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Shelter dogs get a fresh start 
thanks to Toronto blogger Fred Ni


By Sola DaSilva


(Posted in 2012)

One dog at a time, Fred Ni is helping to change the negative perception that shelter dogs are substandard animals and can’t make good pets. “The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again,” Ni writes on his blog, Pound Dogs ( His blog features dogs that are currently up for adoption at the Toronto Animal Services shelter. Pound Dogs gets about 35000 visitors a month with over 2 million page views.


I’ve been volunteering with the TAS (Toronto Animal Services) for about nine years now. I walk the dogs, I take their photographs and I run a blog to talk about those dogs, which are put up for adoption.


Other than having a dog, which was a rescue, I had never been involved in rescue before TAS. Always liked animals, though. I started photographing them because the photos on the adoption page weren’t showing off the dogs well enough: blurry, distorted, bad lighting, etc.


I started doing this when I used to work just around the corner and it was a great way to spend my lunch hour and get away from the computers. It’s a really nice way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon with some animals and hang out outdoors.


What I try to do when I photograph the dogs is to capture their personalities but I don’t try to upsell them. I want to be realistic with the photographs because when people come in to adopt the dogs, I do not want them to meet a dog that really didn’t exist. For me, it’s important to capture what the dog is really about.


I think that’s the biggest challenge. It’s not to make them too pretty or too sad, but just to give their personalities room in the photographs. And I think that’s enough. I think a dog’s personality is probably enough to get them adopted. So many of the dogs here are great and would make great animal companions for families.


There isn’t any hard data but readers and adopters do seem to appreciate the photographs and write-ups.


There have been several times when dogs that were initially deemed difficult to adopt get adopted after weeks or even months of waiting, it’s always a bit of a celebration when that happens because you’re always hopeful for the dogs. You always want to see the best outcomes for them. Ni adds personality to his blog posts in hopes of attracting a permanent home for some well deserving pups.


About a month ago, a dog from a Quebec pound was transferred into TAS-South. His name was Basquiat. He was a fully-grown Husky mix. Accompanying Basquiat’s transfer papers was a photograph of him when he was first brought into the Quebec pound. It was a photo of a puppy, a bright-eyed, happy little boy with a little smile on his face and under the photograph, his age was written: “2 months old”. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a pup like that getting tummy rubs, chewing up socks, being adored by his family.


Instead, wee Basquiat was put into a small cement cage at that pound where he waited for someone to adopt him. But no one did. He waited days then weeks then months. No one took him home. Basquiat lived alone in that cage. He grew into an adult alone in that cage. By the time he was pulled from that Quebec pound and brought to Toronto, Basquiat had become a frightened and withdrawn dog. For the first few days, we couldn’t get him to walk more than a few meters outside before he’d be frozen with fear and refuse to take another step. The slightest noise or movement sent him hiding underneath bushes. He shied away from strangers. He cowered at the back of his kennel.


In the two weeks Basquiat spent at TAS before he was put up for adoption, he was slowly introduced to new people, new sights, and new smells. He started to come out of his shell. He became less anxious outside. His tail wagged when he saw people he knew. He progressed but he still had ways to go and we were worried it was going to be hard to get him adopted because the majority of the general public wants typical, well-adjusted dogs. I put up a Facebook post about Basquiat on the day he went into adoption at TAS.


Within 12 hours that post was shared over 700 times resulting in thousands of views. The next morning, eight people were lined up at the shelter before it was even open waiting to do meet and greets with Basquiat. The first person that met Basquiat, adopted him. Basquiat was in his new home by noon. He was only up for adoption for a day and a half. With a supportive community, it’s amazing how quickly a homeless animal’s life can be changed.


I’ve walked and photographed over a thousand dogs. I’ve lost count.


Right now I have one dog. Her name is Simone. She’s a black medium size dog. She’s basically a mutt.

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