The first time Smita Sharma saw a dolled-up dog, she wasn’t sure quite what to think.
“I was just on the subway or walking on the road, doing photography and I was really surprised,” the 32-year-old, recent International Center of Photography graduate told CNN. “I thought they looked like little children dressed up, and they were ... dogs.”
What she found was a community of warm, welcoming and slightly wacky women who adore their dogs – and who are in it to win it.
“Most of them are single and live alone with their dogs,” said Sharma. “They're really lovely people, really caring. At the same time, there is a little craziness about them. It's a little over the top – you could say eccentric – but for them that's normal. They cannot imagine going out with their dogs without dressing them up. To them, it would be like the dog being naked.”
While the women and their canine charges won’t necessarily be found in the judging rings at Westminster, they’ll often participate in fashion and grooming events. And sometimes the claws come out.
“They all know each other; some are friendly with each other and some hate each other. There's a lot of competition between them,” Sharma said.
There’s also a lot of community and charity afoot, with owners coming together to celebrate a particular pup’s birthday, or take their fancy, four-legged friends on a group walk to raise money for charity.
Fashion is what sets both the dogs and their devoted owners at the head of the pack. Sharma explained that at events with a period theme – The Roaring ‘20s, for example – both parties are required to dress to the nines, and they walk the runway round after round until a winner is declared.
Only one woman has objected to her portrayal. “She thought I made her look ugly,” said Sharma. “I showed her wrinkles, and told me she no longer wanted to be part of the project.” Her images were removed.
The rest of the group has accepted Sharma’s documentation with open paws, and she reflects their warmth, kooky charm and humanity in her work.
“All of them are pretty sensible, they all work: One is in the fashion industry, one is a yoga teacher, another works in a law firm. They're established by themselves. I guess they did not have very good luck with men; some are single or divorced or just never married,” Sharma said.
“But they're nice, friendly women, and they're humorous. Really, how many serious things do you want to see? Sometimes you've just got to laugh.”
Sharma, herself, was a dog owner before moving to the United States from India. “But he was a dog,” she laughed, “a Labrador.” She never dressed him up, but she came to understand the impulse.
“I was with them shooting for a long time,” she said, “and there were times when I got so close, I forgot they were dogs. A dog lover will understand – you just start connecting.”
- Kat Kinsman, CNN