Out celebrity photographer and TV personality Mike Ruiz has had everyone from Kim Kardashian to Prince in front on his lens — but once again he is using his keen eye and sense of visual style for a good cause with the latest edition of his “Heartthrobs and Hounds” calendar.
The benefit calendar features 19 months of male fitness models captured with adorable rescue dogs. All of the money from the sales of the calendar will support Lilo’s Promise Animal Rescue and Fur Friends in Need.
Ruiz, who rescued his dog Oliver, a pit bull who had been left for dead five years ago, said he picked the two organizations because of their efforts to rescue and find homes for dogs that other shelters and organizations won’t help.
“I usually do some research and find smaller organizations sthat need help and do really amazing work,” he said. “For example, Lilo’s Promise, they take very difficult abuse cases, which a lot of rescues won’t take, and they rehab them. The medical costs are a lot. They’re just a small organization and I feel like they need the help. Fur Friends In Need is in a similar situation. They’re a smaller organization. I know people who rescue from both of the organizations and they have a really good reputation and they’re selfless. They need the most help so those are the people I tend to want to help with the calendar.”
Ruiz said he tries to keep the calendar’s theme visually consistent from year to year yet also strives to incorporate fresh ideas to keep fans of the project excited about the subject matter.
“I tend to want to mix it up a little bit,” he said. “There’s a basic formula that I have to follow. The fitness models tend to look better in a standing position and them holding the dogs in a very particular way makes the dogs look better. There are certain criteria that we follow but the overall aesthetic of it, I try to change it where I can so it’s not the same old calendar every year. Basically it’s a branded thing but there is an element of surprise in it every year.”
Ruiz said he doesn’t know how many consumers his awareness-raising efforts have reached, but noted he knows the project educates the folks working behind the scenes
“We get so much exposure every time we do one of these calendars that, invariably, somebody is learning about animal rescue. Even some of the models who have adopted dogs from shelters and stuff aren’t familiar with the rescue process and the fact that dogs need to be fostered when they are pulled from high-kill shelters before they get adopted,” Ruiz said. “A lot of people get educated on that process from all of the press we do surrounding the calendar. That’s what I stress the most when I talk to anybody. It’s the process and how important it is to adopt a dog from a rescue as opposed to from a pet store or a breeder.”
Ruiz added that, even though there aren’t any big celebrities or magazines he is working for on the calendar shoots, he still strives to make a charity project like this a success.
“There’s still the pressure for it to be successful,” he said. “Nothing is ever a slam dunk these days. We all spend so much time and put so much blood, sweat and tears in producing these calendars that we want them to succeed. So we get a little nervous if sales are slow. We release in October and come Thanksgiving that’s when the sales really pick up. But until then, we’re all kind of sweating it. So there’s still a little bit of pressure.”
Someone like Ruiz has to have a considerable number of celebrities in his orbit, so we asked him if he ever considered making his charity pet calendars a star-studded affair to heighten its profile.
“I’ve tried and it’s tricky,” he said. “Unless they are heavy into animal rescue, it’s hard. There are so many layers to get to a celebrity; you have to go through management and publicity and it has to be the right calendar project. The logistics for it are just too complicated for a charitable project. At some point if I have producers, I might try. I try to keep costs at zero. We all donate our time and I donate the cost of producing the shoots. But we’d need a full-on producer to get celebrities and releases. It’s just a logistical nightmare. We’ve been successful using models. Some of them are celebrities in their own right. One of the models used to be an American Gladiator and he’s in a bunch of films and he’s super well-known in the bodybuilding and fitness worlds. So in that capacity, we’ve had some celebrities but when it comes to A-list it wouldn’t be cost-effective to produce a calendar like that.”
Once he’s done promoting the “Heartthrobs and Hounds” calendar, Ruiz said he is going to be focusing the majority of his attention on another photographic endeavor about which he is passionate.
“I’m working on an ongoing project, which will culminate in a book next year,” he said. “It’s called ‘Transmutation.’ Basically the idea behind it is how we all have to adapt and mutate in order to survive. The imagery reflects that. I’ve created all these weird strange mutants through body painting and costume design and a variety of elements. The images are weird and surreal. That’s my biggest personal project that I’m working on right now. It’s been going on for six months and I plan to keep shooting for another three or four months and then start compiling it into a book format.”