2017-07-05 / Up Close

Pet Pixels

Trina Bauer captures pets at their best moments to preserve memories for years to come.
Hyun Soo Lee | photos by Trina Bauer

Trina Bauer always knew she wanted to work with animals, starting her in-home pet-sitting service Pet Pals Plus shortly after graduating from Penn State. But a pivotal moment eight years ago pushed her into a new animal-focused venture: pet photography.

One of her dogs became sick and needed emergency surgery. Doctors explained to Bauer that the surgery could reveal a cancer so far spread that they would recommend letting her dog go for good. So, while she was sitting in the waiting room awaiting the outcome of the surgery, Bauer had an urge to go home and get out all of the photos she had of her dog — and realized she didn’t have very many.

“I vowed at that point that if she survived the surgery, I would photograph her every day until I didn’t have her anymore,” she recalls.

Her dog was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that had already spread, and she lived for seven more months. Bauer spent that time taking numerous photos of her dog, while slowly realizing her interest in photography would turn into something bigger.

Trina Bauer Photography specializes in photographing animals of all shapes and sizes, from dogs and cats to horses, chickens and guinea pigs. Clients can opt to have their pets photographed with or without people, in an environment pre-selected by Bauer or a location of their choice. “It all depends on the people and what they want for their animal,” she says.

A lifelong State College resident, Bauer attended State High and graduated from Penn State in 1990 with a degree in animal behavior before starting Pet Pals Plus. During her time pet-sitting, she made a habit of photographing her clients’ pets and liked to make scrapbooks of them. As a longtime volunteer at Centre County PAWS, she also has been photographing the homeless cats and kittens for its website.

Bauer runs her photography business alongside Pet Pals Plus, which has serviced more than 1,000 clients over the years. Her degree in animal behavior and years of pet-sitting experience have contributed greatly to her photography sessions, as animals are often unpredictable. She says a large part of the business is knowing how to make the pets comfortable and getting their attention so that their personalities come out in the images.

“I have all kinds of tricks that I use to get their attention …  and basically, to get them to stay still for one split second so that I can capture that moment,” she says. “Animals just operate to their own tune, so it’s definitely very, very different than working with any other subject.”

A lot of what I do is reading their language and working with them so that I get them comfortable and get them where they are happy.

Dogs, for example, may react differently to certain environments or situations, so she says it’s important to read into their body language to understand how they are feeling at a given time.  “A lot of what I do is reading their language and working with them so that I get them comfortable and get them where they are happy,” she says.

Lisa Bahr, director of operations at Centre County PAWS, has seen Bauer in action and says she appreciates the high level of understanding she exhibits in working with animals at the shelter. “I’m always excited to see the shots that she comes up with,” Bahr says. “She’s really creative and always coming up with new backgrounds and new props to use.”

Bauer’s work has been an important fixture in PAWS’ advertising efforts — she is responsible for showing the cats and kittens in their best possible light, making them more appealing to potential adopters. “We send out more than 500 cats a year, and it’s her goal to get a photo of every one of them,” says Bahr.  

While Pet Pals Plus has thrived for more than 25 years, Bauer says her ultimate goal is to transition into photography full time and further her passion for helping animals. She envisions a future where she can use her photography to benefit certain causes, like documenting the stories of animals that are facing extinction. “It may be that I’ll do it just for shelter animals, like I am already with PAWS,” Bauer says.

“But I would like to be able to use my skills to somehow give back to the animals and help their causes, whatever those might be.”

Photo by William Raco PhotographyPhoto by William Raco PhotographyAs she has noticed all too clearly from owning and working with pets her whole life, one reason she took on pet photography is the brevity and fleeting nature of animals’ lives compared to people. “The very idea is that pets don’t live as long as we do. We don’t have milestones with them like we do with people,” Bauer says. And she feels they deserve the same kind of photographic treatment that we indulge in for our many newborn photos, wedding shoots and family reunions.

“More and more people are spending money on pets. You hear about them calling them their ‘fur kids’ or their ‘babies,’” she says. “So, it’s really about documenting and capturing their pets… so that they can have those memories when they’re gone.” •SCM

Return to top