Mad Men and Cats and Bunnies, Oh My!

All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena / Ottawa Humane Society
All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena / Ottawa Humane Society / All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena / Ottawa Humane Society

It’s a bittersweet day for Mad Men fans as tonight marks the end of an eight-year affair with ad man extraordinaire Don Draper. While some devotees are binge-watching their way through each of the series’ seven seasons, others are paying tribute in much more unique—and adorable—ways. Learning toward the latter side of those options are the Ottawa Humane Society and photographer Rohit Saxena.

Just one week ago, we shared some photos from their recent Star Wars-themed photo shoot of adoptable animals. Today, they're back at it again with a series of evocative photos that pose a variety of shelter animals with a few of Don Draper’s favorite things, including but not limited to (animal-safe) booze and (candy) cigarettes.

Such pop culture-themed pet photo shoots are nothing new for Saxena, who has been a photographer for the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS)—a nonprofit organization that assists more than 10,000 animals per year—for five years.

“We recently talked about experimenting with a new approach directed at a different audience telling a new kind of story,” Saxena explains of how the idea came about. “Around that time, we partnered with the Ottawa Citizen on a Petfinder feature, and the initiative has been really popular so far.”

In addition to Star Wars, Saxena and OHS have paid photographic tribute to Game of Thrones, Cupcake Day, the Super Bowl, and animals as hipsters. And they’ve received plenty of attention for their efforts—both from the media at large and potential pet parents.

“We have seen tremendous interest from the community and obviously through the Internet and social media,” says Saxena of the initiative’s success thus far. “People who may not have been checking the adoptable animals regularly now have a compelling reason to seek that out weekly, and that tells me that we are growing the base of people considering adopting shelter pets as their first option.”

While the first goal, of course, is to raise awareness for the Ottawa Humane Society’s mission and pet adoption overall, “The side goal of the campaign,” says Saxena, “is to make people smile when they see shelter animal photos, and to make people everywhere want to visit their local shelters and rescues when they're looking to add animals to the family.”

“Even before the themes, my volunteer team's goal every week is to photograph every animal in the shelter looking for a forever home, and we've gotten really good at getting 20 to 25 adoption portraits done in the space of two hours on a Sunday morning,” explains Saxena. “For a setup like Mad Men, we had a low-key black photo set in parallel with our high-key white photo set, and my two assistants are integral in making every second count.”

Adorable looks aside, not every adoptable cutie is ready for his or her close-up. “Not everyone wants to be in show business,” jokes Saxena, “so we'll just attempt an adoption portrait for the shy subjects.”

There’s also that tiny matter of animals being a little, well, unpredictable when it comes to behavior. So sometimes it helps to have a bag of tricks at the ready. “I have been known to try an actual duck call or frantically make Donald Duck noises to intrigue animals into eye contact,” admits Saxena. “Crinkling foil, squeaky toys, or phone apps that play sound effects are all things that we'll try to get our subjects to look right into the lens—not always needed, but it works more than it doesn't!”

Though the themed shoots are still a relatively new endeavor for the group, Saxena says that, “Time will tell if this campaign makes a measurable lasting difference, but we're patient and having fun. We'll keep working hard for the animals, as we have since 1888, and for 10,000 lost, abandoned, abused, or neglected animals every year.”