Fido photographer

Local lensman helps find homes for animals rescued from hoarder

When animal control officers and other law enforcement personnel rescued more than 50 abandoned dogs and cats from the filthy residence of an alleged animal hoarder in North Bergen earlier this year, they were assisted by a bevy of volunteers from across the region. Among them was one person with unique skills who was charged with documenting the entire proceedings.
West New York resident Brian Moss was one of the first on scene that frigid January morning. A professional photographer by trade, he volunteers his time weekly to take pictures of pets that are up for adoption at Bergen County Protect and Rescue, a no-kill shelter in Cliffside Park. The shelter, one of several that aided by taking in animals rescued that day, asked Moss if he would come along to chronicle the operation.
“I really needed a professional to document what we were going to be doing,” said Animal Control Officer Vincent Ascolese, one of the founders of Bergen County Protect and Rescue. “In in a situation like this it’s really important to document, document, document every single thing. Brian does mostly stills in the studio so it was a different perspective for him to actually see what we’re doing out in the field. Being Brian, he jumped at the chance.”

“Some of the dogs didn’t make it to the blanket. They dropped to the ground, pancake flat because they were so scared.” – Brian Moss
“I was on site in 30 minutes,” said Moss. “I was told to set up off to the side of the building. We put down a mover’s blanket so they wouldn’t be on the cold concrete. We didn’t know there would be so many puppies, which had to be handheld. Some of the dogs didn’t make it to the blanket; they dropped to the ground, pancake flat because they were so scared.”
Many of the dogs had never been outside the home, which was described as “deplorable” by authorities, with virtually no furniture, and feces everywhere. Once the animals were led into the daylight they were terrified and paralyzed.
“We went in with a plan but had to change it on the fly,” said Moss. He moved to the front of the building and captured the animals swiftly as they exited. Each animal was assigned a number so they could be tracked after they were whisked off to one of several shelters to be cleaned up, checked by veterinarians, gently exposed to human care, and adopted by loving families.
“It took all day,” said Moss of the extrication from the hoarder house. “We were easily there till 5. The cats were the last thing, up on the roof. Then the house was considered clear.”
The operation certainly made an impression on him. “I was absolutely blown away by it,” he said. “We’ve all seen and heard about hoarding, but it was something I’ll never forget. As sad as it was, it elevated me on some level. At the end of the day when I was trying to process what just happened I was proud and happy to be a part of it, to have such impact in the life of the 40-plus animals I was part of saving.”

Accidental photographer

Born and raised in New York, Moss, 58, has been a West New York resident for over 10 years. “Really I’m an accidental photographer,” he said recently. “I have no training. It’s crazy.”
As the owner of a bodybuilding gym in the 1980s and ’90s Moss started taking photographs of clients in 1997. “I was shooting what they used to call fitness girls, competitors,” he recalled. His photos came to the attention of the makers of Muscle & Fitness magazine, who offered him a job.
“I did my first paid photo shoot in 1998,” he said. “My first shoot I had a point-and-shoot camera. They loved the work and offered me a contract.”
A lifelong animal lover with a pit bull named Angel that he adopted from a New York shelter, Moss walked into the Bergen County Protect and Rescue a little over two years ago and volunteered, thinking he could help walk dogs or clean cages. When his profession came up in conversation with Ascolese, the idea was born to take photos of the dogs.
“Basically I take portraits of all the new dogs, surrenders, strays that come in,” he said. Every Wednesday he travels to Cliffside Park with his cameras, lights, and backdrop, to set up in “a back room between a leaky washer and kennels full of barking dogs.”
There he takes photos that serve to represent the animals to the world outside. “I try to show more than a stray or homeless dog,” he said. “There’s a life there. The photographs hopefully capture interest so people click a link.”
And it works. “He does tremendous work,” said Ascolese. “He has helped advance us so far. The way he portrays those animals is magic. Sometimes he gets these dogs to smile. We don’t know how he does it. People come in just because of the photos. They say they saw a photo and went, ‘Oh my God, I gotta see that dog.’”

Talent tall as a building

The rescue operation in North Bergen happened to take place on a Wednesday, Moss’s day to shoot at the shelter. He was already packed and ready to go when he got the call asking if he could help document the animals as they were removed from the home.
Bergen County Protect and Rescue took in 29 dogs that day. All but one have since been adopted, including all the puppies. The remaining dog, Courage, a reddish Labrador mix, is in a loving foster home. “I don’t think the foster mom’s going to give her up,” said Ascolese. “We call that a foster failure.”
All the dogs were treated by vets prior to adoption, with the adults spayed and neutered and the pups given a battery of shots. Ascolese credits Moss’s photographs as a critical part of the whole process.
“He’s such a quiet, reserved individual,” said Ascolese, “but his talent’s as tall as a building. We’re thrilled and excited and lucky to have him. He’s had a major impact on adoption here. So often when people adopt they ask, ‘Can I get that picture?’ And we send it to them.”
“Every shelter needs somebody to take photography seriously,” said Moss. “People think about volunteering, they think about cleaning cages, walking dogs. Any shelter would welcome a competent photographer. You don’t have to be a pro.”
In fact, just recently one of Moss’s internet admirers sent a video showing that he had begun photographing animals at a shelter in Michigan. To Moss, inspiring that kind of support for animals in need is his greatest reward.
“There’s no greater compliment,” he said.
Brian Moss’s animal photography can be seen at and A full range of his photography can be viewed at

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group