Corrections Officer Turned Photographer Gives Shelter Animals a Chance at a New Life

A gray cat with striking yellow eyes peeking through a jagged hole in brown paper, one paw outstretched as if reaching or playing.

In many ways, Hannah Lee Bratz’s journey as a photographer is defined by second chances.

Bratz, a former corrections officer who now does pet photography, including working with local shelters like the Craven-Pamlico Animal Services Center, often sees those she works with in a temporary space. Working in a jail infirmary, she encountered people in valley-deep lows, hoping to make a difference while they were with her.

Today, Bratz spends time helping pets find new homes by photography shelter animals. Hopefully spending time in a shelter only temporarily before finding their forever homes.

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A woman lovingly kissing a large great dane on its nose, both displaying affection. The background is blurred, emphasizing their bond.

Close-up photo of a white dove held gently in a person's hands, focused on the bird's head and body against a dark background. The delicate features and texture of the dove's feathers are emphasized.

A gray dog wearing a blue shirt and a yellow bandana with "adopt me" text sits tilting its head, against a pink brick background. The dog has a curious and hopeful expression.

Close-up of a striking tabby cat with large green eyes and a mix of brown, black, and gray fur, looking attentively to the side.

She got inspired after seeing some of the photos a local animal shelter was using and knew she could showcase the pets in a better light — literally. If she’s not able to take photos outdoors, Bratz says she quickly got a light setup to improve upon the shelter’s atmosphere. From there, she did what all the best pet photographers do (and the best part of the job) and made sure all of the animals were relaxed and comfortable. Bratz says she creates a quiet, closed-off space where they can feel more relaxed. Then, she lets their personalities shine through. She’ll even throw in some fun backdrops, like a recent one she did for Easter.

Close-up of a black dog with a reflective amber eye, against a blurred gray background, highlighting the detailed texture of its fur and solemn expression.

Close-up of a cat's face focusing on its striking green eye, with the rest of the image in black and white.

Bratz tells PetaPixel she’s often gravitated toward creative pursuits, so it should come as little surprise that she took to photography after receiving a camera as a Christmas gift from her mother. Bratz says she found herself captivated by the macro setting, finding beauty in nature’s small details.

A bumblebee nestled within the soft pink petals of a flower, its body coated with pollen, creating a gentle interaction between flora and fauna.

A young girl in a pink shirt holds a compact camera, taking a photo of her reflection in a mirror while sitting in a sunlit room.

A selective color photograph of a bumblebee clinging to the underside of a white flower petal, with a blurred gray background.

A close-up image of a bee pollinating vibrant pink and white flowers, with a focus on the bee against a blurred background.

“It’s that kind of stuff that people normally may not see,” Bratz tells PetaPixel. “It’s the little things that I find beauty in that I hope other people will look at it and be like, oh, I’m going to take the time to look at this flower over here. Landscape stuff. It’s just a peaceful thing.”

A vibrant coastal marshland featuring lush green grasses, winding water channels, and scattered dead trees under a blue sky with fluffy clouds.

An uprooted tree with intricate roots exposed lies on a sandy shore against a backdrop of clear skies and distant trees.

A pigeon and a duckling walk side by side on a sandy lakeshore, with the pigeon slightly blurred in motion and water and grass in the background.

When working in a jail, the rule of thumb is that for every year worked, it feels more like five, she explains. Bratz shares her experience working in the infirmary where she encountered people working through addictions, struggling with their mental health, or even going through a miscarriage. She says her job involved helping the nurses, but beyond that, it meant finding compassion in a place where you normally wouldn’t. It’s taxing, and photography was Bratz’s relief.

And though Bratz may not be working as a corrections officer today, she tells PetaPixel she still uses many of the lessons learned from that experience. When she was younger, the photographer notes, she wasn’t much of a conversationalist and tended to stick with the company of her horses. But working in a jail pushed her, and saw her not just opening up and talking to people but also doing so in a high-stakes environment.

“I can come up with a conversation with anybody, especially if they’re grieving,” she shares. “I’ve had to deal with inmates that they come in to the jail and they did what they did because of a certain circumstance. I can really talk people down and I can find that common goal and common ground with people.”

A light brown and white cat peers through a hole torn in brown paper, with its bright eyes focused directly toward the viewer.

Black and white photo of a horse grazing, with a close-up focus on its muzzle and the grass, while the gated fence in the background is out of focus.

A brown dog with an attentive expression stands on an orange textured fabric, against a vibrant blue backdrop decorated with large white daisy graphics. The name "Halo" is overlayed at the top.

Working with shelters, she often sees people desperate to get an animal adopted in time. With limited space, some shelters are forced to euthanize pets who don’t find permanent homes within a certain timeframe. And no one, especially shelter employees who want to help animals, wants to be in that situation, Bratz notes.

Additionally, Bratz does private pet portraits as well as the work she does with shelters. While this is normally an upbeat experience, she also offers a “Rainbrow Bridge” package for end-of-life photoshoots.

“They’re just not here as long as we would like them to be, and I feel like everybody needs a little keepsake from that to kind of help the grieving,” Bratz says. Additionally, she puts $50 of the proceeds from those photoshoots toward sponsoring an animal at the shelter she works with. In this way, the end of one pet’s life can help save another.

Even on days when Bratz isn’t photographing under heartbreaking conditions, she still finds value stemming from her corrections officer background. For instance, her ability to multitask is incredibly handy when dealing with pets of varying personalities. In a jail, Bratz explains, there is only so much time to get things done and prioritization is key.

A close-up image of a German Shepherd looking up at the camera, with alert ears and a slight smile, against a blurred green background. The dog's fur is richly detailed.

A wolf with a striking gaze peers through an ornate black frame, held at its edges, against a dusk-lit background, emphasizing its sharp features and intense eyes.

A white dog with a distinctive pink mark on its nose lying on a green blanket with a floral blue background. The name "Deaga" is displayed in the upper right corner.

A dog sitting in front of a mirror, which creates an illusion of a framed portrait, in a sunlit room.

But the work is worth it to Bratz, who has found a community through her photography. Sure, there’s the symbiotic social media relationship where she and the shelter will promote photos of the pets, but it’s the reason behind that’s so satisfying. The photos she takes help pets get adopted, and the more those images get amplified, the more likely those animals will find a home. Bratz tells PetaPixel she’s still prospective pet owners take in animals from multiple states away. All because they saw the right photo.

“I tell their story,” she says, “and give the dogs an identity that other people will read and look at the pictures and be like, ‘Oh my god, I need her.'”

Image credits: Photographs by Hannah Lee Bratz