May 12, 2010 10:00 AM

Ren Netherland, in 23 years of working as a pet photographer, has, according to his estimates, taken pictures of nearly 100,000 animals. He can shoot up to 60 pets in a 10-hour day, which over two decades, adds up to – well, a lot of pictures.

Some of them have been the pets of famous people – Billy Bob Thornton’s bulldogs (his “first-borns”), Jack Osbourne’s bulldog Lola – but most have been regular old cats and dogs. Through sheer patience and a little creative thinking, Netherland has made them look like supermodels.

He got his start after he got out of the Navy and took a job at a photo lab. He took up photography as a hobby, then did a “huge show at a mall and had one picture of a cat,” Netherland tells “I didn’t sell one picture, but I made 50 appointments for photographing people’s dogs and cats.”

Back then, professional pet photography hardly existed (“Most professional photographers wanted nothing to do with animals.”), and Netherland had to teach himself how to do it well.

He wanted to get his subjects to look at him, to look at the camera. His method is to make the animal feel comfortable, and to take as much time as they need to help them feel at ease.

“They always know who’s a good person and who’s a bad person,” Netherland says. “Become their friend first. Once that’s over, you’re good to go. It’s just patience.”

Of all the pets he’s ever shot, Netherland says cats are the toughest to work with, mostly because they take the most time, and because you can’t tell a cat what to do like you can tell a dog what to do.

“You try to tell a cat what to do, they just take a message,” he says.

Netherland, who plans to put together a book of his animal portraits, has gotten so busy that he can hardly take calls from his own family, and he feels guilty about paying more attention to strangers’ pets than he does his own, a pug and a Maltese that travel everywhere with him.

“At the end of some days, I wonder why the hell I got into it, but that fades by the next day,” Netherland says. “I enjoy going to work every day. Every dog, every cat is different. There is always something very unique about every animal.”

Click here to see our gallery of Netherland’s cat photos!

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