Once upon a time, long, long ago, high-class, stylish humans wore large ruffs around their necks proudly. It was a sign of their social status and stylishness to sport their absurdly huge neckwear. Today, if anyone is wearing a collar that large it’s usually our dogs – and it’s not because they want to be fancy.
The Elizabethan collar, or “E-collar,” isn’t considered the height of dog-fashion. In fact, it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum, along with doggy booties and diapers – something worn as a necessity that usually draws giggles from the people who see it. Not cool.
But where some people might ridicule, photographer Winnie Au saw a chance to redeem the “cone of shame.” By taking a thing we associate with a sick or injured dog and adding a little color and texture, Au was able to create a series that not only turned the E-collar into a stylish accessory, but also raises awareness for dogs in need of surgery.
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This is Collagio, a beautiful Great Dane I photographed for my #coneofshame series. Gorgeous cone by @marieyan ❤️🖤 This is a personal project I’ve been working on to raise awareness and funds for rescue dogs who need surgeries. Stay tuned as I’ll be launching a Kickstarter in 2019 where you’ll be able to donate, help pups, and get cool stuff featuring the series. #greatdane #greatdanesofinstagram #dogsofinstagram #elizabethancollar
“I have spent the last two years photographing dogs wearing cones for my Cone of Shame project, with the goal of promoting rescue dogs and highlighting their need for funds for medical treatments. There are 1.6 million dogs waiting to be rescued every year in America, and many of them have urgent medical needs.
“I wanted to take the traditionally sad image of a dog wearing an Elizabethan collar and turn it upside down with this series. The images are meant to make these dogs look majestic, proud, and beautiful. They should remind you that each of these dogs has overcome something to emerge as the wonderful creatures that they are.
“I worked with stylist Marie-Yan Morvan to conceive and create specific cones and backdrops for each of the dogs in this series. There were a lot of challenges in putting abstract cones on dogs. I would come up with an inspiration image or object (for example, a sea urchin), and then I would brainstorm with Marie-Yan how we could execute this.”
Rather than making the dogs look sickly or awkward, Au and Morvan’s cones make their wearers look fierce (in the fashion-sense!) Many of the photos are whimsical, but none of the dogs look to be ashamed of their extra-large accessory. And of course, the comfort and safety of the dogs was a priority while photographing her subjects.
“We had to make sure the cones were not too heavy and that they would be easy to take on and off. Safety was always our top concern, so above all we had to make sure what we were creating would be safe for each dog (non-toxic, not made of a food they are allergic to, etc.) We knew that dogs would not like weird noises, so we had to be conscious of using quiet materials. As with any dog project, the scale of the dogs was always something to consider, and we often made multiple cones for each dog to make sure the sizing, shape or overall concept would work.”
The results are bold, colorful photos that capture the eye and draw the viewer’s attention to a bigger issue – one close to Au’s heart.
“All of my personal photography work revolves around dogs, and I have an especially soft spot for rescues. I’m the proud owner of a basset hound rescue named Clementine. She was a puppy mill mom from Ohio, and she came to me as a very frightened adult dog who would hide from everyone. I had decided to foster her from Tri State Basset Rescue, after seeing a photo of her on their website. With this face, it was hard to not want to take her home.
“Even though we adopted Clementine as an adult, she has puppy-like qualities, because every day she sees and experiences new things. It has been so rewarding to see her change every day and gradually become more open and comfortable to the world. If you have a bit of patience and are looking for a new dog, I strongly encourage you to rescue – there are 3.3 million dogs who enter animal shelters every year, and only 50% of them get adopted.”
Au’s work with dogs and her personal experience with rescues has opened her eyes to the needs that rescues and shelters struggle to meet. The cones may be gorgeous, but they still represent a real issue. No-kill rescues refuse to euthanize dogs that have even the faintest glimmer of hope. They take in pups who are broken, sick, suffering, and dying to be loved. Surgeries and rehabilitation costs rescues thousands of dollars, but it’s worth it to save a life. Raising awareness and funds through her photos, Au hopes to save more lives through surgery.
Photos from Au’s Cone of Shame series are available as prints, notecards, bags and even pins from her website! Keep up with Cones of Shame and Winnie Au by following her on Instagram!
Featured Photo: @winniewow/Instagram
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