SHEPHERDSTOWN – Barbara Keech would like nothing more than for her retirement to go to the dogs.
Within the next few years, the Shepherdstown resident hopes to give up her long weekday commute from the Panhandle to suburban Maryland and to instead focus on a pet project – taking natural-light portraits of families and pets.
“As someone who loves dogs, it’s my dream to spend my time helping pet owners capture beautiful moments with the animals they love,” explains Keech, whose pet portrait business is called Wild Spirit Photography.
But Keech isn’t waiting until she’s retired to get her dream off and running.
Later this month, she is partnering with two other small businesses owned by women for a “Yappy Hour,” a unique mixer that invites dog owners and their pets to come together for a fun evening out.
“It’s such a great idea – having like-minded people come out to eat and drink and have a good time right along with their dogs,” said Keech, who has three rescue dogs, two poodles and a Chihuahua mix.
On Sept. 20, Keech has organized a dog-oriented social hour at ReFINEments of Shepherdstown, Judith Platz’s upscale consignment shop at 123 W. German St.
Platz, who over the summer moved her shop down the street to a bigger location, now sells gourmet dog cookies, food bowls, toys and other products aimed at pet owners.
Brenda Robinette of Shepherdstown, whose business is Be Young Essential Oils, is the third Yappy Hour hostess.
Not only will the Yappy Hour give Robinette a showcase for her offerings and allow Platz the opportunity to show off her store’s new setting, but the mixer also will give guests the chance to help the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County.
Throughout the two-hour event, Karen Glennon will be on hand to offer puppy pedicures at no cost – with any donations she gets for the pedicures earmarked for the AWS.
Platz is offering Yappy Hour shoppers a special deal, giving a 10 percent discount on purchases made during the event. For Yappy Hour, Keech will offer a pet mini-portrait session at discount: just $20 for the session and the owner’s choice of an 8×10, two 5x7s or one 5×7 and wallets.
“This is the kind of thing I like to do – bring businesses together for a good cause and find a way to help everyone,” she said. “That’s how I approach things. I try to help someone else or someone else’s business while working to build my own.”
Keech is hoping to find other business owners in the Panhandle interested in holding a Yappy Hour, perhaps at their shop or at a restaurant or bar with a courtyard area. She said she’s heard lots of excitement so far about the first Yappy Hour.
The concept, she said, is especially ideal for anyone who’s introverted by nature and who may feel reluctant to come out and socialize without a mate or friend in tow.
“When you can bring your dog to a get-together, suddenly it’s very easy to start talking to someone you’ve just met. You have your dog to help you feel comfortable and right off the bat, you have something in common with everyone else there. You can talk about your dogs.”
As a photographer, Keech specializes in portraits that rely on natural light. Her subjects include wildlife, nature, pets and people.
Over the years, she’s completed a number of fundraiser projects, including popular calendars featuring local animals, to raise money for the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County and East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue as well as a Kenyan orphanage and other worthy institutions.
Another focus of Wild Spirit Photography is on agriculture in the Panhandle. “I feel that it’s so important to do what I can to raise awareness about our local farmers’ hard work and dedication, ’’ Keech said. “I like using my photography skills to educate the public on the farmers that we ought to be turning to for the food we put on the table every day.”
Another venture close to Keech’s heart is a photography project she calls Life is the Pits. That undertaking is aimed at countering the bad publicity she said often get associated with pit bulls.
“Most pit bull owners and their dogs are wonderful and responsible,” said Keech, who has owned pits in the past. “They’re a wonderful breed – dedicated family dogs, smart and many times the goofiest, silliest dog on the planet.”
Through “Life is the Pits,” Keech wants to connect with pit and pit mix owners to create an exhibition of portraits to be displayed in a Shepherdstown gallery.
In exchange for a $50 fee, Keech will conduct a personalized photo session with the pit or pit mix and then give the owner a framed, ready-to-hang image of his or her pet – and a duplicate image will be used for the gallery show.
“I’m hoping to find pit and pit mix owners who feel the way I do – I’m looking for their help so that I can help change minds and hearts today.”