Vegemite is a 7-year-old Japanese Chin and Pekingese mix who lost his eye when he was attacked by another dog. He had emergency surgery, but his eye couldn't be saved.
The loss didn't do anything to damper the pup's upbeat personality, says photographer Alex Cearns, who was so enamored with Vegemite, above, she made him the cover boy of her book, "Perfect Imperfection."
"Thankfully, he recovered well and is a very happy boy," Cearns says. "On the cover he is doing a high-five which is so cute."
Cearns, a pet and animal photographer based in Perth, Australia, captured inspiring images of 60 special dogs for her latest work. Some are rescues and strays; others are family pets. Some have scars or mange, some are blind or can't walk.
"There are several messages in 'Perfect Imperfection'," Cearns says. "Beauty is everywhere, the outside is only window dressing, overcoming adversity, inspiration, and that disabled pets give the same love as any other pet, they have value and they deserve the same chance to live full and happy lives."
Another one of Cearns' favorites is Bali Pip, above, who stars on the book's back cover. Cearns photographed the pup on Bali after she was rescued from the streets by the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA).
"She was 7 weeks old and had mange, so had lost her hair. With some love and care, her fur eventually grew back and she looked like a small black dog," Cearns says. "Her photo was the first image I had which went viral on the internet. We also held a fundraiser for BAWA and raised $15,000, mostly from selling copies of her photo. Many people all over the world have her photo framed on their walls."
"One of my most passionate aims as an animal photographer is to capture the adorable subtleties that make all creatures precious and unique," Cearns says.
"I love every animal I have the privilege of photographing, but those perceived as 'different' hold a special place in my heart. These are the creatures who have lost a leg, been born without eyes, or are still showing the scars of former abuse."
Whether it's learning to run with a wheelchair or how to navigate after losing an eye, dogs figure out how to deal with their differences.
"Most animals with 'afflictions' don’t dwell on them. They adapt to their bodies without complaint and they survive with determination," Cearns says. "They push on, always, wanting to be included and involved in everything as much as they can, and as much as an able-bodied pet does."
Cearns photographs more than 1,000 pets each year in her studio.
"Many of my subjects have been adopted from rescue organizations and still show the scars of their former lives. Others have had surgeries for illnesses like cancer, leading to the removal of limbs or eyes to prolong their lives," she says.
"In my images, I like to lead with the beauty of each animal, making their physical issue almost a subtle afterthought and photographing each one with care and sensitivity."
Most of the dogs featured in "Perfect Imperfection" were booked for photos by their owners. The rest Cearns photographed for rescue centers.
Cearns works with the dogs in a quiet studio to make sure they're relaxed and engaged.
"During the photo session, it’s up to me to catch their personalities shining through in those split-second moments," she says.
"They still never cease to amaze me though by how normal they all are in personality — and that’s just it, there’s actually nothing different about these dogs. They have just been through a bit more than some others, but they get on with life."
Cearns says that her inspirational subjects taught her a lot.
"The main thing I’ve learned from working with these beautiful dogs is that they live in the moment and don’t dwell on their differences. They are cared for by people who love them. They have as much right to live the best life they can as any other animal."
Since she started photographing animals, Cearns has worked with over 100 animal rescue charities, shelters and sanctuaries all over the world. Part of the proceeds from the book will go to the Australian Animal Cancer Foundation.