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08/12/2015 10:46 am ET | Updated Aug 24, 2015

Intimate Portraits Of Shelter Volunteers Reveal A Special Kind Of Love

Dogs and humans share a deep and unique symbiotic relationship.

Jesse Freidin has spent the past year taking photos at animal shelters. But his subjects of focus are not dogs or cats. They're the humans. 

Jesse Freidin

Freidin's project, called "Finding Shelter," examines the intimate bond formed between shelter volunteer and animal.

"No one talks about the logistical aspects of pet adoption, or how it takes a huge toll on people doing this work," Freidin told The Huffington Post. "These volunteers show up for free and carry the brunt of the work. They're the ones who allow the animals to go through the system and they're responsible for getting the animals adopted."

Freidin wanted to find out why these people, who dedicate hours upon hours to a thankless unpaid job, feel compelled to do what they do.

"I had this theory before I started that there's a cycle of support and healing that's happening," he said. While the dogs and cats receive care and love from their handlers, Freidin said he believes those gifts are reciprocated -- that the humans are emotionally benefiting from their time spent at the shelters, too. 

After shooting several volunteers at multiple shelters in California, Freidin noticed the volunteers had something "really beautiful" in common: "Across the board, if nothing else, these people have a deep desire to give back ... But in turn, are seeking some kind of support from that process."

The photographer describes the psychology behind the human-animal bond as something really complex; he says that dogs, in, particular, create a sense of support, safety and security. These things, Freidin has found, are easier to share with a dog than with a human. "There's this deep, unspoken connection between dogs and people. Together, we learn how to be social and trust and give love. People today aren't talking enough about that."

Freidin hopes his photos and their accompanying stories will help to get people talking. On Tuesday, he launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for a two-week trip to photograph 150 more dogs and volunteers at shelters across the country, and chronicle what he captures in a book. The photographer will give each shelter digital copies of his photos, so the animals have a greater chance of getting adopted. Freidin has mapped out the stops and production costs, but he's still unsure if his 10-year-old Boston Terrier, Pancake, will come along for the ride.

For a taste of what's to come, check out some of his first "Finding Shelter" portraits below. 

  • Mari and Mark
    Jesse Freidin
    “The reasons I volunteer at Peninsula Humane Society are many. My heart is full when I work with dogs; their needs are minimal, but they give so much joy. (Mark is a good example – he’s the epitome of a shelter dog: scruffy and all heart.) Being allowed to give back has, in turn, changed the way I view the world, and has saved me when I too experienced sorrow and hardships.” -- Mari, Peninsula Humane Society
  • Jeremiah and Picasso
    Jesse Freidin
    “I volunteer to help the greater dog community by giving back some of the love that my old dogs gave to me. I volunteer to fulfill my duty to animal stewardship for breeds and species in existence only from human-made breeding programs, especially the old ones. They wouldn’t be here without us. I volunteer to bring joy to the world one senior dog at a time. I volunteer to help senior dogs find their way through strange and scary times. Encouraging and reassuring them that they are safe, loved and that there’s warmth and goodness left in the world just for them.” -- Jeremiah, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue
  • Letti and Jamie
    Jesse Freidin
    “I volunteer because of the impact I can have on one dog in one moment. It is easy to get lost in the hugeness of the challenges facing pets -- overcrowded shelters, the shortage of pet friendly housing, failed rescues turned hoarders and abusers, and all the other types of cruelty and neglect suffered by our companion animals. BADRAP has helped me learn that by focusing on an individual dog you can truly make a difference.”  -- Letti, BADRAP
  • Lesley and Kona
    Jesse Freidin
    “I started Wags and Walks after volunteering in my local shelters and watching them euthanize perfectly friendly adoptable dogs due to overcrowding. I learned this number was close to 40,000 dogs a year just in Los Angeles. I felt it was my obligation to jump in and strategize how to help this unthinkable crisis of man’s best friend. I mustered the courage to leave my job as a pharmaceutical sales representative because my passion was to advocate for these amazing, special, even purebred dogs. With my background as a daughter of a veterinarian, my relentless passion for dogs, and my keen sense for pairing dogs with the right home, Wags and Walks is now the fastest growing rescue in the nation, growing from saving 50 dogs in its first year in 2011 to 525 amazing dogs in 2014.” -- Lesley, Wags and Walks Rescue
  • Tenille and Oliver
    Jesse Freidin
    “The reason I love working at the shelter is plain and simple; I love it. It is extremely rewarding to be able to help take care of the cats (and dogs) on a daily basis, and give them all the love and attention I can. Being able to not only care for them, but help them find a forever home is the best feeling in the world. While it does get difficult at times, the good far outweighs the bad.” -- Tenille, SPCLA
  • Tim and Rhonda
    Jesse Freidin
    "I often have the public make the comment to me when they see my work with shelter cats, ‘It’s so great that you work with these animals, you give so much to them.’ I then correct them and tell them ‘You have it backwards; the animals give me a lot more than I give them.'" -- Tim, Peninsula Humane Society
  • Barbara and Gwennie
    Jesse Freidin
    “I started traveling the world years ago at a time in my life when I did not have a pet. During one of my journeys, I met a woman that ran a rescue called Bali Dogs who inspired me to focus my energy on animal rescue. After this trip I adopted my pup Bodhi and now, five years later, I’m doing exactly what I had intended to do. I hope one day to share my knowledge about volunteering and rescue work with the less privileged through the world, where ever my travels may take me.” -- Barbara, BADRAP 

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