Imperfect Friend

Carlos Filipe’s life changed forever when he adopted the two-month-old puppy he found on a Portimão street.

WORDS Tracy Burton

Boris, a short-haired Podengo cross, quickly weaved his way into his rescuer’s affections and spurred Carlos to channel his career in an unconventional direction – as a pet photographer.

With Boris in his life, the former kindergarten teacher from Aljustral wanted to support the Algarve’s many animal charities. Carlos has the greatest admiration and respect for those who go onto the streets to rescue animals from appalling situations and who get involved in sterilisation campaigns; however, he believed his own strengths lay behind the camera. He’d noticed how the photographs posted on social media frequently showed traumatised dogs and cats.

“I said I would never adopt these animals because they looked sad, frustrated and sick,” he explains. “People feel sorry for the animals, but they also see its trauma, fear and sadness, and they may not want that in their home.”

Carlos offered free photoshoots at charity events, quickly raising almost 5,000 € to help the associações continue their vital work. His photographs – over 1,000 to date – encourage potential adopters to see beyond the animal’s suffering and recognise their true spirit and character. “First, we need people to see the beauty of the animal and fall in love with it, then its problems won’t carry the same weight.”

His enthusiasm is likely no surprise to his mother, who once told her animal-mad son that the next one he brought home ‘will get your bed.”

As his reputation for capturing the character of the Algarve’s many abandoned and stray cats and dogs spread, Carlos began to focus more on pet photography at his Lagoa-based studio. As well as dogs and cats, he’s photographed guinea pigs, a goat named Heidi and a Vietnamese pig called Jupiter.

“He was difficult because he didn’t react to sounds the way dogs do,” Carlos recalls.

He often found himself photographing animals with missing limbs and eyes, and other disabilities: animals who might be considered ‘imperfect’ by society. 

Their owners told him horrific stories of accidents, abandonment and serious illness. Carlos empathised, not least because Boris also has a serious skin problem that involves regular veterinarian care.

Gradually, an idea formed. “I thought maybe others should know these stories as well, so I created a video project on YouTube called Amigos Imperfeitos.” A bilingual book and several exhibitions followed.

His ‘beautiful project’ remains close to his heart, highlighting what he calls ‘the real heroes’ – people who refuse to give up on their pets. One heartrending but ultimately inspiring story is Allegra’s – the little black dog who had life-saving surgery to remove her back legs after a car accident. One cat was badly burned in the Monchique fires, another developed breathing problems and needed a tracheotomy.

With his teaching background, the natural next step was to share these heroic stories with children. Carlos goes into the classroom to talk about the responsibilities of pet ownership and supporting local animal charities. Most importantly, his ‘imperfect friends’ help children better understand disability and disfigurement in people.

Naturally, Boris plays a vital role in all Carlos does, including putting canine clients at ease in the studio. “He greets them, sits next to them and helps them become calmer. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s just amazing.”

“Boris started all this because I wanted to help other animals like him. We do all we can, but you know the day will never arrive when you can say ‘it’s over, our work is done’. We’re just trying to make the world a little bit better – it’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.”

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