October 11th, 2007
I do a biweekly column called “How’d you land that great job?” for the Seattle Times and its NWjobs employment blog. Usually I have to profile 9-to-5ers, but for this week’s Q&A, my editor let me feature a self-employed pet photographer. The interview was too much fun to keep to myself…
The job: Like many animal-loving kids, Jamie Pflughoeft grew up with dogs, cats and birds for pets, and she dreamed of working with animals someday. In college, she studied animal behavior while working as a pet sitter and dog walker on the side. Stifled after graduation by a tight job market, she decided in 2003 to turn her hobby — taking photos of her pet-sitting and dog-walking “clients” — into a full-fledged business. Today, as top dog of Cowbelly Pet Photography, she snaps the mugs of hundreds of critters a year, turning many of them into brightly colored, digitally enhanced artwork that she’s dubbed Decopaw.
Q: How did you decide to hang your own shingle as a pet photographer?
A: I studied animal behavior at the University of Washington. My master plan was to start a dog training business. I graduated right after 9/11 and the job market was horrible, people were getting laid off right and left. I was willing to take any full-time job I could get working with animals that wasn’t entry level. I looked for a job for a year but couldn’t find one.
I had been doing pet photography as a hobby since 2000, never once considering that I could make a living at it. I’d been working part-time as a dog walker and a pet sitter for a pet-services company while I was going to school. And it was my clients’ pets that I was photographing — for free. So I had a ready-made model base.
I got really great feedback on the photos I was taking and ended up creating a portfolio just for fun. A friend of mine who was also starting a business suggested that I turn my pet photography hobby into a business, and I thought: What a great idea. You know how in the cartoons a light bulb goes off? It was just like that.
Q: Did you have a full-time workload as a pet photographer right away or did that take time?
A: I started the business in July of 2003. But I’ve only been doing it full time for the past two and a half years. For the first year and a half I was doing dog walking part-time to supplement my income.
Q: Do you have any formal photography training?
A: I took one photography class when I was 17. It was a film class and I did all my own darkroom stuff. I’ve always loved photography and I think I’ve always had an eye for it, but as far as the technical aspects of photography, I’m self-taught.
For this job, my background in working with dogs for six years as a dog walker and pet sitter and studying animal behavior at the university level was essential. I would not have this job now without that experience.
Q: What type of pets do you photograph?
A: Dogs are 85 percent of what I do. Cats are about 15 percent. I also shoot any other pet people want me to. I will shoot an iguana if you want. I’ve done rats and horses, too.