I recently had the great privilege of photographing a good friend’s family and her dog that was dying of a fatal heart cancer. We knew that Phoenix, who she had since he was a puppy, had only a few weeks left to live, even though outwardly he seemed pretty vibrant and energetic when I saw him for our photos. We didn’t have a long time to do photos that day, and we knew we wanted to get a good family picture, and undoubtedly some photos of Phoenix with their (now) 3 year-old. She hadn’t quite grasped that Phoenix would be ‘leaving’ soon…
There was still craziness getting the two dogs to sit side by side (although so much better than my dog ever could), and we talked a lot. I love hearing about how an animal came to be in someone’s life; everything about an animal is about the present, it’s not about the past or the future. Phoenix wasn’t worried about what was happening to him. He kept us right there with him. After the session, Phoenix was with them another 18 days, and so when I look at these images I know that I’m looking at a family and a beautiful animal and friend at a precious moment in time, and I’m so glad I was there. Time is so fleeting. It’s a bittersweet thing to take final photos like this but there’s great joy here. It’s celebrating the connection, the family, and how important that life is. Phoenix was important.
So there may be a few people out there who don’t understand the bonds that some of us have with our pets, our companion animals. I like to think they may just not have found the right animal buddy yet. Some might make you feel silly for making such a fuss over your pet and don’t understand the grief you can feel at the loss of a beloved animal friend. I believe life is precious, and most definitely the life of an animal that has loved you unconditionally and always been by your side. And we all know that our animal friends never live as long as we wish they could…it can be really hard to say goodbye.
I know what it’s like to lose a pet (well, several), one that’s been in my life through thick and thin, not judging, always comforting. Words can’t always easily express that bond. Our companions leave us way too early and more often than not, we don’t capture the unique bond we have with our dog or cat on camera. Sure, maybe there are a bunch of not-too-awesome cell phone pictures, but maybe not some professional images. I even wish I had better and more pictures of several pets I have lost in my past, especially with me in them too.
So why do I want photograph your pets in their last days? And why should it be me?
Phoenix as a puppy
I don’t want other people to let days with their pets slip by, especially the last ones. Too many people lose their pets and tell me they wish they had got professional photos done with them. They tell me they wish I had taken the photos; I wish I had too. I know we can’t always anticipate an animals’ passing, but we do know when they are living on borrowed time, when they’re old, getting grey whiskers around their noses, and when they’re ill. We don’t always want to face it either. Having worked in veterinary clinics (and in rescue work) I have helped treat and been around many frail, old and sick animals that need extra special care. I want you to know this because I do understand the delicate nature of photographing a sick or aged kitty or pup; I also know what you go through getting closer to their passing, and eventually, saying goodbye. I’ve also been there for many people as they’ve said their final farewells with their precious companions in their arms. You can put your trust in me when it comes to recording and honoring an important and sensitive time.
My father’s cat, Jack, before he passed away
Some people are hesitant to get ‘last’ photos taken, since their pets may not look as they always have, not looking as healthy or as young as they once did. I think that all their life stages deserve to be remembered and I still hope to capture the spirit of that animal in the most honest and beautiful way. The feeling of regret over not getting images taken is not something I want other loving pet guardians to feel anymore!
I believe that our animals’ spirits stay with us when their bodies are gone, and this is something that comforts me. Their souls are so innocent, pure and loving, and we are so lucky we can have that in our lives. So many animals are never given the chance to be loved and then honored in this way, with a portrait and some images of their life, just to show how meaningful they were to someone. I hope I get to meet your beloved friend and companion, and that I can be entrusted with commemorating any of their days. Let’s celebrate the life that they have lived! The life they lived was important.
You can leave me any comments on this subject on this page, but you can also contact me with any questions about booking such a session over on this page here.
The problem with living is that pets don’t last long enough and people last too long.” ~ Anonymous
Louie (passed away at the grand old age of 20)
RIP Phoenix 10/19/2003 – 11/24/2015
**An expanded update of this post was published on the Katzenworld blog can be found by clicking HERE!