From the people who brought you the viral sensation Dancers & Dogs comes an even more heartwarming project, this one based around helping homeless pets get adopted. Aptly titled “The Muttcracker,” the yearly endeavor from Kelly Pratt and Ian Kreidich features animals from Stray Rescue of St. Louis and teams them up with the St. Louis Ballet — longtime collaborators with the duo who perform “The Nutcracker” each winter.
Our followers have asked us from day one to feature dogs and cats that are up for adoption in our work. While the demands of our main project are too much for most untrained animals, we wanted to do something to raise awareness for rescues.
The St. Louis Ballet is a very animal-friendly company. For example, Gen Horiuchi, the artistic director, brings his dog Cesar to work every day. The ballet supplied the costumes from their ‘Nutcracker’ production and trusted us not to ruin them. They handled sign-ups and cast the dancers in the various roles.
For Dancers & Dogs, Kelly and Ian worked with the dancers’ pets, so the photographers could shoot more advanced poses. Since many of the dogs and cats featured in this work were rescued from the streets, they haven’t had much training, leaving Kelly and Ian to take a more pared-down approach to this animal-centered project.
Many of these dogs and cats have gone through really hard times, like being injured, malnourished, or sick, and most of them are not trained at all. This obviously makes posing more difficult, so for ‘Muttcracker,’ we keep the dancers’ poses very simple and sweet and don’t try to do any complicated moves.
The shoot took place at Stray Rescue in St. Louis to prevent the adoption agency from having to move the animals to a studio, but the room itself was quite tiny and had low ceilings. In order to mitigate this, Kelly and Ian used a technique that Ian came up with wherein he puts two paper backdrops together to create more horizontal space, laying the foundation for a polished final product with a holiday tinge.
Paper backdrops have their challenges, especially when working with dogs, but they’re the only reasonable way for us to use different color backgrounds.
We also added bokeh overlays to some of the images to add to the ‘Land of Sweets’ feel.
Though dogs are by and large more energetic than cats, the latter are tougher to shoot because of their general aversion to people they don’t know. Thus, Kelly and Ian went a slightly different route for that part of the shoot.
Cats are always more difficult to work with than dogs because there are very few cats that are comfortable in new spaces or with strangers.
We worked with kittens this year. That worked out fine because kittens are still learning what and who to trust, so they’re more open to new things.
It’s hard to find a more universally lovable piece of work than one that features orphaned pets taking part in a holiday classic. “The Muttcracker” has received tons of coverage over the years, which has opened up the adoption floodgates and led to most of the dogs and cats finding their forever homes.
We have gotten a lot of national coverage for ‘Muttcracker!’ Outlets like People Magazine and Hallmark Channel have covered the story. Last year, all of the dogs were adopted within a couple months of the project. And this year, at least nine of the dogs have found homes already — less than a month after we started.
One of Kelly and Ian’s favorite photos from this year’s batch of “awhh”-inducing imagery stars a chihuahua in the arms of the Mouse King from The Nutcracker. While a lot of animals might be petrified by an oversized mouse head (and for good reason), this little pup didn’t particularly care.
We weren’t sure if we’d be able to use that costume, because we didn’t want the dogs to be terrified of the giant mouse head. But it ended up being really easy because the chihuahua was blind, and therefore not scared at all!
Nightmare-generating mouse head aside, this little doggy’s story has the happiest ending of all. Her name is Iris and, as a result of Kelly and Ian’s work, found a new home: her old home.
Iris was actually reunited with her owners after being in the photo shoot! They had looked everywhere for her but didn’t know about Stray Rescue.
That was the best possible outcome for her!
Check out more of Kelly and Ian’s work at prattkreidich.com.
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