Sylvia Elzafon just spent the past three minutes trying to get Kyle to sit still. The 25-pound chestnut boxer mix won’t have it. He has been released from his cage at Dallas Animal Services, and he’s ready to play. So Elzafon and volunteer Shelly Johnson indulge Kyle. They romp around the 5-by-10-foot cubicle, ruffling up the gray carpet, bumping into the background paper, and coming precariously close to the camera lights.

dog_02 photography by Sylvia Elzafon

Elzafon, a petite 31-year-old, pulls her short, dark hair into a ponytail and declares that it’s time to try again. Johnson gently grabs Kyle’s hindquarters and nudges his head in the right direction. Again, he won’t look at the camera. Elzafon snaps a photo anyway. At the sound of the shutter, Kyle cocks his head, furrows his brow, raises his ears, and looks directly into the camera. That’s when Elzafon snaps the photo that will hopefully get Kyle adopted.

Elzafon will spend the rest of the afternoon taking photos of Barlo, Tick, Spindarella, and 10 other dogs. Her jeans and t-shirt will be covered in dog hair and slobber by the time she leaves. She won’t get paid for these photos or her time. But for Elzafon, it’s worth it. “Those are really the two most important things to me—photography and animals,” she says. “I found a way to kind of put the two together.”

Seven years ago, Elzafon joined a friend as she went to the animal shelter. “I was just beginning to understand the shelter world and the issues there,” she says. From that trip, she was inspired to take photos of the dogs in their cages. “The photos were very dark,” she says. “People were very choked up and moved to tears. It’s great that it evoked emotion. It was raw.”

But after that first round of photos, Elzafon had a revelation: when people feel guilty and sad, they do less. Now she takes a different approach. When she goes to the Arlington and Dallas shelters, she brings bow ties and squeaky toys with her. She takes the dogs out of their cages, plays with them, calms their fears, and captures their personalities.

“What I’ve realized is that both sets of images have their place, but the current set is a little more effective.” Her last series has paid off. She was featured on Huffington Post and in Bark magazine, and she has helped about 600 dogs (and a few cats) find forever homes.