Hunks and Hounds 2024 Calendar

2024 "Hunks & Hounds Calendar"
2024 "Hunks & Hounds Calendar" from photographer Mike Ruiz

Celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz talks about the making and history of the Hunks and Hounds calendar

October was LGBTQ History Month, always a time to highlight iconic figures for their contributions to the LGBTQ community. One name that came to mind is beauty, fashion, and celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz, whose work has also been featured in this very publication. Mike Ruiz is renowned for his iconic celebrity portraits, as well as for his advocacy work supporting organizations such as The Trevor Project, It Gets Better, and Live Out Loud, as well as Housing Works, and other HIV and AIDS nonprofits.

Mike Ruiz also uses his camera to photograph a now highly anticipated calendar — the Hunks & Hounds calendar — to help raise awareness about animal rights and the role of rescue centers in saving innocent animals’ lives. The calendar project started a decade ago, and was inspired by the photographer’s own dog, Oliver.

“Oliver was a rescue,” Ruiz says. “He was found roaming the streets of L.A. and brought to a shelter where a wonderful rescue named Bullies and Buddies [found] him before he was euthanized. The universe clearly had a plan for us to meet, because one of my best friends in L.A. ended up fostering him. Upon a fateful visit to L.A. in 2012, I stayed with my friend. As I opened the door, Oliver ran up to me, sat at my feet, and stared deeply into my eyes. I felt an immediate connection, and within 24 hours, I had filled out all the adoption paperwork. Oliver [became] my son [and] I brought him back to New York City with me shortly thereafter.”

Oliver graced the cover of the 2019 calendar. He passed away from lymphoma in 2018, only two weeks after the shoot. “I learned so much about compassion and empathy for all sentient beings as a result of my profound connection with him. He was my soulmate and continues to be the inspiration for most of [my work] in the animal welfare space,” Ruiz adds.

Each year, the calendar benefits a certain rescue center, which in turn is carefully chosen based on their reputation and the number of animals, they actually save. Each rescue center considered to be featured in the calendar is carefully researched by the photographer himself. “I vet them before I choose them,” he says, and reminds us that unlike animal shelters, which are government-funded, animal rescue centers survive only from private donations so they need all the help that they can get.

The calendar features male fitness models and rescue dogs, in an effort to raise awareness around the animal rescue. The portraits are stunning, daring, fascinating, and powerful. They reveal surprising facets of the subjects’ personalities while juxtaposing not only the models’ — humans as much as dogs — characters but also their life stories and experiences, because at times their stories intertwine in several ways.

“I always try to include at least [several] models who have rescues themselves in order to maintain the integrity of why I do this every year. The dogs are always from the rescue that I’m benefiting any given year. Some [dogs] need adopting, and some are alumni,” Ruiz comments.

The photographer named the original calendar Hunks & Hounds, but over the years, has changed its title, if only slightly, “to keep the project fresh.” This year, for the 10th anniversary of this photography project, he went back to its original name, Hunks & Hounds, to “pay tribute to the calendar that started it all.” Proceeds also go to the original animal rescue center, Louie’s Legacy.

The calendar has evolved over the years, becoming “quite well known” in the animal rescue world as well as in the male fitness world. “Initially, it was tough to recruit [models], but now, due to [the calendar’s] success, hundreds of male models submit themselves for the project, and [those] selected always donate their time and effort to be a part of it.”

Over the years, the Hunks & Hounds calendar has helped individuals better comprehend the importance of adopting and hence saving an animal’s life, especially when shelters are “bursting at the seams” and when many animals are being abused, neglected, and end up being euthanized every single year. But the Hunks and Hounds advocacy work is still ongoing. The calendar continues to educate, and open people’s eyes, minds, and hearts in an effort to help save these animals’ lives and put an end to “this national epidemic.”

“I will do this project every year for as long as I can hold up a camera,” Mike Ruiz says.

“There doesn’t seem to be an end to the backyard breeding that causes so much suffering to these poor creatures. Sentient beings should never be a commodity, so I will continue educating and helping in every way that I can.”

Support the animal rescue center and buy the 2024 Hunks & Hounds calendar.