Save Them

January 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
After having completed two successful TATTOOS & RESCUES photo sessions with Sarge in September of 2012, then Gooch & Dexter in November, I wondered where I was going to take this project next.  I knew there were way too many stories that needed to be told but I needed to find them.  While browsing around on Facebook one night I happened upon this profile of a person that was a mutual friend of some rescue contacts I had made.  I remembered this gentleman because of a set of distinctive words being tattooed across his knuckles, his name is Richard Burgess.  He had been with the Birmingham/Jefferson County Animal Control office and was in the process of moving to Huntsville, Alabama.  I didn't know much about his background other than that of his knuckle tattoos and that he seemed like a nice guy of the few times I had interacted with him.  I asked him if he would be interested in being in the TATTOOS & RESCUES project because let's face it, a SAVE THEM tattoo in a prominent place such as the hands is definitely too good to pass up.  
While I knew I wanted Richard in the project I didn't know how we were going to pull it off.  He told me he had two American Pit Bull Terriers named Johnny Rotten and Annabelle and he would be stoked to have them be in the project and I definitely agreed.  In middle December we were kicking around shooting ideas and dates while I found out Richard was formerly a part of Bama Bully Rescue in Birmingham, Alabama.  He and his wife Jennifer had moved to Huntsville to be closer to her family and she would soon reveal that she was expecting their first child, Benjamin.  With the holidays coming up soon we both had family obligations to keep so we had lost touch for a few weeks while Christmas and New Year's came and went.   
On January 13th, 2013 I saw a photo of this puppy that came across my news feed.  Richard had shared and posted the photo.  The puppy was very young, maybe not even 10 weeks old.  His face was bleeding from a hole in his brow, blood was running out of his nose, his right side of his face was swelling.  While the puppy was at the vet I sparesly was able to connect to Richard as his phone signal was intermittent with all the medical devices around.  He told me that the puppy was rescued by Rescue-A-Bull Pit Bull Rescue in Huntsville a few days earlier.  While in foster care he had been attacked by an older dog that had shown aggression signals towards other dogs.  The human in the home went to the bathroom leaving the two dogs unsupervised.  After a few moments there was a loud cry and the human came out to see the puppy on the floor bleeding around his eye and nose.  She contacted the rescue and Richard rushed over to her house to evaluate the situation, this photo was taken minutes after grabbing the puppy out of her house and rushed to the emergency vet for immediate care.  
 
The puppy was examined and required 7 stitches to repair the damage in his face and stop the bleeding.  Due to the force of the attack his sinus cavity was crushed into 4 separate pieces which also required remediation.  He would need a lot of care and time to recover.  It was not known at the time if he had suffered any brain or nerve damage as a result of the attack.  Richard & Jennifer decided to let the puppy recover at their home until he recovered and then they would try to find him a forever home, but that's getting a little ahead.  Once he was home, he was of course kept in their master bedroom away from the other dogs and their cats so he could sleep that night.  
 
You could definitely tell the puppy, who by now is named Major's Miracle, or Major to his friends, was definitely not feeling great the first night and next day.  His face was more swollen and he had dried blood on his wounds which had been cleaned and stitched but he was sore and while recovering his wounds might ooze, etc.  After about 2-3 days he started acting more like a puppy, although he was still not romping around which I can't say that I blame him.  Richard did notice he was a little sluggish and it was determined that Major had a vitamin deficiency and he needed a supplement to help.  Major was definitely a runt and his injuries from the attack certainly didn't help.  Once Major was feeling a bit better Richard posted some photos of him to Facebook, even creating a custom page just for the injured pup.  I came across the photo that would instantly light a fire under my ass about getting to Huntsville and getting Richard in the TATTOOS & RESCUES project, with Major.  I saw that he was officially fostering Major and that he was recovered enough from his injury to have visitors and so I took off.  
 
Not knowing what to expect from the situation, after all I thought to Richard and his family I'm just a crazy guy who is driving all the way to Huntsville from Birmingham to take pictures of a homeless dog that was not photogenic in his current physical condition.  Through some miraculous turn I come to find that Richard has worked in rescue a long time and had seen a lot worse injuries than Major's, though his was a significant injury nonetheless.  Upon arriving I met Richard and he was probably one of the friendliest people I had ever come across.  Very welcoming into his home, quickly introduced me to his dogs Johnny Rotten and Annabelle, and their cats.  I had not been around very many pit bulls up to this point but I certainly wasn't coming into this with the closed-minded approach that they would attack me if they simply saw me.  
Once the introductions were complete with the welcoming committee we then adjourn to the master bedroom behind the baby gate and sitting in a crate in the corner near the bathroom is Major.  Richard opened the door to the crate and out walked one of the smallest puppies I had ever seen.  He was filling out now that he was getting good food and vitamins but you could certainly tell he had not been in a good situation prior to Richard taking him in.  He was very friendly and wanted to say hello, tail wagging like crazy of course, we sat and talked for a bit and I have to say that if there is such a thing as being star struck I would say that was it.  I literally felt myself getting a bit nervous because I wanted to make sure I told his story correctly and that I couldn't let him down.  
By now Jennifer had arrived home and she help me set up some lighting for the bedroom shots that would begin this photo session.  Once the lens selection was made and lighting and settings double checked I asked Richard and Major to just hang out and let's see how Major does.  It was within 30 seconds that I knew this shoot was going to be so much fun, Major was a pro, he acted like he had been in front of a camera for years.  "One of his favorite places to sleep is right next to my head in the crook of my neck." Richard said.  It was difficult to know if they were pretending to sleep or if they were actually sleeping, that's how comfortable they both were with each other.  After a while of this setup we decided to move outside and try to some shots there.  In order to not compromise Major's compromised immune system he could not be placed on the grass in the back yard as they had another dog at their house that had gotten sick so better to be safe than sorry.  
 
We decided to place Major on an outdoor table with a cover on it.  Time to do a predetermined shot, I had seen this shot in my head for about 3 days before coming to the shoot but I had no idea how it would work.  The idea I had was to have Richard's hands making a heart shape and have Major's head in the middle and you could see the SAVE THEM tattoo on his knuckles.  I took about 30 or so shots of this setup and quickly realized it looked like Richard was choking Major, and was not the image I wanted to capture, and no Richard wasn't choking Major.  I asked Richard to do some different things with his hands and for about 3-4 minutes nothing was working, until Richard curled his hands into slight fists, "THAT'S IT" I yelled.  Three or four shots of Major looking completely uninterested and on the 5th shot, BAM!  I knew we had it the instant I saw it on the LCD screen on my camera.  I was stoked!  I knew I would definitely want a print, Richard probably would, and whoever decided to give Major a forever home would want one.  If those 3 prints were made I knew I had accomplished my goal, and I would be able to say I did something that was a passion for me, and that was telling the story of this little injured puppy.  Little did I know, we weren't done yet.  
Tattoos & Rescues - Save ThemPhotographer Brian Batista's project Tattoos & Rescues features images of tattooed advocates and their rescued pets. Click here to learn more!  
Richard said he had a friend who also lived in Huntsville that had rescued a pit bull from his former rescue Bama Bully Rescue, and also a couple of friends that worked at a local tattoo shop and we should go by and see them.  One of the tattoo shop workers was covered in tattoos and she might be good to talk to about doing a shoot.  "HELL YES!  I'm in!"  Of course Major was going with us, after all he had done so well with his first session that another one might happen.  After about a 10 minute drive we arrived and I met Amber & Mike, the heart and soul of BAMA TATTOO.  This was Amber and Mike's first real session with meeting pit bulls and Amber did admit that she was not very knowledgeable about the breed.  
After dinking around a bit more with this setup Amber went to sit down on the couch to take a break, all this time Major is sitting in Richard's lap just snoozing away, he has had a long day.  Of course the appeal of a cute puppy, especially one that's been through a rough few days takes over even the best of us and Amber asks if she can hold Major.  While Amber is holding and petting Major he does everything he can to stay awake and bask in the attention of all of these new people, however a warm lap and petting are a tired puppy's kryptonite.  After about 2 minutes Major is snoring away so of course the is the perfect time to take some adorable puppy photographs, I think the images resonate so much more because he has stitches in his face.
 
Save Them puppy posing with his foster dad Richard Burgess  
While shooting these photos I notice while Major was breathing that his skin under the stitches raises and lowers with his breath, apparently this is a condition due to his type of injury.  He also makes a lot of funny nasal noises when he breathes which is a sign that his injury while very serious, did yield some funny noises.  He sounded like a 90 year old man snoring, it was cute.  For our final shot of the night we decided that it would be funny to have Richard actually getting a tattoo while Major was with him in the studio.  For those of you that don't know, it is illegal in the State of Alabama for anyone to be tattooed in a shop while an animal is present, therefore this tattoo session IS NOT REAL, but the idea is really awesome.  
 
 
 
Major was a complete rock star for his first photo shoot, I met some really awesome people and I hope to continue to work with them in the future!
 
Follow Major on FACEBOOK  
To make a donation to Major's rescue organization visit Rescue-A-Bull's website.  

 


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