When Theron Humphrey first met Maddie, he didn’t think the Coonhound liked him.
They were in the back room of the Cobb County Animal Shelter in Marietta, Georgia. Maddie was more interested in investigating her surroundings than bonding with her potential owner. She struck Theron as a little aloof.
But as they walked back to her kennel, amidst the clatter of caged dogs and busy volunteers, Maddie kept close to Theron’s side. She pressed against his leg and Theron wondered if maybe she liked him a little after all.
“I said, I can’t put you back in this cage.” So he brought her to the front desk instead, filled out some paperwork, and $40 later, he had a dog.
A dog that would propel his career in ways he never imagined.
From Corporate Photographer to Life on the Road
Theron didn’t pick up a camera until he was 19. He had planned to study computer science in college, but along the way he stumbled upon photography. It was technical like computer science. But it also gave him an artistic outlet.
He enjoyed sharing how he saw the world. But that’s not exactly where photography took him. At first.
Theron got a job as a fashion photographer for a women’s clothing store. He spent his days shooting purses and necklaces, sweaters and slacks. This was around the time of the recession. The economy was tanking. So many people were losing the careers and retirement funds they had spent their lives building.
And then his girlfriend left him. And his grandfather died.
“Those two things kicked me in the butt to do something different,” Theron said.
So he quit his corporate photography job with a loose plan to drive to New York City and start what he hoped would be a more fulfilling corporate photography job. A friend suggested he document his journey on a new app called Instagram.
Instead of selfies and scenery shots, Theron posted a photo and profile of someone he met each day.
He planned to do it for 30 days, but the project felt incomplete. So he decided to keep going. With the help of Kickstarter, Theron spent the next year on the road, logging 66,000 miles, 90,000 photos, and hitting all 50 states. The profiles were published at thiswildidea.com.
About half of the profiles for This Wild Idea were people who had contacted him through his website. The other half were strangers he met on the street.
Maddie always helped break the ice.
“She was like an introduction,” Theron said. “They see your dog is nice and well cared for, and it’s an assurance that the owner is probably an okay person.”
Maddie’s Time in the Spotlight
And it was only natural to turn the camera on his traveling companion once in awhile.
Theron started another site called maddieonthings.com because, well, Maddie has uncanny balance. Theron photographed her perched on a pile of firewood, posing on a dresser, balancing on four cans of beans. A big name publisher saw the site and reached out. Would he be interested in turning the photos into a book? Maddie on Things came out as a photo book in 2013.
“It was an incredible blessing that opened up all kinds of doors,” Theron said. He’s currently working on a second book with the working title: Maddie Lounging on Things.
His photos of Maddie also caught the attention of an ad agency looking for a campaign to promote Purina ONE®. He and Maddie hit the road again, this time interviewing people who had adopted dogs from shelters. The documentary project was called Why We Rescue.
Many of the folks he interviewed told Theron that adopting strays was their way of making the world a slightly better place.
“Most people had a great sense of assurance that they took a creature on the earth who had been in a bad circumstance or had been forgotten and gave it a better life,” he said.
Maddie and Theron: Friends for Life
Two years ago he and Maddie sorta-settled in Nashville. They still spend some of the year on the road. Maddie’s happy either way.
“She’s at home wherever she is in the world, in a truck or on a nice bed,” said Theron.
In addition to helping Theron land a few book deals, Maddie’s also taught him a thing or two about life.
“I’ve learned a ton from her about being grateful for the small things,” he said. “And she’s definitely taught me how to appreciate a good nap.”
All images courtesy Theron Humphrey via This Wild Idea on Instagram
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.