When we see our neighbors walking their sad-faced pups, heads encased in a cone of shame, dog lovers often stop to provide a bit of comfort — a sympathetic smile, a slight nod or comforting pat. Canine coneheads in our neighborhoods tend to get more attention.
Not so in the shelter system where a cone around a downcast puppy face implies a sick dog chock-full of expensive problems. While often the cones are used for simple procedures, like spay/neuter, the coned canines don’t have much of a chance next to the pup in the next cage bouncing around and wagging his tail. Erin Einbender wanted to change this.
While finishing her degree at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Einbender started volunteering at One Tail at a Time, a Chicago animal shelter. Seeing some of these coneheads continuing to get overlooked, she had an idea.
“I realized I could use photography and my knowledge of social media to help the dogs find forever homes,” she says. “I was brainstorming ideas for my final photography project and came up with the idea of ‘Cones of Fame,’” in which she turned dog cones into art.
To get the project off the ground, she visited a local craft store for supplies, choosing, “brightly colored pom-poms, fake flowers and butterflies, gem stones…anything that would stand out and make a dog feel special.” Not only were the cones transformed into wearable art, but the sad-faced pups turned into instant superstars. The project helped “empower the dogs while educating people on the importance of spaying and neutering pets.” And the pups loved it.
“The dogs appeared more confident,” she says. “Some get sassy, some get goofy, others smile, they definitely pose. It’s really cute.” Of course, a generous supply of treats, balls, and squeaky toys helped make the dogs more comfortable.
The photos soon went viral. “I am amazed and humbled by all of the positive feedback I have received for this project,” says Einbender. “This was for an intro to photography project, and I had no idea it was going to go viral. It’s made me want to work harder to help these dogs and bring the community together.”
Einbender hopes people continue to enjoy her photographs but also change their perspective on coned dogs in shelters. Too many adoptable dogs are euthanized in the overcrowded shelter system every day because their time has run out.
She wants to expand all over the US with this project. “Eventually, I plan on reaching out to fashion designers and artists to design and decorate cones for a fashion show where I would auction the cones and sell prints to benefit dog rescues and possibly fund free spay/neuter clinics around the US.” She’s also considering creating a book and a calendar.
The possibilities are endless, she says. So far, her project has been a success: all of the dogs in her photo project were “discovered” by their forever families.