Ashley Norfolk and her camera go to the dogs

Brutus wanted a belly massage.

The big, black and tan Rottweiler had barely seen Ashley Norfolk coming before he hit the ground – tongue lolling, belly exposed, paws held close to his chest and curled in anticipatory pleasure.

As Norfolk leaned over and began scratching the dog’s chest, Brutus tried to lick her face. The two have long been the best of friends, ever since Norfolk first started photographing Brutus for her popular Instagram blog “Dogs of Annapolis.”

“You are so precious,” she said.

Annapolis residents, both two-legged and four-legged, have become accustomed to seeing 35-year-old Norfolk and her Sony 6500 camera patrolling Main Street and hanging out at City Dock after work and on weekends, looking for pups willing to pose .

Norfolk works as a computer programmer – initially for the state of Maryland and now for the US Naval Academy Alumni Association – and during lunch she likes to go outside to stretch her legs.

“I would go on long walks and I just wanted to pet all the dogs I saw,” she said.

Her “soul dog,” a Pekingese named Tyler, had died a year earlier at age 7 from lymphoma, and Norfolk said spending time with other people’s pets kept her from missing him too much.

“I started documenting the dogs I came across with my phone, and one day I thought, ‘I need to catalog them and put them on social media.’” she said. “It was my outlet to fill the void I had when I didn’t have a dog yet. It made me happy, and I thought it would make other people happy too.”

And so ‘Dogs of Annapolis’ was born in 2016. Over the past eight years, the blog has gradually amassed more than 8,000 followers on Instagram – a result Norfolk attributes to the effortless charisma and undeniable star quality of her subjects.

“I feel chosen when a dog interacts with me,” Norfolk said. “If a dog is happy, you will be happy too.”

Norfolk said she based her blog on two Internet blockbusters: “Humans of New York” by Brandon Stanton and “The Dogist” by Elias Weiss Friedman.

But unlike these two blogs, which combine photos with stories about their subjects, Norfolk’s posts contain very few words other than the dogs’ names, breeds and ages. This is partly to ensure the privacy of the owners.

May 8, 2024: Rainey, a pit bull living in Annapolis, looks at the camera of Ashley Norfolk of Crofton while walking through downtown Annapolis. Ashley photographs dogs for her “Dogs Of Annapolis” Instagram and Facebook accounts. Rainey is a regular subject of Ashley’s. (Barbara Schelvis Taylor/Staff)

“I’m aware of people’s time,” Norfolk said. “I take between five and 10 photos of each dog, and I try to capture each dog’s personality, whether it’s the eyes, whether they’re panting or moving their tails because they’re happy to see you.”

She estimated that she spends about 15 hours a week on her hobby, and has never had a dog become aggressive or threatening – possibly because she is adept at reading their subtle signals and withdraws when the atmosphere is not right.

That goes for their owners too, although Norfolk said they’re usually happy when their pets are in the spotlight.

“Ninety percent of the time, people get excited and say, ‘Oh, where can I see your photos?’” she said. “But sometimes people say no. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”

The photographer grew up in Owings, Maryland, with her parents, an older sister and a string of dogs, including a Great Dane who knocked then-five-year-old Ashley to the ground out of over-enthusiasm in the 1990s. breaking her leg down to the thigh.

“That didn’t stop me,” she said. “But then my parents had Yorkies (Yorkshire Terriers) in the house.”

Ashley Norfolk of Crofton visits Quincy, a Pit Bull, Chow and Husky mix who belongs to Terry Averill, left, at Market House in Annapolis. Ashley photographs dogs for her “Dogs Of Annapolis” Instagram and Facebook accounts. Quincy is one of her regular subjects. (Barbara Schelvis Taylor/Staff)

She now lives in Crofton with her husband Dan, a postal worker, their 14-year-old rescue Pekingese Leo (“He’s quite grumpy,” said Norfolk) and two cats, including an orange tomcat who, according to the photographer, “looks a lot like Ron Swanson. ”

Norfolk loves all animals. In addition to her own pets, she raises and has paid to spay and release two feral kittens that showed up on her doorstep. She is unable to kill spiders, but guides them from her home to nature, and occasionally helps a close friend who rescues domesticated rats.

Over the past eight years, she has built a community of dog and human “regulars” who she enjoys meeting on her walks. There’s Coco, a 13-year-old Havanese; Quincy, a pit bull terrier, chow and husky mix; Rainey, a gray and white pit bull and maybe a dozen others.

A favorite stop is the Sea Dog Boutique, where Norfolk visits with owner Karen Komisa and manager Maria Aguirre. Twice a year, Norfolk and her camera come to the store and photograph the pets that Santa and the Easter Bunny are ‘visiting’. The Norfolk event and photos are free, but the store advertises that it accepts donations for charity. The most recent event raised $321 in just a few hours for the Montgomery County-based Warrior Canine Connection, where recovering veterans train service dogs.

Ashley Norfolk of Crofton photographs dogs for her “Dogs Of Annapolis” Instagram and Facebook accounts. She uses a Sony camera. (Barbara Schelvis Taylor/Staff)

“There are people I’ve met throughout this whole experience that I wouldn’t have this personal connection with if I hadn’t started this blog,” Norfolk said.

But of all the friends she’s made, Norfolk has come closest to the man she describes as “my cool uncle.”

James Silwick is a sanitation worker responsible for keeping the streets of Annapolis clean. He and Norwalk crossed paths all the time, and one day they started talking.

“We had so much in common,” Norfolk said.

“We both love dogs, classic rock and old monster movies. We can talk about anything forever. He always says, ‘I don’t know why we’re friends. People like us normally wouldn’t talk to each other.”

Silwick described herself as Norfolk’s biggest fan and said he came to appreciate her character during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was at a time when mask-wearing was recommended, but the few face coverings available were reserved for hospital workers.

Norfolk taught herself to sew and began handing out cloth masks on the streets of Annapolis, asking to be reimbursed for just the cost of her materials.

“That’s exactly the kind of person Ashley is,” Silwick said. “Were very close. When you see her every day, it’s worth walking down Main Street.”