Canmore resident Rachael Rodgers is using her popular Instagram account to promote the adoption of shelter dogs by taking them on adventures and  photographing it all.

Rachael Rodgers didn’t even know what Reddit was the day her photograph of Denali the dog went viral. The image depicts the pup in the bow of a canoe, dusted with snow paddling on an Alberta lake. She posted it to her Instagram account, and then it blew up. More than 30 million people have since seen that picture on Instagram alone. It’s appeared in countless “Top 10 Adventure Dogs” lists and made the front page of Reddit, the popular social news aggregator.

Since that day, Rodgers, who is an artist, mountain biker and paddler living in Canmore, Alberta, has used her Instagram account to promote the adoption of animals from shelters. She donates her time, equipment, fuel, and vehicle to take adoptable dogs from various animal rescue organizations on day hikes, kayaks, ski trips and more. Then she posts a photo and story of their day together and her Instagram and she says, “more often than not, they find a forever home very quickly. I receive a crazy amount of heart-warming thank you messages from strangers every time I do this.”

We caught up with Rachael to ask her more about the project and we also invited her to do a week-long takeover of Kootenay Mountain Culture’s Instagram account.

Denali and Rachael on a mild, mid-winter cruise.

Hi Rachael. Have you always lived in Canmore?

I’ve lived in Canmore for four years. I’m from the middle of the woods in New Brunswick, originally, but I’ve been out and around Canada for the last half of my life.

What’s your artistic background?

Before I moved to Canmore, I was on Vancouver Island where I did mostly landscape photography. I got into digital painting when I moved to Canmore and started shooting the amazing Rockies. The community has been amazingly supportive here and my art is now available for purchase or viewing at four locations in Canmore.

Moraine Lake, AB: Rachael with her dogs Beans (being hugged) and Denali, who was adopted from the Humane Society 13 years ago.

Do you have a dog of your own?

We have two! Beans and Denali; both just turned 13 in March. I’d have more, but we can’t where we live. I haven’t wanted to buy a home in Canmore with real estate being some of the most expensive in Canada — but I’ve looked into it only so I could adopt more dogs.

What made you decide to get into taking adoptable dogs from various shelters out on adventures?

I got on Instagram long after everyone told me to get on it, but I still wasn’t quite sure why I had it. I started getting so many followers when a photo of our Denali went viral, so I knew most of my followers were dog lovers. I could see that people seem to want followers, and I knew there must be something good one can do with followers, but I had no idea what. They were just piling up steadily. I saw a photo somewhere on Instagram of a dog for adoption through some organization. The dog looked bored, looked like someone asked him to look at the camera for a mug shot. Surely this pup deserves a better go than that! I messaged the local rescue shelter, told them what I wanted to do, and they were excited to have the help. Every dog has an amazing and unique character that has to show in adoption photos. That say, potential adopters can see if it’s a dog who’d fit into their lifestyle. I love every dog I’ve ever met, but there are definitely ones I’d rather live with, or not.

The idea seemed to work on so many levels: There are a lot of flaws with the way we make dogs in Canada. They’re ordered up before they’re even conceived, bred a certain way over and over from a tired, worn-out mom, and sold at a premium. Families haven’t even met the dog they will call their own. All this when there is a beautiful collection of amazing and happy pups patiently waiting at different shelters, where people can have little dates with them to see if they’re compatible before taking them home. I realized I can show people these awesome dogs in a way that they would never have been seen by people who might have bought a dog from a breeder. Finally I have valuable information to bring to all the dog-loving adventurous followers I’d amassed. A good use for Instagram!

This guy’s name was Diesel. He found his forever home after this photo was shared on social media. His name is now Skoki.

Have you always documented the experience via social media?

Sometimes I stop by local shelters just to say hi to my friends who I know have been there a long time and would love to get out for a walk around the block. I don’t usually document these outings; I just focus on making the walk as fun as possible as it’s one of only a few most get in a day.

Tell us a heart-warming story about one of your experiences?

My heart is warmed so often by the humans who foster these dogs, the humans who adopt them, and especially by the dogs. It’s tough to pick just one experience. I’ve seen dogs leave the shelter and move on to their dream life, which is always different for different dogs and that’s why pre-adoption information really helps. One dog went to live on a farm a few hours north of here where she helps with farm work and watches the bison. Another dog moved to Canmore to live the outdoor adventure sports lifestyle with his new family. The one that still makes me feel the most is Dakota. I’ve taken her on several drives, walks, and a couple of trips into the mountains. She’s eight years old and has been at the Cochrane Humane Society for months. She went in as a bonded pair with her old buddy Sierra, but adopting them together wasn’t working, so they got split up and Sierra got adopted. I met them both at the first of the year and I’ve been spending time with Dakota every chance since. She loves me as much as I love her and shows it with so much enthusiasm when I walk into her hallway. I guess she warms my heart and breaks it at the same time.

This is Mishka, the first dog Rachael ever took out as part of her Instagram project. She was adopted a few days after her photos were posted.

Have you ever had an scares on the trails or on the water with a dog?

No scares, luckily! We’ve seen tons of big animals (grizzlies, black bears, goat, sheep, elk, moose, wolves, coyotes) from the car. If we’re far enough away that the animal isn’t bothered, I’ll let the dog watch curiously from inside the car before moving on. When I’m out on the trails I make a lot of bear calls, so hopefully that continues to work for us. The water is a trickier thing. There are a few boxes that have to be checked before a dog comes canoeing or kayaking. First is getting in (and staying in) on dry land. Next is in the water on the shore to see if they are afraid of the water (if so, that negates the “get in and stay in” confirmation). If all is well, we go paddle. You can get a great sense for a dog’s comfort level with these things when you spend a little time together and pay attention. Every dog has a different past and the last thing I want is to put a dog in a situation where it’s scared or uncomfortable.

This is Cotton. Rachael took her to play in the snow and she was adopted shortly afterwards.

You travel around to offer this volunteer service to other areas too, correct?

The only place I’ve been away to since I started this home finding project is Bend, Oregon. I dropped into the Central Oregon Humane Society and gave them a brief explanation of what I wanted to do. Ten minutes later I was walking the local trails with Kermit! (He is lovely! And he was so happy to go out and play!)

How can others help you in your endeavour?

I think there are a lot of dog lovers who for whatever reason can’t presently have a dog of their own. Volunteering at your local shelter is a great way to get your dog fix while doing a whole lot of good! If you have a social media account, this is a really great way to get that dog out there and add a fresh face to your photo gallery. Most people have friends who are thinking strongly about getting a dog or just waiting for the right opportunity. Whether you take a dog for a local walk, or a drive to your favourite hike (if they like drives), they will surely love you for it!