Tuesday brought my favorite part of preparing items for our Ottumwa Life magazine. I got to head over to Heartland Humane Society to get photos for the Adoptable Pets section.

It’s always a bittersweet photo session. I love spending time with the animals — particularly the dogs — and giving them some much-needed love and attention. And, softie that I am, at least one dog tends to win my heart over and tug at me. The temptation to add to our family gets very difficult during these sessions, but it doesn’t stop me from loving my time there.

For those of you who have never spent any time with these animals, you really should. They are so happy to get just a few minutes of care and attention, and it shows in both their body language and personality.

Most of the time, when I enter a dog’s kennel to take some photos, the task proves difficult because they waste no time in coming right up to me, giving kisses, cuddles and more. Some want to play, and others just want affection. But that close range makes it difficult to get a good photo.

Seeing how much love these animals have to give makes me look around with a wish to give them all a home. Unfortunately, that wish is not realistic.

My own dog Stark is a Heartland dog, and I actually came across him while doing photos for Ottumwa Life. I had to go out on a Saturday several years ago to reshoot a photo that didn’t turn out as I had hoped. I dragged Jason along with me. I had been chipping away at my dream of getting a dog for 10 years by that point, and I was almost there. He had promised me that when we no longer had any cats — we had homed up to three at one point — we could get a dog. Well, circumstances of life meant we were down to one cat, our original Felix. She’s an older, indoor/outdoor cat who, at that point, decided to take an extended leave. We thought, with her being older, she had maybe wandered off for good.

So, armed with the promise Jason had made me, I got him to agree to come along. Lo and behold that morning, when Jason got home from his 12-hour shift, Felix was waiting at the door.

I held Jason to his promise anyway. By that time, Colin’s hopes for a dog had gotten up as well, and Jason was defenseless. We headed out to reshoot the photo, and that’s when we found Stark.

He was a perfect fit for our family. He was about 3 years old, so he was past the overly energetic stage that takes a lot of training — he was even potty trained! Ever since, he has been an integral part of our family, and it’s hard to imagine our household without him. (Felix, a former stray, is still a part of our family as well.)

Stark has even won Jason completely over. On vacation a couple years ago, he looked over at me with a sad look on his face and said, “I miss the dog.”

That’s why I continue to do these photos. It’s my hope, by putting the faces of these dogs and cats that want nothing more than a safe, loving home, out to the public, it will convince more families to head out the Heartland — or any shelter, really — and find the next member of their family.

Those animals deserve it.

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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