Most people who know her can remember the first time they met Tinah Utsman. The first time for me was summer of 2010 at a Knox Heritage Summer Supper at Kendrick Place. It was as if whole sections of the gathered crowd spun and realigned in her wake. Photographing like a maniacal documentarian as she swept through the crowd, a camera in one hand and a drink in the other, she hugged, posed small groups and generally made everyone in her trail feel as if they had been lifted up for just a moment. I was to see this kind of impact many times as our paths intersected repeatedly.
She also helped us place a dog we could no longer keep. We adopted Eudora as a puppy from the Humane Society and found her to be difficult and nervous from the beginning. By the time we moved to the city she had become a much larger version of her nervous self and the combination resulted in an often startled dog who left Urban Woman sprawled on the sidewalk trying to control her. Tinah and TRU Dog Network helped us find a home outside the city where we hoped Eudora might be happier.
Tinah was born in Nashville, but she’s been a Knoxville girl almost all of her life, having moved here at age six when her father became a CPA for JFG. He would later become president of the company and it was from him that Tinah got her love of dogs. Her mother was a nurse at UT Hospital for 35 years where she worked with Helen and Ellen, later of the Love Kitchen. After retirement she volunteered for them and it is through her mother that Tinah found her volunteer spirit.
She graduated from Farragut High School and attended UT where she received an undergraduate degree in graphic design. She then worked at UT, doing graphic design in the College of Education, for twenty-four years, earning a master’s degree in photography along the way. Developing a network of friends – and every acquaintance is accepted as a friend to Tinah – came naturally and would lead to the next step in her life. She volunteered her photographic skills to many groups and causes including Knox Heritage, the E.T. Community Design Center, Alzheimer’s Association, Humane Society, Cystic Fibrosis and others.
She accepted Louise, a white Boxer needing a new home, who she says rescued her after she’d been through a very difficult period in her life. She said, “When I saw how she changed my life, it clicked that I could do this for others!” So, she started TRU Dog Network, simply as a way to help dogs find new homes. That first year she helped seven dogs get placed. The next year it was eleven. Eventually it would cross one hundred dogs a year and she found homes for about nine hundred dogs in nine years.
This year has been a transitional year for Tinah and Tru Dog Network as she launched the non-profit in March and shifted her work to more directly include photography and education while, hopefully, leveraging her skills to help more dogs than ever. She said she feels like she’s gotten, “back to her roots.” Feeling that photographs are what helps shelter dogs get placed (via the Internet), she’s working with others to teach them to make better photographs. She’ll consult with local adoption agencies and she’s working with children and teenagers to bring them into the effort.
Having worked for many years with underprivileged children, she worked with six girls at Vine Middle school on an anti-violence project in April. In June, she offered month-long workshop and had two students learn to photograph rescue dogs. The results of that project will be on display at her PAWS-itivity event at 221 Gallery located under Cook Lofts (and Frussies) from 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM Thursday.
Portraits of rescues and other dogs taken during the workshop will be available for a donation to the non-profit. Donations (whether at the show or via the Facebook Page) help Tinah continue the project via providing materials for workshops, paying for travel and other expenses. She is also open to corporate sponsors. Please consider supporting this new focus and venture with a tax-deductible donation.
By the time we’d spent the topic, Tinah had introduced herself, given business cards, taken photographs and hugged necks with just about everyone in the restaurant where we met. It’s what she does. She looked at me and said, “Do you know those kids want cameras for Christmas?” As had happened several times during the conversation, her eyes teared. This matters to her and she will continue to save the lives of dogs as she has for the last decade. Please support her efforts with a donation. Stop in Thursday night and meet her, see the work and I promise you will fall under her spell.