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The photographer brought the hay bale and the fancy lace overlay, the backdrop, the soft light, and the assistant with the cat toys. Prior to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington opening to the public today, volunteer Robin Burkett of Paw Prints Photography turned the lobby into a portrait studio.

“I want your ears up, sweeties,” she tells Nina (white bunny, brown spots) and Nala (white bunny, black spots). They’re among the seven rabbits, the 60 or so cats, the birds, guinea pigs, a lone chinchilla, and dogs living together at the shelter in Shirlington on Arlington MIll Road.

Prior to Burkett’s involvement and that of other volunteer pros, the shelter staff shot the animals for the Web site with varying degrees of success. “Black cats are the hardest. They turn out like blobs, with all of their features running together, unless you have somebody who knows what they’re doing and has the right lighting,” says 12-year staffer Susan Sherman, communications manager and experienced cat herder.

A come-hither look or a well-lit photo of perky bunnies are key to getting these animals out of their temporary homes and into their permanent ones (residents in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. can all adopt here). But the process of getting a good glamour shot is a bit of an ordeal.

“BBBBffftttt!” This is a loose spelling resembling one of Burkett’s attention-getting noises. Ann Nguyen, her assistant, stands behind her waving a fuzzy blue tail topped by a bell and attached to a stick. Sheba who is, as you might suspect from the name, a black cat, is not terribly interested.

She’d rather bolt, but eventually Burkett gets a shot without hands in it. Back in her cage, the 10-year-old cat is all purrs and face-rubs through the slats in the small fence. Burkett’s photo is a better one than the one on her cage, but it doesn’t capture this cat’s sweet nature.

No photo can. “We have people who want to fill out their applications and adopt online….it’s just not the same. You have to come down here and get to know the animals,” says Sherman.

Next up is Elva, who came to Arlington by way of the Potomac Higlands Animal Rescue group based in West Virginia, which has been providing animals to the shelter for a deacade.

Elva is also a little freaked. Burkett’s prepared with instructions for her assistant. “Keep walking. Keep walking. Now flail your arms.”