This Photographer Takes Shelter Dogs On Adventures To Help Them Get Adopted

“A shelter isn’t a place where you’re going to see their true character.”

Meet Rachael Rodgers. She’s a photographer, artist and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Canmore, Alberta, a gorgeous town in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. She also loves dogs — her own and pretty much every single pup at her local animal shelters — and exploring with them in the wilderness.

It all started last year after she posted a photo kayaking with her rescue dog Denali on her Instagram account, @trailsandbears. The snap went viral and thousands of other dog lovers started following along:

Rodgers asked herself how she could use Instagram for something good. Then she realized she could share her Insta-fame with shelter dogs by photographing them outside of a shelter setting. “It’s a way to get more positive publicity for adoptable dogs,” Rodgers told Outside. “A shelter isn’t a place where you’re going to see their true character.”

Into the Wild

Since 2017, Rodgers has helped 30 dogs find their forever homes. “It’s not just humans finding love online these days,” she shared on her website. And she still finds time to venture out with her own dogs, Beans and Denali:

You know how to cut to the core of me, Denali #miniaturebuddha

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Rodgers took this adoptable pup named Miskha out for a kayaking excursion on Barrier Lake. She tagged the shelter so interested followers could find her:

Volunteer Hours

Even if you don’t live in the middle of the most gorgeous wilderness on earth, you can help local shelters just like Rodgers. To get started, you should call animal shelters in your area and ask about volunteer opportunities. Many will allow outings with adoptable dogs after completing a volunteer orientation.

Whatever activity you choose, you’ll want to snap photos to share the experience and get the word out about the pups. Rodgers uses an SLR camera and her go-to is a wide-angle lens to catch every detail of the pup’s expressions.

She caught each individual whisker on this dog named Chica’s smiling face. You can just tell this pup is loving her adventure:

This is a very sweet Chica from Mexico. She’s about 11 months old and just made the huge trek to Canada on Friday. We spent a good part of the day yesterday getting to know each other. We definitely struggled with the language barrier, but body language still communicated the important stuff. She was very shy at first and hadn’t eaten her breakfast yet. Most of us can relate to not feeling 100% after a big travel day (and that’s with all the human comforts and reassurances we get). We met one sweet adepted dog on a trail in Canmore. After she got to say hi to that dog she seemed to feel better. Then we met another young pup getting into the car. That pup was from Mexico as well. They jumped and played and talked about the motherland before parting ways. Now Chica (that’s not her real name), really started to open up and even chowed down on some late breakfast. We made a few more stops to meet local welcoming dogs and picnic by the lake before another small hike. She liked the aerial perspective and seemed pretty happy to be there. If you know someone with a young dog who would love a new friend, Chica would love to have someone to play with. She’s at Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue with some friends if you’d like to meet her. #adoptable Thanks so much @rachelphoenix for helping welcome Chica to Canada! She sure opened up quickly when she met lots of happy dogs out hiking and camping this long weekend with their humans.

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No matter what camera you use, Rodgers recommended bringing treats for food-motivated dogs, as well as a winter coat for the pup if its cold out and a dog floatation device if they plan to be on the water. She also said keeping eye-contact during the photo session is vital because frightened dogs aren’t photogenic.

However, happy dogs out on adventures are extremely photogenic. This picnicking pup named Diesel was a great hiking companion and didn’t complain about the mountainous terrain:

This pup Baloo looks like he’s angling for a modeling contract in addition to a new family:

Baloo navigates us through the chilly canal #chillycanal

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Story Time

Rodgers takes the time to get to know the dogs both in and out of the shelter. On her Instagram posts, she shares their story and all about their personality quirks, like this middle-aged introvert named Dax who loves car rides:

This is Dax. Dax is an interesting eight year old fellow. He likes his peace, so he lives in a different part of the shelter than the other adoptable dogs. Due to this, Dax doesn’t meet everyone who comes in to adopt (which is the way he likes it… #introvert) and he’s been kicking back at Cochrane Humane for quite a while now. • Dax is a very particular guy. He likes things a certain way. He likes lakes and rivers, but not to get in them (to look at, and perhaps quench a thirst). He likes getting in the car. He was the most relaxed dog I’ve had in my car for his first ride. He rode laying down, but whenever I turned to check on him he was staring at me (I’d say suspiciously). When I slowed, he’d stand up and excitedly check out the window. He loves getting out of the car to see where he ended up. He is a bit food driven, but not for the snacks I packed. Vanessa at Cochrane Humane supplied me with some dried liver that was much more to his taste. He is not a fan of new people; he needs a bit of time to assess how cool you are. I thought he didn’t really like me much until I saw him tell some elderly fishermen to move along (I think he was upset that they came inside his (our) 8 meter comfort zone). He also protected me from a hiking couple who thought they would say hello to us. • If you’re looking for a pup to help you make friends on the trails, Dax probably isn’t the one. BUT if you can prove to this old pup that you’ll protect him, let him walk (even though he’s small enough to carry), let him smell the grass every few feet (even though he’s small enough to pull away), and change course when he’s uncomfortable in a situation – he will not only let you into his comfort zone, but protect you as his own favorite human. • If you’d like to meet Dax, ask about him at the front desk @cochranehumane • Thank you so much Laura in Minnesota (@zimmermann.laura) for sponsoring Peculiar Dax’s road trip. He was very keen to take in all the new sights and smells. If you’re interested, click the link in my bio to see some ways to help these awesome dogs. #adoptable #seniordog #olddog #peculiardog

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Here’s a lovebug named Poppy, who was lucky enough to visit Rodgers and her family at home after their visit in nature:

Poppy is still waiting for his perfect family and house to call home. In the meantime, we had another great visit. I can’t get enough of this guy. He came to my place to meet the family and see where I live. He can’t negotiate stairs very well, so the 8 inside our front door gave him enough anxiety to induce an episode (Poppy has stress induced episodes that he can’t control. They look and sound aggressive, but he really wants to hide until they pass and shake it off as fast as possible so he can get back to what’s important: cuddles). After the episode, Poppy let me carry him down the stairs. He had more trouble with our low light and hard floors. He fell over a couple times just walking around, which startled him a bit. We made some lunch to take with us and set out for a hike up the creek (he loves hiking AND the creek). Poppy doesn’t have as much trouble on trails as he did in the house. He’s a little uncoordinated and I’m not sure if it’s because he can’t see where he’s going or something else. Poppy is one of a kind. He’s a living legend. He’s a dog who will make your small heart grow three sizes. If you would love this guy and have the patience and consideration to work with him when he needs your help, you’d be silly not to go meet him. He’s at Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue waiting for some interesting people to love. #adoptable Thanks to @mr_nice_guy79 for photos, picnic, and all that you do to help keep me going through the very infrequent moments when I lose my focus.

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Rodgers also shared a snap of this friendly fluffball named Luanne, who was thrilled to go for a car ride and play in the snow:

In contrast, this pup was a bit more apprehensive at first. Rodgers’s photo shows how quickly she warmed up. Ironically, all she needed was a pile of snow:

Cotton is not one of those dogs who jumps right into my car and pants with excitement about the car ride that awaits. She slowly approached the open door and sniffed with apprehension. She wanted to get in, but she also wanted to check that everything was safe first. We talked about the ABS, the winter tires, and last oil change and she decided it would work. After this very short period of shyness, Cotton decided she likes me lots. She’s a whacky, fun-loving, adventure seeking doggie. She wants to run and explore with someone who loves running and exploring. If you know a runner or explorer who would love this sweet enthusiastic girl, please tag them. Cotton will be chillin at the Cochrane Humane Society if you want to meet her. #whackyapprehension

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Rodgers funds her shelter dog outings with help from donations on her website. Even if you don’t have time to volunteer with dogs, you can help out by donating to her project here.

In the meantime, follow her on Instagram to see more of her cute canine adventures — and get inspired for your own!