All of us who have pets know that they won’t be around as long as us. It’s the reason I
most often hear when I ask people why they don’t get another animal, even after a long period since a beloved pet has passed on: they just don’t feel like they can deal with losing a pet again. Dealing with a pet’s death is usually our first unwanted introduction to death, often as a child, but that doesn’t mean it gets easier as we get older. To put it bluntly, our pets just don’t live long enough.
I recently had the great privilege of photographing a good friend’s family and her dog that was dying of a fatal heart cancer (I mostly photograph cats, but some pups too). 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.
I was also able to take some photos of my mum’s cat Louie on a trip back home to England; a beautiful white cat – even with him being ear-less, he still was handsome (he had lost his ears to skin cancer some years before). Yet I knew these would be the last photos I would take of him. After twenty years, his body was ready to shut down, and I could see that in his every move and his tired but still-magical eyes. I would watch him slowly make his way up and down the stairs, with much effort thanks to arthritis. He couldn’t see properly anymore; high blood pressure had made his retinas detach and caused blindness. And he couldn’t hear anymore either. Sometimes he would sit basking in the sun, looking happy as most cats do when doing just that, but he usually seemed restless, not knowing how to be comfortable.
A loved companion animal has a gift in terms of a loving human caretaker knowing when it is time to end the suffering by choosing euthanasia. Most animals know death and illness far more cruel, or have never even felt loved before. But it’s the hardest decision to make, even when you know it’s what is best; to end the suffering and give that animal peace, after giving so much of themselves to you. Their lives are such gifts to us…
So I know 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 yes, 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?
As a photographer, 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.
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 hear about or even 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 and is 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 if you are in the Seattle area over on this page here. If you do live close to me, maybe I can help commemorate your pet’s life with photos. But if you don’t, I really hope you consider finding a professional photographer who does similar ‘Borrowed Time’ sessions for your furry friend before they pass over the Rainbow Bridge. This is a special time, and I hope more people consider doing this. Photos don’t replace memories, but they are a way for us to freeze time and hold those special moments close.
“The problem with living is that pets don’t last long enough and people last too long.” ~ Anonymous
RIP Phoenix 10/19/2003 – 11/24/2015
Thanks for reading; make sure to come on over to my page for more cat photography (and thank you for the awesome response to my last post about the Seattle Meowtropolitan Cafe). I can’t wait to hear from you again!
~ Katherine, K.A.Moore Photography
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Photographer, K.A.Moore Photography. Pets and family documentary photography, Seattle, WA. Specialty photography niche is cats. Rescue pet photographer, and member of HeARTs Speak.