November 4, 2013 09:26AM
By Patricia Ann Chaffee
Special to The Sun
NARRAGANSETT – Clara Smart is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rhode Island where she works to develop sensors and systems for oceanic research. She grew up in Seattle and migrated east to do undergraduate work at Northwestern University before enrolling at URI to earn a Master’s degree in ocean engineering.
One might perceive her personality as very logical and fact-based, as many scientists are, but it was her longing for furry companionship that brought her to the Animal Rescue League of Southern Rhode Island, in Peace Dale. There, she is making a big difference in the lives of sheltered dogs, cats and the people who love them.
“I’ve always loved animals but had no animal in my life because of school,” said Smart. “I was looking for an outlet in the community and wanted to pet some fluffy friends. The ARLSRI had some staff shortages and welcomed me enthusiastically. That was in 2011. Since then it’s evolved quite a bit.”
In 2012 Smart came up with the idea to create a photo calendar to raise money for the shelter. She used photos of the animals that were at the shelter the previous year and she has done it again this year as well. She developed a love of photography after someone handed her an SLR camera back in 1970 when she was 12 years old. She decided to put her talent to good use.
The calendars sell for $5 and proceeds go to the shelter. They are currently available at Johnny’s Barkin Bakery, at the shelter and around town.
“The goal of the calendars is to show the work we’ve done and show the success we’ve had; to show those loving, happy, beautiful faces,” said Smart. “People think about shelters and they think fences and concrete and sadness. It’s about finding the right families for those sad situations.”
Although Smart says the calendar is a significant fund-raiser for the shelter she has stretched herself even further by doing photo booth events, which are held at Johnny’s Barkin Bakery in South County Commons. For $15 folks can be photographed with their furry family member or they can have a photo taken of just their pet. They often come in costume and props are available to make it real interesting.
The photo booth events are holiday-based but they do them about once a month and Halloween is the busiest time. Anywhere from 15 to 25 animals show up with their owners at each event, generating a nice little donation for the shelter. They receive a small 4x6 print on the spot and Smart emails a high resolution digital image. Sometimes people have cards made with the photo on them.
“Basically I’ll take any picture they want,” says Smart. “It’s a great little fund raiser. People get so into it.”
Smart got involved with the shelter because she wanted to be around animals, but she couldn’t easily take care of a pet because of her schedule at school and the time she spend on a boat for her studies. But she has one now, having fallen in love with a little kitty named Hazel when she photographed her for Pet Finder.
PetFinder.com is a website where shelters can post pictures of animals available for adoption. She believes that capturing the character of each dog or cat can convey something about each animal that will help them find their forever home, just like Hazel did. When Hazel was being photographed she was mesmerized by birds outside the window.
“She was like a little hunter,” says Smart.
Her photos of the shelter animals can be found throughout the community on the calendars, at donation stations, at photo booths and on Petfinder, making an invaluable contribution to the lives of the shelter animals. When she isn’t taking photos, she is a road cyclist, logging 10 hours a week on the road for sport. For a time she raced competitively, adding athletics to a life filled with academics, creativity and community pursuits.
Smart advises folks who are thinking about getting involved with volunteer work to find something that really appeals to them.
“If you’re passionate about animals then make a commitment. It really does make a difference to the organization, the animals and the people you are helping,” she says. “One woman came in after seeing one of my photos and she just knew she needed to adopt that animal. I’m constantly reminded of how important this is.”