Kiley Wirtz Jennings, a Dallas-based model, doesn’t get many days off. But a couple of years ago, she found herself with some rare spare time and spent it, as so many of us do, on Facebook.
Except that Jennings (whose first name is pronounced “Keel-ey”) found something that shook her up.
“I saw a short video, it was like a 3-minute video, on this undercover investigation that CAPS [Companion Animal Protection Society] had done with this Oklahoma-based puppy mill,” Jennings said in a recent phone interview. “I had no idea how these animals were treated. And I also didn’t know the correlation between pet shops and puppy mills -- that 99 percent of the dogs come from these little backyard breeders, typically out in Oklahoma and in the South. I watched the video, and it just floored me. Just hearing this woman speak and how she treated these animals. I thought, ‘There has to be something I can I do to help.’ ”
Jennings, who is originally from Portland, is well-connected in the modeling industry -- not just with models but with photographers, stylists, makeup artists and others -- and thought her connections could be of use to CAPS.
“I know a lot of giving people in this industry who will help in situations where they might not necessarily be able to go undercover,” Jennings said. “I wrote [CAPS a little email and said, ‘I don’t know if you would ever need models for a new ad campaign, but in that department, I can help.’ ”
She heard back immediately. Even though CAPS aids abused animals, it had found that people would tend to skip over or fast-forward through campaigns that included images of those animals. “But if you throw some beautiful women in there, people will stop a little longer to look,” Jennings said. “So I called in some favors and called in my friends, [and] everybody I contacted said yes.”
The result was the Models Against Pet Shops and Puppy Mills campaign, which features Jennings and other DFW-based models. Shooting took place entirely in Fort Worth in and near the Southside studio of photographer Simon Lopez. And the shoot happened during the brutal heat wave of 2011, but nobody complained.
“No one was paid,” Jennings says. “Everybody took a full day and shot in the heat, inside, outside. One of the girls in the shoot, Nina Shaw was four months pregnant at the time.”
McKinney-based Moka’s Dog & Cat Rescue Center supplied the dogs for the shoot. “The dogs were great,” photographer Lopez says. “They were some of the best dogs I’ve ever worked with. It kind of opens your eyes top the things we can do in this industry and the time and materials we can donate.”
The campaign includes photo ads and video public-service announcements about puppy mills and “backyard breeders.”
After People magazine mentioned the campaign in an article about CAPS founder Deborah Howard this year. Jennings and her friends posted and reposted the People piece on social-media sites. But even with the more upbeat imagery, it’s been a little tough for CAPS and the models’ campaign to spread the word.
“We’ve run into the complaint sometime that people don’t really want to know about puppy mills,” Jennings says. “It’s a sad topic. We got some feedback from Ellen DeGeneres’ [show]. She’s a huge animal advocate, but they said the subject is so sad that viewers simply don’t want to see it. So we’re going to try to do something in the near future that might be a little kitschy. Not lighter, but a different vibe.”