In 2012, I photographed more than 300 animals for Harbor Humane Society–just a tiny fraction of the total number of pets they sheltered. My goal with these photos was to go beyond the normal shelter photo–a quick grab of a scared animal behind bars or huddled in the corner, with bad lighting and worse focus. My feeling was that if I spent some time with the animals and got to know them outside of the kennel, I could maybe capture their true personalities, and use that photo online to help get them adopted.

One year later, let me start by saying this: there’s a reason so many shelter photos have bars, bad lighting and worse focus! I came home every time absolutely drained. No workout made me as tired as those days at the shelter. But I kept going back because I fell in love with the animals I met there. True enough, once I took an animal out of its kennel, I saw a whole different creature. Sometimes it happened as soon as I opened the kennel door and got the leash on. Sometimes it took a good 15 minutes or more of careful trust-building. But I can’t think of a single animal whose personality didn’t change once it was out from behind bars, getting attention, treats, play and space to run.

I started out wanting to do a slideshow of all the animals I met there this year, but it would have taken 10 minutes and a cup of coffee to watch! Instead, I put together a totally random sampling of all the beautiful animals I met that were looking for homes. Former pets of all breeds, sizes, personalities and backgrounds–not just crazy, untrainable beasts who misbehaved so badly they had to be abandoned. Yes, some of the animals I included are injured, abused and frightened. They were unlucky enough to have horrible owners. But so many of these animals just needed a place to call home, where they could give–and receive–a lifetime of love and affection!

Think you can’t find your perfect pet at a shelter? If you haven’t been to a shelter, I truly think you’ll be surprised at the animals you’ll find there. Sometimes you just need to give them a chance, keeping in mind how stressful it is for them to be in a kennel and away from the lives they used to know. Check out all the beautiful creatures I met this year, full of promise, personality and a longing for love.