Local foster dog Curly Jack is currently being fostered through AZ Pug Life Rescue. The year-old Frenchie has some food and environmental allergies. Curly Jack is a recent participant in Tyler Espinoza's Foster Foto Fiesta.

When golden hour strikes at Reid Park, you might find local photographer Tyler Espinoza snapping photos of his latest subject.

As Espinoza begins the photo session, he often finds the subject’s lips tucked in as they try to smile or their tongue out with excitement as they roll around in the dirt — because his subjects aren’t people. They’re dogs.

Once a month, Espinoza hosts the Foster Foto Fiesta — a free 20-minute photo session for local foster dogs. Espinoza snaps the snazzy portraits that showcase the dogs' true character in hopes of helping them find their forever home.

“There's a big problem in Pima County right now with the amount of dogs in PACC and it's just unsustainable,” he said. “Us as a community, as a county, as a city, have a responsibility to do better for the animals that we share our town with and our homes with. And a lot of people put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into rescuing these dogs, foster parents being a good example of opening their home and really giving these dogs a second chance at life. 

“Taking pictures of them and helping to just spread the word and hopefully providing an image that will stop somebody scrolling on social media long enough to fall in love with the dog and possibly think about adopting feels like a really small, truly tiny way that I can help chip away at the problem. … I wish I could do a lot more. I wish I could photograph all the dogs. But it just seems like a small way that I can help.”

Since starting the Foster Foto Fiesta three months ago, Espinoza has photographed dozens of local foster pups. 

Local foster dog Curly Jack is currently being fostered through AZ Pug Life Rescue. 

The idea was developed during one of his regular dog photography sessions when he was snapping pictures of a pup who was celebrating one year of being adopted by its foster family.

“They're telling me, ‘Hey, I adopted this dog but now I'm just gonna keep fostering more dogs,’” he said. “So I thought that it would just be fun to do more photoshoots for foster dogs because these people who are dedicated to saving dogs will foster a huge number of dogs. And sometimes it takes forever for them to find a home.”

The next Foster Foto Fiesta takes place from 5-7:20 p.m. Sunday, May 19 at Reid Park. Espinoza still has spots available for the upcoming photo session. Fosters can register on his website.

Priority for the free sessions go to foster dogs who are seniors, long-term fosters, have special medical needs or are a restricted breed, such as bully breeds, according to his website.

“I try to stick to criteria that will help me help the dogs that need it the most,” he said.

Before each session, Espinoza will work with fosters to get to know the pup a little better by finding out if they have any allergies or behavioral needs. The goal of each session is to provide a “top-notch service” for foster pups and their families, he says, by making sure everyone is safe and never over-stressed.

One of his favorite things about the photo session is seeing the dogs’ true, sometimes silly, characteristics emerge.

At one of his recent Foster Foto Fiestas, he photographed a one-year-old Frenchie who has food and environmental allergies. Despite his serious allergies, the pup, Curly Jack, was a total goofball throughout the photo session as he continuously crawled on his belly in the grass.

“It was just really goofy and one of those moments where dogs are just going to be dogs,” Espinoza said.

Getting out of the shelter or a bad home can help dogs in need thrive, and Curly Jack is just one example of that.

Local foster dog Curly Jack is currently being fostered through AZ Pug Life Rescue. 

“I am hoping that by having more imagery that is not depressing, like a dog cowering in the corner or a shadowy picture of a dog in a shelter cage, might help people see the dog for who they are in a way that really truly makes them fall in love with the dog and will sort of encourage them to learn more about a particular dog. Hopefully, to the point where they’re adopted,” Espinoza says. “That's my goal.”

Since the foster photo program is fairly new, Espinoza says there haven’t been many “alumni” yet, but he’s hopeful the fosters, including Curly Jack, can find their permanent homes.

When he isn’t hosting the monthly Foster Foto Fiesta, Espinoza works on dog photo sessions for non-fosters. Each of his regular sessions last 60-90 minutes and require a $200 session fee. After the session, clients are able to view and select their images and choose a photo package, which start at $475, according to his website.

Before becoming a professional photographer, Espinoza graduated with a degree in biochemistry from the University of Arizona. He used his degree to work in the wine industry, but eventually decided it wasn’t something he could see himself doing long-term.

Tyler Espinoza, 31, is a professional dog photographer in Tucson. He runs the Foster Foto Fiesta — a monthly free photo session for local foster dogs.

He then pivoted to a lifelong passion of his: photography.

Initially, he solely did family portraits. But after a couple years, he realized that wasn’t exactly where his passion was. 

“I don't have a family, I don't have kids. It's not in the books for me. It's not my thing. But I love animals and so I have tried to find a way to connect that and that led me to where I am,” he said. “So, now I do almost exclusively dogs or families with dogs, but it's centered around people who want to celebrate the bond they share with their animal companion.”

Espinoza, who was born in Alaska and moved to numerous places around the country before winding up in Tucson, has always had a passion for animals. Growing up, he and his family had hamsters, parakeets, cats and dogs. 

It was ultimately his love for dogs that convinced him to pivot from traditional portraits to something a little more ... furry.

“The time that we spend together, the hour, any minutes that we have where somebody just gets to endlessly profess their love for their dog and make this safe, loving space for them to just be with their family and everybody's laughing and having fun. It feels like such a nice retreat from everything that's going on in the world,” he said.

For more information about Tyler Espinoza’s Foster Foto Fiesta and dog photography, check out his website.

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Elvia is a journalism and history graduate from the University of Arizona. She hopes to create stories that show what makes Tucson and its community special.