She Focuses on Making Herself the Top Dog as a Pet Photographer


Late in life, Shirley Isaacs focused on a new career after working as a juvenile court probation officer, a Girl Scout field director and school teacher. And through those years, she always had a love for animals.

“It seems I was always rescuing dogs so I had this thought that I should do something involving animals, especially dogs and cats,” Issacs said. She enrolled 10 years ago in an Orange Coast College photography class and today, at age 63, operates what she says is the only photo studio in Orange County dealing exclusively with dogs and cats.

Because of her age and a longtime cigarette habit that left her short of breath, “I knew I couldn’t keep up with younger photographers on outside assignments, so I opened my own studio,” said Isaacs, who works out of her converted three-car garage, which is lined with framed portraits of her work.


The hard part was learning how to operate cameras. “I knew I had a rapport with animals and could make it taking portraits of dogs and cats,” she said. “I like to think I’m top dog photographer.”

Isaacs said pets are no more difficult than children in front of a camera. “If anything, pets take longer because I have to spend time just getting acquainted and to make sure they’re comfortable,” she said “I usually have to take them out for a drink of water and walk them around during the sitting.”

Like humans, she said, “each pet has a personality and that’s what I want to capture. Often, I’m with the pet for two hours to get the right expression,” and sometimes she resorts to such ploys as squeaky toys, bird sounds, banging on doors and snapping fingers to get their attention.

For all this, she charges about $70 for 20 exposures “and that price is in line with any good people studio.”

About now, Isaacs feels her reputation is expanding, largely through word of mouth, such as that from a wealthy client who brought two Russian wolfhounds to her studio in a limousine and later ordered a series of pictures for Christmas gifts.

Despite her announced love for all animals, Isaacs faces some challenges. “I once had a man who wanted me to take a portrait of his python,” she said. “I told him he would have to bring it in on a leash. He never came back.”


Listen to Los Alamitos High School teacher James Cross, 38, and you get an instant motivation lesson, which probably was part of the reason he was one of four California Teacher of the Year candidates.

Although Cross was named a runner-up, he said that being a finalist was reward enough, considering that there are 150,000 teachers in the California.

But more importantly, said Cross, who has been a teacher for 16 years, “The students benefit because (the contest) gives all teachers a boost and shows what they can do. Hey, it’s a tough world out there, and students know they better get good training or they’ll be lost.”

An instructor in world cultures and future studies, Cross admits: “I’m very demanding, but I love ‘em a ton and I care for them. I want to push them hard to be all they can be.”

Acknowledgements--Arnold O. Beckman of Corona del Mar, internationally recognized scientist, educator, civic leader and philanthropist, selected to receive the annual Humanitarian of the Year Award from the North Orange County YMCA . . . Betty Smith of Anaheim, a registered nurse at Humana Hospital in West Anaheim, selected from 11,000 Humana employees in seven states to receive the company’s Pacific Region Nursing Excellence award.