Photographer to the shelter pets

Note: A version of the story originally appeared in the Branford Eagle (


Sally Anderson Bruce (Photo by Mary Johnson)

What do CEOs and shelter pets have in common?

Sally Andersen-Bruce knows the answer because she’s worked with both. Bruce is the shelter pet and stamp photographer whose portraits of aforementioned shelter pets have graced the US mail since 2002.

Andersen-Bruce discussed her experiences at an event sponsored by the Branford (Conn.) Compassion Club and the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter. Attendees talked about their pets while sipping wine and dining on hors d’oeurvres to the piano jazz of Lori Fogler-Nicholson, and viewing the animal portraits in the rotunda.

The stars of the evening were the dogs and cats awaiting adoption. Mary Mellows, president of BCC, and Laura Burban,

Mary Mellows, Branford Compassion Club (Photo by Mary Johnson)

Mary Mellows, Branford Compassion Club (Photo by Mary Johnson)

director of the Cosgrove Animal, know all their names and recited their stories. At present there are 90 animals awaiting adoption at Cosgrove and 60 cats at BCC’s Rescue and Adoption Center, as well as 30 cats in foster care.

Andersen-Bruce said her foray into pet photography began was when a black limousine with New York plates pulled up to her studio in New Milford, Conn., and two Airedale terriers (both rescues) jumped out, sans humans. She photographed them and afterwards they were picked up and taken to their vacations digs.

She had been commissioned by the US Postal Service for two other stamps prior to the Spay/Neuter design in 2002.

Sally Anderson-Bruce, Laura Burban (Cosgrove Animal Shelter, Mary Mellows (Branford Compassion Club. (Photo by Mary Johnson)

Sally Anderson-Bruce, Laura Burban (Cosgrove Animal Shelter, Mary Mellows (Branford Compassion Club). (Photo by Mary Johnson)

Initially she photographed shelter puppies and kittens playing together, but the design didn’t work; because of the small size of the stamps they just looked like dots on the grass, she said. Andersen-Bruce then decided that portraits would work better and puppies and kittens from two different shelters were used.

The success of the spay/neuter stamp led the to her commission for the wildly successful Animal Rescue/Adopt-a-Shelter Pet stamp, which featured cats and dogs that had all been adopted into loving forever homes.

Andersen-Bruce explained that a different look to the stamps was requested, a white background, so the people holding the dogs and cats wore while lab coats (backwards!) and pillow cases over their heads. “Training me was more difficult than training the pets,” she says.

Some of her subjects went on to become famous. Teddy, a wire-haired Jack Russell Terrier, became the official ambassador for shelter pet adoption, and Willow, the gray kitty, appeared on the television show, Cats 101. Her most difficult subject was Frankie, who is black and tan with a white triangle on his face; many of her photos show him as a blurr.

Andersen-Bruce has her own rescue dogs. She’s had Irish Setters, including Dulcinea, a veteran of the show ring. She said they caused quite a stir when she and her husband were living in Korea where people there were used to small dogs.

To minimize stress during the photos shoots, she set up the lighting ahead of the shoot by using a toy similar to the animal she was photographing. She added that her studio also provided a calm atmosphere for the shoot.

She says she puts a lot of research into her subject matter, which is not part of the commission she receives for her work.

Andersen-Bruce explained that commemorative stamps such as the animal rescue stamp are categorized under social awareness and normally have a run of 65 million. The subject matter is a person, place or thing. (Definitive stamps are the smaller, everyday stamps issued by the post office – the flags, Purple Heart, Liberty Bell.) However, the demand was so high that 300 million were printed initially, and there was a second printing of 100 million.

Marilyn Kennedy, BCC volunteer, said earlier in the evening that she was disappointed because “the postmaster general promised that they’d bring the stamp back.”

Andersen Bruce said the stamp earned $165 million for the US Postal Service. Unlike the breast cancer awareness stamp, none of the proceeds from sale of the stamps was designated for animal rescue. “That takes an act of Congress,” she said. Regardless, she’s grateful for the awareness raised by the stamps.

The US Postal Service receives 50,000 requests for commemorative stamps each year, which are finalized by the 14-member Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee.

In terms of future projects, she is compiling two books with portraits and stories about shelter pets, one on dogs and the other on cats.

Andersen-Bruce says she feels a strong connection to animals. “There’s a spirit. I keep coming back.”


About ExclusivelyCats
Sally Bahner is an expert in all aspects of cat care: Writer, consultant, speaker, instructor.

3 Responses to Photographer to the shelter pets

  1. Cathy M says:

    Glad to have cats in postage stamps! Wish my cutie kitty Gabby will make it to a photo shoot like this next time! :=)

  2. It would be really nice to see cats in postage stamps!

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