Ever since she was a child, Jo-Anne McArthur has had a soft spot for animals. At 11, she noticed a barking rottweiler mix locked in a nearby backyard. "[His family] didn't have time to walk him, and he needed to run and play, like any kid," says Jo-Anne, who promptly asked the owners if she could take him for regular walks around her Ottawa neighbourhood. And she happily remembers being "yanked down the street by this huge dog going nuts with his freedom."
So began a long friendship with Duke, the dog, and a love affair with all creatures great and small that has inspired Jo-Anne, now 28, to help needy, neglected and abused animals ever since. "I have to do something," says the globe-trotting photographer, who lives in Toronto with her partner, Adam, and the dog and four budgies that she adopted from the Toronto Humane Society.
Sharing her experiences through photography
Jo-Anne has come up with a rewarding way to combine her love of travel with her passion for animals and her profession. A monkey chained to a windowsill in Ecuador showed her how her camera could make a difference. Trained to pick the pockets of passersby, "this poor little monkey was spending his life like that," says Jo-Anne. She took his picture and continues to photograph the animals she sees on travels through countries such as India, Peru and Turkey, where animal neglect and human poverty often coexist. Jo-Anne's pictures become part of her ongoing photo essay, "We Animals."
In an annual fall exhibit that Jo-Anne arranges, her pictures also serve another purpose: the arresting images of animals shown in what she calls a "human context" -- a starving dog foraging at a garbage dump, a fish tank inside a seafood restaurant -- raise funds that Jo-Anne donates to animal-aid organizations. Patrons can buy framed prints or, for a smaller donation, take home postcards.
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Her photographs raise awareness, as well. They help viewers see that animals have a value all their own and not as objects for human enjoyment and use. "I want to make people realize that animals have as much right to be here as we do," she says.
Jo-Anne's innovative event draws all kinds of people to participate: the gallery owner donates the space; Adam and his musician friends play for free; and other people show up to help Jo-Anne, who does all the vegan catering herself. Although the evening is lively and fun, her message hits home. "People are often profoundly moved," she says, and ask what else they can do to help.
For a good cause
The funds from this year's exhibit are earmarked for the Animal India Trust, which spays, neuters and inoculates street dogs against rabies in a country where about 18,000 people die of rabies each year.
A volunteer with the Toronto Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary (a nonprofit American rescue group) and the Jane Goodall Institute, among her other roles, Jo-Anne stays focused on opening eyes, changing attitudes and offering real help: at home, she drives around with a "Say No to Foie Gras" bumper sticker.
Abroad, she travels through "countries where animals are always tied up or forced to work" and carefully records their plight. "They have nervous systems, they feel pain, and they can't speak up for themselves," she says. But words may not be necessary; Jo-Anne's pictures say it all.
• To see some of Jo-Anne's photographs, visit joannemcarthur.com.
• To learn more about the organizations she supports, visit: animalindiatrust.org; farmsanctuary.org; janegoodall.ca; and torontohumanesociety.com.