By MOLLY BILINSKI, The (Allentown) Morning Call
Sitting Monday morning in what once was a diner on Slatington’s Main Street, tears welled in Maggie Ewald’s eyes as she spoke about all the ways people can help others by putting their passions to work.
For some, that might mean volunteering with children or homeless people, fighting human trafficking or helping to uplift their local community, she said.
For her, it means showing others what shelter dogs and cats look like through her camera lens, and raising money for area rescues.
“They can only be heard through us,” Ewald said. “There’s no other way. We, as people, need to advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
Ewald is putting her passion for helping rescues into practice through a new studio, Slobbery Dog Photography, 662 Main St., which opened on a recent weekend.
The space, about 10 times the size of her home studio in Orefield that she affectionately called “The Noodle,” is full of light streaming in from the large front windows. The red and white checkered floor, along with a counter near the back, betray the building’s former purpose, but there are pet dishes near the door, baskets full of toys and large prints on the walls of dogs with tennis balls midcatch, tongues lolling.
To the left of the front door, mismatched letters spell out “WUF” on the wall, and just inside the threshold, books about dogs are stacked on an end table.
“I wanted to create a space that feels like home when you come in, that feels comfortable and you can relax in immediately,” Ewald said.
Ewald has been a professional photographer for 13 years, focusing on weddings and families. It was only over the last year or so that she switched focus to four-legged subjects, after a couple of years volunteering at local shelters and seeing a need for community support.
And while the studio is geared toward animals, she’s welcoming human clients for sessions too.
“Slobbery Dog was born with the idea that, yes, it’s a business and I’m hoping for the clients who will book me and who will invest in wall art and invest in coming here to have their dog photographed,” she said. “But that kind of is the means to be able to donate my time to photograph the shelter dogs, but also to photograph to raise money and to raise donations.”
Last summer, she started a Senior for Senior program, where she asked clients to find a senior shelter dog or one that had been at a rescue for a long time and donate her session fee there. In exchange, she’d photograph the client’s dog for free.
Then, in November, she started a calendar fundraiser for the Lehigh County Humane Society, for which she photographed 31 dogs in eight hours.
She laughed, remembering the effort, and described it as a “crazy” day.
The initiative was a success, with 300 calendars sold, she said. Another calendar project raised $880 for Peaceable Kingdom in Whitehall Township.
This year, she hopes to expand the Senior for Senior program, getting donations for a different rescue or shelter each month.
“I know people want to help — they just want to know how,” she said. “And sometimes people, like a lot of people, will do it for nothing in return, but sometimes people do want to have something, and have a session or having portraits of their dog.”
Ewald has been looking for a larger space for a while now, she said, especially for those clients who wanted to bring in four or five dogs at the same time for a shoot. But a tight budget meant Allentown or Bethlehem were ruled out.
She wanted a location with a “small town feel” and found it driving through Slatington. After reaching out to friends and borough officials, she found her studio space.
“It’s businesses who will come into these smaller communities who can also help to revitalize it and to bring some life and to bring something different in — something new,” she said. “I was always impressed by how clean this area is. It’s friendly — like people walk by and just wave.”
The pandemic, she said, gave her a chance to refocus her priorities and hone in on her passion for helping shelter animals, especially after 14 weddings she was booked to photograph were postponed last year.
“The first couple of weeks, I just sat there in front of my computer and I was lost,” she said. “It seemed like there’s all this stuff that just drives me and I thrive on, and it just disappeared.”
But instead of dwelling on what she lost, Ewald saw it as an opportunity.
“So, in all this, this awful situation — and it’s so much loss; I know people who had to close their businesses, I know people who lost their loved ones — it’s almost like a silver lining,” she said. “We were able to enrich our lives in so many other ways. I think that a lot of good came out of a lot of bad.”
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