator at P.S. 261 on Pacific Street in Boerum Hill three years ago. She decided to spend her weekends off photographing pups one year ago, partly because of her own love of animals (she grew up with “crazy dog people” as parents and had three family dogs as a child) and because of her daughter, now 15, who had been asking for a pet since she was three.
“I don’t have a dog, though, which should be noted,” Weston said, adding that a lack of time and the capacity of her “tiny Brooklyn apartment” has kept her from being a current dog owner.
With her book idea in tow, Weston originally began wandering up to New Yorkers walking friendly looking pooches and asking to snap their photo, but she quickly learned arranging the shoots in advance would help her gain control over the environment and allow her to pick iconic NYC locations as backdrops.
Separated by location, each section of the 200-plus-page book starts off with a dog posing in front of a scene classic to the borough they’re from. Weston got pups to pose in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, near the Staten Island Ferry, next to the Fearless Girl statue and even in the middle of Times Square.
Of course, getting them to stay still while looking adorable came with its own challenges.
“The dogs would sometimes be afraid of the camera, so, I realized if I got myself set up then made a noise with a clicker hidden in my hand, I’d get their attention,” Weston said. “I would sometimes only get one shot. With a surprising noise, I really had to be ready for their reactions for that one shot.”
Treats were involved too, but only sometimes. Keeping dogs’ sensitive diets in mind, Weston only used treats to nab her shots if owners were on board.
Getting down on all fours herself helped too.
“I learned very quickly I needed knee pads and then I figure out that I needed elbow pads,” she said. “I’m a middle-aged woman, not a young skateboarder out there, so I bet I looked pretty funny. But it helped get the shot.”
The book, which is dedicated to her late family dog Desdemona, a German wirehaired pointer who died at age 15, also includes “HONY”-style quotes from each pup’s owner. The last pages offer photographs snapped outside the boroughs, including Fire Island and Sea Cliff on Long Island.
“Canines of New York” hit stores Oct. 10.
Off-Broadway star Marti, a golden retriever/chow mix, is one of the more famous pups featured in the book. "I was so grateful for this dog. She sat in the middle of Times Square and was just completely unfazed by all the stuff happening around her. It was incredible to watch," Weston said.
From the book: "Marti was adopted by Bill Berloni from Adopt-A-Dog animal shelter in Armonk, New York, where she had been for two years because she was labeled "dog aggressive and not good with children." Bill liked her look and when he temperament-tested her, he concluded that she was very smart and bored being in the shelter. In 2013, she played Sandy in the remake of "Annie." Since then, she has appeared in several Off-Broadway productions as well as in television commercials. Marti proves that shelter dogs can achieve great lives."
Sawyer, a German shepherd/chow mix who was photographed in Forest Hills, stood out in Weston's mind for one reason: His smile.
From the book: "When I first met Sawyer, he was a brittle-haired, anxious dog who weighted about 20 pounds less than he should have. I was just fostering him to give my other dog, Jake, a companion. The day I brought Sawyer home, I took him to the great store PS9 Pets in Williamsburg. The owner, Joan, noticed that he wouldn't stop staring at me. 'Wow, he really loves you!' she said. Over time, he came out of his shell, and his fur went from brittle to thick and luxurious. Jake passed away, but our family grew with a mom, and eventually, human twin sisters. Today, Sawyer still looks at me the same way, so relieved that I am the center of his universe. I am so happy that Sawyer decided to love me like he did, and to have the privilege of being best friends."
Staten Island: Leo
Leo, a Siberian husky, was photographed in front of the Staten Island Ferry. From the book: "He is a big talker (huskies are known as a 'talking breed') but he hates it when we talk about him!"
Buddy, with a smile just as bright as Sawyer's, relaxed for his shoot in front of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bronx: Jock and Oliver
Brothers Jock and Oliver, both highland terriers, needed a little space during their shoot on a park bench in Pelham Bay. From the book: "When we go on holiday, we only go to dog-friendly places."