Some people make a living photographing food. Some photographers specialize in medical photography, or chasing celebrities, or shooting weddings or kids.
Johnny Ortez-Tibbels has carved out a special niche—he likes taking pictures of Dachshunds. Yes, Dachshunds, that odd breed of dog that seems ergonomically impossible, but is completely lovable.
“I’m a big fan of the Dachshund, they have a unique body type and are a small dog with a big personality,” says Johnny, while seated at his North Hollywood home with his red Doxie named Rufus in his lap and others running around the house (and most are not his). It’s a typical day for a Doxie playdate at Johnny’s house.
“They’re a magical breed—and the dog poop is small, it’s manageable,” he laughs. That’s an consideration when picking a dog, he boasts.
That’s why you see the breed in many cities like New York and Chicago where apartment dwellers live in high rises. “You can wash them in the sink, they are easy to travel with, and you can take them on planes.”
Rufus has traveled to New York, Chicago, New Mexico and Texas. During one trip, they hit 15 states in 20 days.
“Dachshunds are a bold and noble breed,” but Johnny admits, “They are not for everyone. They can be high maintenance.”
The breed can suffer problems with their teeth, eyes and back. The surgery for a Dachshund’s back goes for about $6,500 and it must be done in the first 72 hours of the injury, or else the dog could be in a wheelchair-like device for the rest of its life because it’s hind legs are useless.
Johnny plans to start a non-profit to help owners of the breed cope with the high expense of the back surgeries for Dachshunds. The money he makes for his photography will also go to the cause.
Johnny insists that he wasn’t a Dachshund person—or even an animal person—but then 11 years ago he met his partner, film producer Kirkland Tibbels of Funny Boy Films. Kirkland had Dachshunds while growing up, and wanted to get a dog.
They tried a Beta fish first, and then Johnny warmed up to getting a dog. It was his first dog, and now Rufus will be turning 8 in August.
Then, recently they got a black-and-tan 8-week-old rescue Dachshund named Emily.
“Dachshunds are always among the top 10 favorite breeds in the U.S.,” Johnny says. “They are such a diverse breed, there are three different official coat types, there are different sizes, and they live an average of 15 to 20 years, which is a lot longer than most breeds.”
For Johnny, having a Dachshund was what he said a mother must feel for a child—unconditional love. Rufus has been declared an “emotional support” dog, so he can be brought in to places that don’t normally allow dogs.
And, because Rufus and Emily like other dogs, Johnny now holds play dates with other Doxies, and he photographs them. He has a Canon single reflex camera and a print journalism degree from the University of Texas at Arlington.
To date, he has taken photographs of more than 120 dogs.
This week, he posted the 100th photo of his Dachshund collection on his website. (See www.rufusontheweb.com.)
“I want people to be able to come to see a different photo every day and smile,” he said.
And readers love it. Writes Laurie on his site: “I enjoy your photos every day. I have 3 beautiful doxies myself…they are a unique breed!”
“I’ve been photographing dachshunds since Rufus was a pup and over the years I have really come to appreciate the breed’s natural beauty and grace. I think my love for these comical and loyal low-riders is reflected in my pictures,” says Ortez-Tibbels.
Last year, in a span of 26 weeks he hosted and photographed more than 100 Dachshunds and he wanted to share them with the world. “I was originally motivated by people who attempt the Project 365 challenge, where individuals post a picture a day for a full year. I felt Facebook and other social media outlets were limited to my personal friends. I was ready to share my pictures with a bigger audience and Rufusontheweb.com seemed like an organic next step.”
Johnny explains: “Imagine one of those old fashion wallets with the plastic accordion insert that proud parents would fill with pictures and use to brag about their children; that’s the intent of the website: a series of my favorite photos that pay homage to the breed I champion.”
The dog photograher says, “Friends and fans have encouraged me to create a book and greeting cards, and I’m considering my options. I have decided that if I do create any specialty items, I would donate all profits to varied dachshund charities. For now I’m just enjoying the art of photographing my breed of choice and sharing them with my fellow doxie-holics.”
He also runs L.A. Doxies, a local monthly meet-up group that takes a few dozen wieners out to local parks, such as Fryman Canyon, the off-leash dog parks in Studio City and Burbank, and many other places around Los Angeles County. They meet the third Sunday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m. and plan upcoming events in Simi Valley, Huntington Dog Beach, Agoura Hills, Long Beach Dog Beach, Culver City and Fryman Canyon. (See schedule and Meet-up here: http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/LADOXIES/.)
He is also the L.A. Small Dog Examiner and writes an occasional column. (See: http://www.examiner.com/small-dogs-in-los-angeles/johnny-ortez)
“It is a loyal breed, but Dachshunds are hard to train,” says Johnny, who has taken Rufus to two obedience courses. “They are independent thinkers and stubborn. They are the smallest of hunters. If you don’t invest the time and energy with them, then you will be disappointed.”
For the first 30 days, Johnny explains, he spent nearly fulltime with Emily to train her and housebreak her.
“I spend time with them, to get to know them,” says Johnny. And that’s what he does during the play dates he has when people leave their Doxies to play with Emily and Rufus.
And is there enough work for a Dachshund photographer?
“There are some pretty fanatical people about Dachshunds out there,” he smiles. “They collect everything Dachshund. I hope some of them like my photos, too.”
(See a slide show of some of Johnny's work above. Studio City Patch editor Mike Szymanski has had his Dachshunds play with Rufus and we hope they will soon be a part of the photographs on the site.)