A bundle of cuddly, adorable kittens from the Benton Franklin Humane Society are gaining international fame.
Richland photographer Michael Kloth photographed them for a book, Shelter Cats, which was published by Merrell Publishing and released in September. It so far has sold almost 8,000 copies worldwide, Kloth said.
Though Kloth always has loved animals, he is allergic to cats. He still found photographing them a rewarding experience.
"I'm usually pretty good during my sessions. I premedicate," he said. "Even on the bad allergy days, it's still worth it because I really enjoy working with the cats, and I know a good portrait goes a long way toward bringing potential adopters to the shelters. In the end, it seems like a pretty small sacrifice."
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Besides, he has discovered through photography that cats are more playful than dogs.
The sessions run about three hours once a week at the Humane Society. He also visits Pasco's animal shelter about once a month.
The photos he takes at each establishment are used on petfinder.com to promote the animals for adoption.
"I've seen the hits on that website jump 70 percent once photos from the shelter were included," he said.
Kloth has been taking photographs of Humane Society dogs and cats for a couple of years. It started as a graduate study thesis in photography when he was enrolled in an online program through the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Though Kloth achieved his master's degree in fine art photography, he continued his pro bono work for shelter pets.
His book incorporates felines from the Tri-Cities as well as a few shelter cats he photographed while living in Kentucky. He moved to the Tri-Cities in 2008 when his wife took a job at Kadlec Medical Center in Richland.
Kloth also is an adjunct professor in photography at Washington State University Tri-Cities. He studied for a time with East Coast photographer Traer Scott, who photographed Merrell Publishing Co.'s Shelter Dogs and Street Dogs.
When the publisher asked her to do one on shelter cats, she declined, Kloth said.
"So she recommended me to the publisher, and that's how it all came about," he said.
Sometimes, however, Kloth says the job pulls at his heart strings because so many of the neglected and abandoned cats that come to the shelters have to be put down because of incurable infections.
An Egyptian Mau -- tagged P1834 -- was one of those tales. He photographed her twice during her 42-day stay at the animal shelter, and she is featured in the book.
"There was an intensity in her gaze, and she had exceptionally striking features," he wrote in the book. "I was surprised when she was not adopted quickly, and very sad when I learned she became ill and had to be put down."
Kloth says there is more to his photography than trifling with cute little kitties and capturing their playfulness.
"I do this photography because I want very much to help keep the public aware that they don't always have to go to a breeder or pet store to acquire a family pet," he said. "There are so many animals at the Humane Society and Tri-Cities Animal Shelter who need loving homes too."
He said what makes cats easier to photograph is that they are innately curious and even more playful as they leap and roll after cat toys. And that makes for good photography, he said.
"One thing I never use is catnip because cats just get way too excitable on that," he said. "There's always a lot of creative energy in the sessions I do. With cats, it's like a mental workout for me, a real physical workout for them."
Shelter Cats is available at Tri-City area bookstores and online at Amazon.com. It sells for $22.95.
To adopt a cat, visit the humane society online at www.bfhs.com or call 374-4235. The animal shelter is at 1312 S. 18th St., Pasco, or online at www.tri-citiesanimalshelter.com or call 545-3740.
Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org