The following story is sponsored content made possible by advertisers.
Jennifer Waters was born and raised in West Michigan, went on to get a journalism degree from Michigan State University and spent time on the East Coast and in Chicago. However, 13 years ago, she moved back to West Michigan and by 2011 found her true passion in life: pet photography. Her company, Grumpy Pups Pet Photography, recently rebranded with a new name — Happy Dog Mom — and she is busy as ever, taking super-cute portraits and snapping shots for the Detroit Dog Rescue and at events like the Bissell Pet Foundation’s Empty the Shelter days.
What is your secret to getting so many good shots of pets?
I help them through it with lots of patience, play, affection and a ton of treats, and by the end pretty much every dog is a supermodel. The only kind of pet photo worth having is one where they’re happy and stress-free, so spend some time on that first and the rest will come easy.
The shots come easy?
Not really! There are no easy pet sessions. I’m always down on the ground, getting slobbered on or run over, and I always come home dirty. Which is so much better than sitting at a desk all day — I love it.
How often do you branch out from photographing pups? Are any more difficult than others?
Ninety percent of my “clients” are dogs, and the rest are cats, horses and the occasional rat, ferret or bunny. I don’t really feel that any are more difficult than others, because all animals respond to something, whether that is treats, toys or affection, and you just need to figure out what that is and work with them.
What makes for a perfect shoot?
To me, a good dog day is one where a dog can just be a dog, running around outside, smelling all the smells, having a big adventure with the people they love the most. The entire focus of my sessions is to make sure that your animal is having a good time and feeling relaxed.
What are some of your most memorable sessions?
There are days when I am honestly amazed at what I get to do. I’ve been an official alpaca show photographer, photographed six-to-10 dogs at a time, gone backstage at national dog shows, and photographed the world’s largest dog.
What made you rebrand from Grumpy Pups to Happy Dog Mom?
While there isn’t one specific session that is the most memorable, there is a certain type of session that really sticks with me, and those are the sessions that actually led to rebranding Grumpy Pups to Happy Dog Mom in February of this year. I started having these sessions with women who were clearly more bonded with their dogs than my typical clients. At some point in the sessions, they’d get emotional and tell me these incredible stories of how their dog sat with them through cancer treatment, or through depression or divorce — or even kept them from committing suicide. One woman told me how her husband gave her a puppy, and then her husband got sick and died just a few months later. This puppy that I was photographing was her last connection to her husband. … The sessions that have a story behind them are the ones that really stay in my heart and mind.
How did that factor into the Happy Dog Mom name?
I recently divorced my husband of 20 years, becoming a single mom to two kids and three senior dogs. For about two years, I was in this fog of grief and depression. But what I started to notice is that my dogs were helping me heal. I realized I had become just like the women whose sessions had impacted me the most, those women who had been healed by their dogs. I also realized that there was a real stigma involved. When you admit to loving your dog so deeply, it’s easy to get labeled a “crazy dog lady.” But there’s nothing crazy about it at all. It’s actually quite healthy if a dog’s unconditional love and companionship can help you beat depression, be more mindful or live a more active lifestyle.
Happy Dog Mom