I’ve always loved a mutt. They don’t get enough credit for being just as smart, just as cute, and just as loveable as a purebred dog. And they’re just as, if not more, devoted and loyal to their humans, and often less plagued by breed-specific health problems.
But my favorite part about a mutt? They’re unexpected. These mutts are a genetic mystery (at least until the advent of dog DNA kits). They require you to accept them for what they are, with no expectations. And there’s something really beautiful about that kind of unconditional love.
There has never been a significant length of time in my life that didn’t have a mixed breed rescue dog in my sphere. Our Border Collie mix named Spike helped me learn to walk when I was a baby. Our hound mix, named Chester, was my calm companion during my teenage angst years. My current St Bernard/German Shepherd mix, Jasper, is my soulmate dog. They were all the inspiration for my first book, MUTTS: A Celebration of Mystery Mixed Breeds.
My sister actually suggested I make a portrait book of dogs, similar to the albums I create as a portrait photographer in my New Orleans studio for my clients. I did some research into existing coffee table books featuring dogs and discovered there actually isn’t one that is purely devoted to mutts. There are some beautiful breed/mix specific books, and some books of dog portraits that included a few mutts along with mostly purebred canines…but nothing featuring only mixed breeds. So, MUTTS was born!
I’d never published a book and had no idea where to start. I met with a friend who had published some children’s books, and she put me in touch with her publisher, Susan Schadt Press. Luckily for me, Susan is local, and actually specializes in telling stories through the combination of storytelling and photography: my perfect match! She was so helpful in guiding me through the entire process. I thought the majority of the work for this book would be the photography of 100+ dogs in two months… but that was really maybe 40% of it. Expressing my minimalist vision for this book to the designers (the amazingly gifted Doug Turshen and Steve Turner), fact-checking the information I wrote about each dog, checking printer proofs, choosing and then working with a publicist (the fantastic Ellen at Books Forward PR), all took much more time than I had anticipated.
We then had to deal with printer setbacks due to a supply chain paper shortage at the time of printing. It made me so very grateful that I have such an amazing publishing team curated by Susan.
The most difficult part of writing and photographing this book was logistics. The logistics of selecting pups to be photographed, getting them scheduled to come into the studio, calling their humans when we needed more information about them, scheduling my dog handler for each session, double-checking and triple-checking that the correct writing was with the correct dog, buying treats and Clorox wipes in bulk, etc.
The actual production of the book required the cooperation of literally hundreds of people AND their dogs, not to mention significant effort from local rescues. I am so proud of the work that each person did for every dog to appear in the book: not just me, but also my dog handler, my studio manager, the dog’s owners, and even some dogs’ foster families or rescue volunteers who brought in some pups that were still waiting for their forever families.
The easiest part of the book was, by far, writing the pithy comments that go with each dog’s portrait. That wasn’t even originally part of the book concept – it evolved as I started sending in material to the book designer.
One or two of those first dogs’ owners told me something funny, or special, about them during their sessions. As the first “batch” of dogs came together, I realized I wanted to include some unique fact about each dog. The trick was not to mar my minimalist vision for the design – so I rewrote the information to be as succinct as possible while still providing a deeper connection to the dog pictured.
Now, aside from the photographs themselves, that’s everyone’s favorite part of the book. I want my readers to feel joy and connection when they read MUTTS. Most of all, I want people to see that mutts have just as many desirable qualities as purebred dogs do, and that you can find literally ANY kind of dog in a local shelter or rescue. Purebred dogs, mutts, small or big dogs, active or lazy dogs, gorgeous or funny-looking dogs… I guarantee there is a dog to fit your lifestyle who needs to be rescued.
Over 500,000 (half a MILLION!) dogs are killed in the US every year because shelters are overwhelmed, and not enough people are adopting pets. Dogs are a study in letting go of the past and living in the moment. They help us feel joy more often and love more deeply. I promise there is no way someone gets through MUTTS without smiling.
Readers are posting videos of their kids looking through the book and laughing, and I love that it’s as appealing to a 5-year-old as it is to a 90-year-old. The best compliment I’ve gotten so far is from a friend of my mom’s, who ordered 3 copies. She initially said she was going to give them all as gifts because “she’s not a dog person” … but that she loved it so much she was keeping one.
After five years as a United Nations photographer working in combat zones, Olivia Pritchard moved to New Orleans in 2012 and began serving families with her unique perspective of the visual legacy we want to create for our children (with fur and without!). Through her work behind the camera and creating her archival-quality artwork that families cherish for generations, Olivia preserves both the milestone and the everyday memories.
Olivia has owned mutts her whole life—from a border collie mix named Spike that her mom found as a puppy trying to get milk out of a carton and a husky mix named Wylie who met the school bus every afternoon, to the most loyal hound / shepherd mix named Chester who loved to sun himself in a certain spot in the front yard. So it's no surprise that as an adult, she has a 120 pound St. Bernard / retriever / shepherd rescue named Jasper—the most patient, protective, devoted dog ever.
The subject is always the focus of her portraits, and Olivia seeks honesty and authenticity in her art. Find out more about Olivia on her website: https://www.oliviagreypritchard.com/.