Business is her pet project

In the makeshift studio, the models pose in beachwear or rain gear, even a bunny suit. They peer through cool sunglasses, present a smile-like grimace or just gaze into the camera. At times, a pink tongue hangs out between pointy teeth.

Marlene Barnes dresses and poses her pets against backdrops that hang in the living room of her Jarrettsville home. She has converted the space into a photo studio and made it the hub of her greeting-card business.


Her company - Dogonfunny Creations - is built around three dogs, all of which she and her husband rescued. Two former strays and a once-neglected puppy are the talent for a business endeavor that supports animal charities by donating a percentage of sales to rescue efforts.

Barnes, a former teacher, who became a professional photographer, said she tired of shooting weddings, reunions and parties. She wanted to combine her creativity and her passion for animals.


"I have always loved animals and wanted to do something for them," she said.

Ollie, Snoopy and Angel seem to know when Barnes is getting ready for a shoot.

"Snoopy charges in and, I swear, he smiles," she said. "Ollie put up with it for a while, but he is retired now. He is just too old to bother with posing. Then, there is Angel, with her pretty eyes that are so expressive."

The couple found Snoopy, an 11-year-old beagle, wandering along a Pennsylvania road. He had walked so long that his paws were swollen. And his eyes - one blue, one brown - led them to wonder about his vision.

"We thought we were rescuing a blind, lame dog, but we took him to the vet and he was fine," Barnes said.

They happened upon Ollie, a 16-year-old mixed terrier and the pet they have had the longest, on a visit to the Inner Harbor.

"We asked everyone," she said. "Most said they had seen him hanging out for several days, but nobody knew where he belonged."

Angel, a frisky cockapoo puppy, moved in last summer after a brief stint with the Fallston Animal Rescue Movement.


Barnes dresses the dogs in outfits including colorful T-shirts, smocked baby dresses and a yellow rain slicker, and accessorizes with a whimsical hat or a curly wig, a string of beads or a bright bandana.

"I do 99 percent of the work," she said. "They just happen to be my subjects."

She starts clicking the instant the subject is dressed because the model is inclined to jump off the set and scamper away. Barnes might work on one image for a week before deciding whether it works.

"The dogs are only dressed up for a few minutes," she said. "I never force them. That would show on the photos."

Barnes, 56, taught middle school for several years after graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park. She left teaching to pursue her interest in photography and signed up for a course at Harford Community College.

"I never owned a camera up to that point," she said. "I went to class with a new camera in a box. I just learned by point and shoot. Within two years, I was doing weddings and reunions. I even joined [the] faculty at HCC and taught photography."


She lets the expression on the dog's face dictate the message on the cards, usually leaving the task of writing the text to Bill, her husband of 34 years, who works in finance at the Social Security Administration.

"We like the text to be offbeat, odd," she said. "We don't like the predictable."

On one birthday card, Ollie, clad in a blue Hawaiian shirt and lei, poses under a beach umbrella. The seaside scene accompanies a message that reads, "Birthdays are like waves. Relax and enjoy the ride."

On another card, Angel, in a blue and yellow floral ensemble, shares the spotlight with pretty-in-pink Maggie, a poodle mix who lives down the block and frequently drops in. The chic pair adorn a note card that reads, "Sit, stay, fetch? I don't think so."

"Our dogs talk," Marlene Barnes said. "We translate."

In addition to birthday, seasonal and note cards that sell for $2.79 each, Barnes' stock includes invitations and thank-you cards boxed in a paw-print and bone motif. After compiling a portfolio with about 70 cards for various occasions and printing the prototypes, the couple started the business last spring. The cards are available at several local shops, including Jarrettsville Pharmacy and Feed Plus in Fallston.


"Every season we sell a good amount, especially the holiday ones," said Alyssa Taylor, one of several volunteers who run the pet store, which raises funds for the Fallston Animal Rescue Movement.

Customers typically come in to buy pet food and supplies, not greeting cards, but sales are growing, said Barbara Bertling. She and her husband, Greg, began the rescue six years ago. They found homes for 700 animals last year, including one for Angel with the Barneses. The store, run by about 10 volunteers, evolved from the rescue effort.

"I love the cards and the idea that one of the models came from us," Bertling said. "The message on the back tells buyers that the models are rescued animals and gets people more in tune with our cause."

On the back of each card, Barnes has printed a brief biography of the model and a reminder that buyers are contributing to animal rescue. It also urges adoption "of your next superstar at your local animal shelter."

"There are lots of causes I could get behind, but animal charities speak to me," Barnes said. "Everyone has something they can do. It takes courage to rescue an animal, and that is what I can do."