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Episode 7: The Art of End of Life Pet Photography

    Show Notes

    End-of-life pet photography — which is an icky, clinical term that many professional pet photographers don’t prefer — is an honor and a privilege. As pet photographers we get to share in our clients’ taking their last walks with their faithful companions. 

    This week, some of the Founding and Platinum members of One Last Network have gathered for a roundtable discussion on our legacy sessions and what offering this service to pet guardians means to us. Everyone is or will be trained as a pet loss grief specialist under the One Last Network banner, because we not only want to create beautiful images of you and your best fur friend together but we also want to be a part of your support network.

    Many of us have taken that last walk and we know it can be a lonely, painful time and sometimes all you need is someone to listen or hold your hand through it. We are equipped as pet loss grief specialists to be that friend.

    Appearing on today’s call are:

    Join us as we explore the topic of memorial sessions and why they’re such an important part of our businesses.

    Transcript

    Hi and welcome back to One Last Network. Thanks for listening!

    If you hear me sniffling, it’s because I tested positive for COVID last night. I can’t believe I made it almost three years without contracting it!

    I’m super excited to share this episode with you. We’ve gathered together some of the top professional pet photographers in the United States to talk about end of life pet photography sessions.

    Everyone you hear today is a founding or platinum member of One Last Network.

    They are or will be soon trained to support their clients better in the anticipatory grief stages of their pets lives.

    I have with me today Darlene Woodward of Pant the Town Photography in Massachusetts, Jes Wasik of Bark and Gold Photography in Pittsburgh, Kylee Doyle of Kylee Doyle Photography in Sacramento, Nancy Keiffer of Nancy Keiffer Photography in Syracuse, New York, Lynn Sehnert of Lance and Lili Pet Photography in Ashburn, Virginia, and Nicole Hrustyk of Pawtraits by Nicole in Las Vegas.

    And of course, I’m Angela Schneider of Big White Dog Photography in Spokane, Washington.

    Angela Schneider 

    Hello and welcome to the first pet photographers roundtable for One Last Network. I am your host, Angela Schneider. I operate Big White Dog Photography in Spokane, Washington, where all of life is an adventure and every adventure is made better by the presence of four paws next to you. Let’s go around the work room and introduce everybody. Just let’s start with you.

    Jes Wasik

    I’m just Jes Wasik and I’m the owner of Bark and Gold Photography based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I celebrate the joy and love between Pittsburgh pets and their people.

    Angela

    Awesome, Darlene. Good morning.

    Darlene Woodward

    I’m Darlene Woodward, owner of Pant the Town Photography. I am located in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. I photograph pets and their families throughout the beautiful seasons of New England.

    Angela

    Nancy.

    Nancy Keiffer

    Hi, I’m Nancy Kiefer from Nancy Keefer photography. I’m based in Syracuse, New York. And I celebrate pets and their people and anything that makes you feel good with your pet.

    Angela

    Awesome. Kylie.

    Kylee

    I am Kylee, the owner of Kylee Doyle, photography out of Northern California. I capture pet parents and their fur babies from Sacramento to Tahoe. And I especially love capturing those furbabies who are a little bit more reactive or sensitive.

    Angela

    Awesome. And Lynn. Hi, Lynn, how are you? Hi.

    Lynn Sehnert 

    Sorry. Little little late. It’s been a hectic morning already. But I am Lynn Sehnert with Lance and Lili pet photography, I’m based in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. And I specialize in mostly senior dogs and end-of-life sessions.

    Angela

    And welcome to the room Nicole, we’re doing quick little introductions of ourselves, do you want to pop on and tell us who you are and where you are.

    Nicole

    I’m Nicole in Las Vegas, Nevada. And that’s about all I could come up with at seven in the morning. I’m a Las Vegas, Nevada, dog photographer and my dogs are going crazy. I do a lot of end-of-life sessions and I have a lot of seniors, I should be doing my own end-of-life sessions. That’s about it. I’m gonna hit mute. So you guys don’t have to listen to this chaos or anything.

    Angela

    OK, so we’re just gonna have a very informal discussion with some questions that I have planned around end-of-life pet photography. And once I ask the question, you know, I might offer my answer first and then anybody can just speak up when they want to if they have something to share. So let’s get started with what does offering these sessions mean to you.

    And for me, it’s very much — as I’m sure is consistent throughout a lot of people in our business — I lost my own dog in 2014. We had been together for 10 years and he was my soulmate. And you know that when he died, I realized I didn’t have any really good pictures other than stupid cellphone selfies of us together. And you know, I look back at those selfies now and they’re so precious and so important to me, but at the same time to have known someone like me in 2014 would have been such a gift. And so for me to be able to offer these sessions to people whose dogs are in their senior years or coming to the end of their days with us is just such an important part of my business

    Oh, don’t raise your hand, just go.

    Darlene

    I’ll go ahead. So these senior sessions, end-of-life sessions have always been important for me ever since six years ago when I started my business in pet photography, but even more so since I lost my soul dog Kota in August, and I’ll try not to get upset. But the main thing is I remember the day after Kota passed away, I wasn’t sure how I would handle pictures on the wall or seeing her all over the house and how I would react. But in reality, what I ended up doing was I went to my old desktop computer, opened up the hard drive and I went through every single picture I ever took of Kota over the last number of years. And I started printing even more and more images. I wanted everything up on the wall, I wanted everything, and an album, everything where I could look at it every day. And that was the moment where I said to myself, you know, what you are doing exactly what you need to be doing and where you are with this whole pet photography and working with the elderly dogs headed towards the end-of-life session. So it was really eye opening for me.

    Angela

    Did you get a session done before Kota left?

    Darlene

    It’s interesting, I did not. And reason being my Kota is extremely dog reactive. And I’m big on safety. And I wanted to find a pet photographer kind of like me in a selfish way. But what we ended up doing is my husband and I, the night before, we took Kota out in the backyard, which is her favorite place. I gave him the camera, I set it up. And we did take some beautiful photos. And she did really well. She had a great last best day.

    Angela

    Okay. Anyone else want to pipe up?

    Nancy

    I will. I was photographing a lot of landscapes when I came back to photography, and it was losing my dog that made me want to shoot more animals and photograph more animals, I’ll say, instead of shoot them. But yeah, when I lost Midnight, I lost him to lymphoma. And he was only four years old. In fact, he wasn’t four even when we found out. But he just made his fourth birthday. And I looked back and again, I saw lots of pictures of him, but very few with the two of us in them. So that’s what brought me to it. And so they’re very special, looking back at just a couple pictures I have with them. But I wish I had more.

    Lynn

    Yeah, we just did another family session this year, we had the four of us, we had our pictures done three years ago and we just did another one this year, because both of my dogs are getting older. And especially Lance, he’s now having some more health issues. And we’re hoping everything is OK, gonna be OK. But you just never know. And so I’m like, you know, I had written a post about I am the heaviest I’ve ever been in. I’m very self-conscious right now. But for me having those photos is more important than how I look. Because I have tons of photos that I’ve taken with my cellphone with my husband. But there aren’t very many photos with me and the dog. So I wanted to make sure we got those. And like I said, it doesn’t matter how I look. But I just want those photos and especially now that you know Lance … we’re hoping it’s minor. But you just you just never know with dogs. So those were important to us.

    Jes

    Yeah, I’ll echo what Darlene and Nancy and Lynn has said, and what I hear from my clients is very much the same thing that these images that they have afterward just provides so much comfort. And yes, they have all the iPhone photos in the world of them, but they don’t always have ones where they’re in those photos. And I’m finding that with these sessions, they’re looking for those images, they want that relationship captured, they want to be in there and be celebrated alongside their dog. So, you know, I entered into this never dreaming that really, end-of-life sessions would be such a big component of my business. You think happy puppies and running an action but a lot of it is just capturing those more intimate moments and giving people something that they’re going to cherish forever beyond those puppy years and those sweet senior years and just giving them a place to be themselves and be real and be seen how they love and know their dog best.

    Angela

    There’s a lot of things I didn’t know I was getting into when I started a business on the you know …

    Lynn

    We never know!

    Angela

    But, yeah, the biggest adjustment was understanding that people needed these sessions because I was into it for the happy puppies and the long walks in the park. But then I realized, you know, something clicked in me and I was like, oh, that’s important, this is important, this was important to you. And now you know, it just it all starts coming clear. So, what has it been like to create these memories for your clients? You know, kind of feedback do you get from your clients after having done these sessions for them?

    Jes

    I want to say it’s nowhere near as morbid and sad as people assume. A lot of people don’t book this because they say, I don’t think I can get through it without crying. And I don’t know how you do it without crying and just feeling just torn apart at these stories. And there’s tears from clients. Sometimes they’re sad tears, sometimes they’re really happy tears are tears of gratefulness. But I think just to remember that, it’s okay that it feels a little uncertain, and you don’t know how to feel as a client. But it’s not more of it, there’s still ways to celebrate this love, and give them something happy, even in a time when you’re not supposed to be happy.

    Kylee

    Yeah, I want to echo Jessica, I mean, these sessions, they’re beautiful. You know, there’s definitely times in them where things get emotional. You know, and we have to talk about, you know, some of those hard things. But at the same time, like we are celebrating, you know, this dog’s life, and we’re celebrating the connection that they have with their people. And we’re creating these images that they can hold onto forever, and they can remember those happy memories. You know, and every time I do one of these sessions, we always talk about, you know, what are your favorite things that you’ve done with your dog? What are your favorite memories? You know, so that when they look back on these pictures, they’re not sad pictures, they’re happy pictures, because it was a really special day that they had.

    Angela

    So how do you guys tailor your sessions to a client’s needs when a dog is older or, you know, for myself, I advertise myself as an adventure dog photographer. So you know, I like to be out hiking in the hills, or, you know, doing cool things at the lake with, with my younger, healthier clients, but certainly I make adjustments for my older or ill clients by, you know, having a selection of local parks, and just, you know, taking it easy and but you know, at the same time, one of the things we have to remember is just because these dogs are older or ill doesn’t mean they’re necessarily immobile, too, right? Like, I’ve gotten to some senior sessions, and the dog is like, party!

    Lynn

    Well, I know for me, I have really worked on tailoring my website specifically so that it is more senior. And, you know, also reactive dog-friendly. And so you’ll see, like, the pictures, like the first couple pictures on my website are specifically senior dogs. And I also have what’s called legacy sessions. And that’s specifically tailored for those types of sessions. And, like, this year alone, I think, almost 100% of the inquiries I got were specifically for senior and end-of-life sessions. So yeah, so the tailoring is working. And, and, and I’ve been working with another photographer, and I’m like, you know, you can do the action shots, you can do all that I just give me the nice little dog that, you know, that just kind of stays and doesn’t need to move around though. I did have a 19 year old Chihuahua the other week. And you know, I was told oh, no, she’s really laid back and she doesn’t want to do very much. Total lie! But it was fine. She’s had that the dog since she was in grade school, grade school or something. So yeah, she’s known him since he was a puppy and now is 19. So you’re just thankful that you can be there to help, you know, those clients capture those memories.

    Angela

    So do you have certain locations in mind for your senior or terminally ill dogs or pets? That, you know you wouldn’t necessarily take a younger, healthier dog to?

    Lynn

    Well, I guess it’s there are a couple of places I usually go to that I can tailor a little bit more, I generally will walk around like the park more, but for seniors, not so much. And also, I ask my clients, you know, if they have special places, so and those sessions, we also tend to do a lot more backyards, or places closer to them that have more special meaning. And so yeah, like, you know, some, some of those, like, you’re not always able to scout out beforehand, and you’re like, those Google photos were a lie, but you make it work. And I know, my clients are, you know, they’re very happy for the images they have.

    Angela

    Primarily, we have to be concerned with the pet’s comfort.

    Lynn

    Yes.

    Jes

    I think it’s important to remember as well that not so much to treat them how we want to be treated, but to treat them how they wanted to be treated. And for some people, that might be a backyard session where the setting is less than ideal, and we don’t have great light. And it’s not going to be so much about this beautiful scenic photo, but about capturing that connection and those quieter moments, and just giving them something that keeps them happy and comfortable. And it’s more meaningful to them.

    Angela

    So how do we all feel after we do these sessions?

    Darlene

    Well, I’m an emotional one, if anyone knows me, I don’t want to usually, I cry with the clients, I do, I cry. But it’s almost that feeling of relief to that we did this, we capture those moments, we have those memories, we got it done before it was too late. And that feeling of relief that they’re going to have something to cherish forever. And that’s that good feeling deep down in my heart?

    Nancy

    Yeah, I’ll echo that the feeling of relief that we got the session done. And, you know, the pet, you know, did good during it, you know; however, it could tell that they had a bond and everything during the session. That’s the most important and you were able to capture it.

    Angela

    Is it important to you to be a support system for your client in these days, where they might be feeling a little lost, a little confused, a lot of hurt?

    Jes

    10,000%, it’s why I did the grief training. Not only in this area is there not a lot of pet photographers, which just that alone means they don’t always know how to handle working with animals, let alone that bond between a pet guardian and their senior pet or their pet they’re about to lose. But it’s a place for them to be able to share with me, and don’t let it out there to someone who’s not going to judge them and who’s not going to rush them through the session and who’s not going to feel uncomfortable because the dog is moving slowly or they can’t pose up on this bench or something that they want. But to give them a place that says you’re welcome here, I get it. We do what you need to do. There is no judgment.

    Angela

    It’s absolutely OK that you love your dog that much. You know, it’s, it’s certainly easy for us to say it. It can be difficult for some people that hear it, because they may be surrounded by family and friends who don’t get it and are holding them back from the grieving process. And so for me, I want to be able to let them know that exactly what they’re feeling is normal. And you love your dog or your cat or your horse or your goat or whatever that much that you should be grieving. You should be anticipating the hurt that’s going to come with not having them around.

    Jes

    And it’s OK that the end result is all it is that you have beautiful photos of them. I mean, so many people are judged for having this shrine to their dead animal. And I don’t see it like that at all. I think it’s a beautiful tribute. We honor people through photos, our parents, our children, our loved ones. There’s nothing different about doing the same for our animals. And I think normalizing that and showing them that we don’t need to keep these images tucked away on a USB or in tiny little prints that we can put them in beautiful albums and have them on the coffee table and put them out in the walls where we can see them every day and just feel such a peace and looking at that smile in that moment that we had. There’s nothing wrong with that. And I think the more people understand that, the better it is for the client’s peace of mind and our businesses as well. Because it’s not a popular thing to be photographing animals who are sick and not feeling well.

    Angela

    I just learned a little bit about Dia de los Muertos and Aztec culture. And gosh, I hope I don’t get this wrong, because when an arse I would be. But you die three times. The first time is when you take your last breath. The second time is when they bury you. And the third time is the worst time because it’s the last time someone says your name. I don’t ever want to stop saying Shep’s name. You know it would happen. You know what? I don’t want to keep telling his stories, because there’s such a huge part of me and who I am and who I became, in the 10 years that we were together. And that’s what those photos mean to me too. I don’t want anyone to not have those memories and those photos. You know,

    Nicole

    I think another on the no judgment, it’s also super important … because sometimes these dogs are clearly ready to go. And it’s such a sensitive area that you can’t, you have to just respect that person’s position that they can’t see that at that moment. But they might see it with the photos. But so somebody who is not experienced and that may say the wrong thing. And it’s a very sensitive area.

    Jes

    And sometimes you often get one chance if that pet is not doing well. We don’t get to reshoot we don’t get to reschedule. I mean, you have to make it work, you need to understand animal body language, what they should look like when you’re photographing them running or sitting or connecting with their people and just picking anyone to do that, they may not get it, they literally may miss focus. We know how to technically photograph but also pulling that emotional aspect as animal lovers.

    Angela

    Which leads me into why should a client seek a professional photographer and especially a pet-specific photographer from these moments?

    Darlene

    Exactly what Jess was just saying, We know all about body language, we know how to read dogs, we know how to keep them safe in situations, we choose locations that have less distractions, we want them to be their best selves. So that’s what being a professional pet photographer is all about. And we take the time to learn these things. And we’re able to help guide our clients through the whole process with it.

    Angela

    And understanding positioning of the pet too, right? Like we may, we may know how to artfully move ourselves around to not show the IV patch.

    Jes

    And even through editing, you know, clients may come to you and they may not want to see missing fur or a bump or a lump here or there and you need to know how to correct that. Whereas there’s times when clients say, leave him exactly as I know him this day. I don’t want any changes made. And I never want to change the way a dog or any animal is represented. I want that client to tell me what their comfort level is with that and then be able to edit that appropriately because I always want them to see them as that animal’s best self.

    Kylee

    Yeah, I think in addition to everything that was just discussed, though, I mean, we’ve all gone through the grief training. And I think that that’s really important. You know, especially with these end-of-life sessions because we really understand, you know, what they’re going through and how to help them go through that process.

    Angela

    What did you learn in grief training that that sets you apart, then?

    Kylee

    I think a big thing for me was actually learning about anticipatory grief. Because when we’re going into these sessions, you know, and especially if the dog is older, but, you know, maybe not quite to the end of their life yet, pet parents start to feel those anticipatory grief, you know, they start to worry, OK, my dog is getting older, you know, he’s maybe not going to be around for much longer. I mean, I know I feel it, my dog is only six years old. And every now and then I get that, like, pang of oh, my gosh, you know, this dog is not going to be with me forever. You know, and it’s, it’s terrifying. And, you know, if you don’t know, somebody who understands that, you know, and a lot of people judge, you know, they’re like, it’s a dog, you know, yeah, he’s gonna die. You know, it’s like, I understand that. But it’s nice to have somebody who also gets it, and can help you through that.

    Jes

    I never believe it’s just a dog. And for my clients that connection, again, it goes back to not judging that relationship. I love what I do. And I want them to love it too. And you don’t enter into any type of work like this for the money or the fame, you have to love what you’re doing and to be able to capture something so special for them and just let them know that we all grieve differently. And that’s OK. But there’s nothing glamorous about this. So a pet photographer who has an understanding of grief and who is trained in how to handle these uncomfortable difficult, often fast-paced, chaotic situations is very important. I’m often called with a couple of days notice, and I have to be able to fit them in my schedule, and choose a location that’s great and understand at what point in this dog’s health and their life we’re at so that I can approach that session appropriately. And make sure that everybody, the pet, the people and me is safe and comfortable.

    Angela

    Yeah, I don’t think there’s a single one of us that doesn’t drop everything to make sure the sessions get on our calendars, right? Darlene, is there anything you can add about the grief training? Especially since you were in the middle of it all?

    Darlene

    Yeah. It could …

    Angela

    If you can’t, say no.

    Darlene

    It’s one of those things. It was horrible timing but it was perfect timing, because I’m going through the entire process after going through the training. And I think it’s been amazingly helpful for me, and maybe to add a little bit of humor to it but the “what not to say when you’re grieving” is really hitting home, because I’m not knocking anybody who said the wrong things to me. But it all makes sense now, when I’m dealing with other people going through that process of what not to say, the number of times I hear, “Oh, you’re gonna get another dog, you’ll get another dog soon” and things like that it’s, you know, we talked about in grief training that, yeah, we have to be respectful of people’s feelings. normalize that pets are our family. They really are our family, we have to watch what we say. And that has been a big part because I’m constantly picking up on what people say to me, and how I make sure not to say it to others to cause any hurt and pain more than what they’re feeling already.

    Jes

    Yeah, you would never say you can go get another grandmother. Just let us embrace what we’re feeling. I know people are well intentioned, but you would never say that and just because it’s a dog or a cat or a horse does not change that. It still sucks. It still hurts.

    Angela

    I will point out that parents have been told that they can just have another child and I can’t see the kind of person who would say something like that. Like, please don’t do that.

    Lynn

    Or we we’ve talked about it’s like I hate that meme that says oh honor your dog that’s passed away by adopting another. I like hate that memebecause it’s so insensitive. And I have not gone through the grief training process yet. I will be starting. But one of the reasons I want to do it is because — sorry, my dogs just got home — so …

    Angela

    Barking dogs in our background is always welcome. Just not Nicole’s chaos.

    Lynn

    I want to feel like I can talk with my clients and — I just had this conversation with one of my sisters  — basically as humans, we are not really taught how to deal with grief, and how to deal with other people’s grief.

    Angela

    Right.

    Lynn

    And I think that’s a skill we’re sorely lacking. So we get all the quote, you know, inappropriate comments and stuff. And I think sometimes it’s just because we’re ignorant, or it’s like, it just makes us feel uncomfortable. And so, you know, and I noticed, like, sometimes it’s like I want to be able to communicate better with my clients, and not be one of these, you know, try to at least, you know, keep the inappropriate comments to a minimum. So, I probably will say something inappropriate at some point. But I just want to be more sensitive to my clients. And, you know, and some clients need their hand held through the process more than others. You know, I have a couple of clients who really have, you know, been wanting to hold my hand, and I’m like, I don’t know how I can help you so much, but you know, they feel that connection with you, because you were there to capture something so important to them. And, yeah, so I just want to get better at that. And to better serve my clients.

    Angela

    Lynn hit on a great point, um, we live in a grief, illiterate society. You know, it took me a very long time to start learning about it. When I was a kid, and I had an uncle and a grandfather die, we didn’t attend any of the services, we were shunted off to a babysitter. You know, we got to go hang out at the river and have A&W so yay! You know, we didn’t know what was going on  and it was only years later that, that, you know, well, no, your grandpa is not around anymore. Oh, where did he go? I don’t know. And, you know, when we apply it to pets, a lot of people may not even know what they’re feeling. Or understand what anticipatory grief even though they’re in the throes of it in that moment. So if we can learn more about these processes that people go through and understand the emotions and the feelings, we can help create a more grief literate society and help create a society where people understand, “Yeah, I do love my dog that much and that’s OK. Yeah, I’m unabashed about it and I know you guys are too. Man, I just I want to spread that feeling around the world and allow people the space to just exist as they are  as pet lovers, as animal lovers, as dog lovers, you know.

    Darlene

    I want to add one more thing because Angela, you have helped me so much with this. It’s the storytelling and I’m gonna cry.

    Angela

    I make you tell me stories.

    Darlene

    Yes! So Angela would make me tell the story and say, “Darlene, tell me a story about what something Kota did that made you smile.” And it got me thinking to those memories and kind of really digging deep to talk about it, which has been so helpful with my clients in just, you know, “Hey, what is your favorite afternoon thing to do with your dog.” Just having them tell those stories to trigger those memories and talk about it. And thank you, Angela, because you’ve done a great job with me with that. And it’s been so helpful for me to relate with others.

    Angela

    Uncomfortable, awkward laughter.

    Nicole

    Slightly off topic. Throw in something else about what not to say? Yeah. So my first day back to work after my sister passed away, my boss came and said, “You know, George’s cousin’s brother is in the hospital too. So yeah, it’s not just you.” Ah, ah, OK. He’s a very awkward, different person. But that was my first experience of learning how awkward people are with loss and not knowing what to say. Fortunately for me, I don’t know any non-dog people. So everybody, like if they’re non-dog people, I probably unfriended them on Facebook. I don’t talk to them. So fortunately, when it comes to dog stuff or loss everybody I know, gets it, you know?

    Angela

    Does understanding more about grief, make your own recovery, mentally and emotionally easy for you after these sessions? I, you know, I know I’ve come home from an end-of-life photography session in tears. And, you know, my immediate response is to just fall onto Bella. And feel Bella’s life. But after having gone through all of this training myself, and being able to pass my knowledge on to you, it is somehow making it easier for me to recover and say, you know, I did an important thing.

    Nicole

    It’s interesting, because my very last end-of-life session, I bawled the whole way home, it was really hard. And, oddly enough, it’s been a while, like, two months, and I haven’t had an end-of-life session since then. I’ve been doing all young dogs. So I feel like the universe is giving me a little bit of a break from that. Because all of a sudden, I have all these young, young little dogs. And I’m like, OK, this is awesome. So it’s a nice, like, reprieve from that because it’s hard. Like I had a period where it was just a couple of weeks, where just back to back to back end of life sessions. And it just, it really got to me. So I have not learned how to, I haven’t learned how to deal with it better, I guess.

    Angela

    Well, I do have good news for you. We will be having a self-care and grief recovery expert doing a webinar with us in the new year. She’s highly trained in compassion fatigue.

    Nicole

    Oh, yeah. That is awesome.

    Angela

    That’s insider information.

    Nicole

    Love that. That is a great topic.

    Angela

    That’s in case any other pet photographers are listening.

    Lynn

    I always cry later on I you know, it’s like, because I think I tend to compartmentalize things. And so it’s like, I know, I’m there for a purpose. And you know, and it’s like, I want to be able to get those shots and everything so I don’t get so emotional. It’s after the fact or, or are the ones that really get to me are the sessions I’m not able to photograph and get to, when I hear the dog has passed away before we were able to get the session. Those are the ones that kill me the most I think sometimes because it’s like, because I couldn’t provide that service for them. Or it’s, it’s also it’s like when I hear … my clients will usually message me or I’ll see it, you know, online that the dog has passed away, then I’ll be like, usually, like a couple days, like just a wreck. You know, it’s like and it’s sorry, it’s like one of my one of my street dogs just passed away last week and, you know, it’s like when you hear the stories and you know, like this dog Hank, he had been a street dog all his life and then got rescued and so knowing like his last year and a half, he lived this pampered lifestyle and he had a foster brother who was basically his emotional support dog and so it’s after the fact, that gets me the most I think sometimes because I know in that time and place, I’m there for a reason. And I, once in a while get emotional, but I don’t typically get that emotional during a session. But it’s the afterward. And then when I do get word that they’ve passed away, those are the hardest times for me.

    Jes

    I am on the other side of grief, in that, thankfully, I have Hunter, he’s 13. And he’s doing amazing. But understanding more about anticipatory grief made sense to me, because you know, you get little pings of something, and you don’t always know what it is. And then you haven’t gone through this training, and especially the anticipatory grief section. It’s like, oh, OK, that’s what that is. That’s normal. Let’s move through this, let’s figure out how we’re going to get through these days and times and still keep enjoying things. Because like Lynn said, the worst feeling is not having these photos, missing that opportunity to capture someone’s dog, often because they’ve waited too long. So if anyone is considering this, do not wait, whether you book a professional pet photographer, or you take the photos yourself, just get them done. Because it’s such a … it brings such comfort, knowing that you have these photos. Even though my dog is fine. I take a jillion photos of him. And just … I know, one day, I’m gonna look back and be so so happy that I have them.

    Angela

    Yeah, and you guys all know that I had sessions done with Bella over the summer. And to have those memories of her and I together on the beach, when we’re both in the prime of our lives, you know, in the prime of our life together. Man, I am going to treasure those photo albums forever. And, you know, I have those images of us together in the way that I didn’t have with Shep. And so you’re right, in that people need to do this when their dog is healthy and happy and mobile and active. Because, you know, we often think about a puppy, I should get pictures done. I should you know, gotcha day and things like that. And then there’s Oh, no, I’m losing him. I need to get pictures done of him. But what about that in between? You know, what about that in between, that’s it, you know, it’s that poem that I shared with you guys several weeks ago, the dash, the dash is everything. The dash is that space on your tombstone between the year you were born in the year you the year you die, and, and, but the dash is every day that you live. So, you know, the dash is your dog’s life to and to have memories of that and the storiesand all of that is really what it’s all about. And, and I mean, I haven’t put my camera down since Bella came into my life. Like, everywhere we go and everything we do. It’s either a cellphone shot, or a video or, you know, my big girl cameras in my hand. And it drives my husband crazy because he’s like, can you ever stop taking pictures of her? No, and I won’t.

    Jes

    it reminds me of that quote, you know, somewhere between hello and goodbye, there was so much love. And that’s what we have to be capturing. Don’t just do the puppies don’t just do those final days, capture every single day that you have together because there’s adventure and there’s humor and there’s loyalty and there’s love and that deserves to be remembered forever and ever.

    Angela

    Do you stay in touch with your memorial session clients?

    Jes

    I do. Yeah. They will often tell me to when that pet has passed. And that’s hard. You know you’ve developed this connection with them and in that hour or so you love that little animal like your own and it’s not good when I hear that, but it does give me a chance to keep that relationship going. I send them just a little memorial gift. If I can tailor it to something that I know they love to do together, I will. Like I had a woman who she gardens and her backyard has this big beautiful garden and it’s where they spent all their time together with their four dogs and their one dog had passed. So I  her — I always mix it up, it’s the one that blooms every year, perennials — I sent her perennials. OK, not the ones that die every year, perennial so that every year after she plants them she’ll have this memory of being back there with her dogs, and it’s hopefully something that I’ll bring her just a little bit of bright days ahead. Anyone else

    Darlene

    I love that. So recently, quick little story recently, I did a photo session for a dog that was diagnosed with cancer. And that was one of my first of that types of sessions since Kota had passed away. So it was a little bit of a challenge for me, but I obviously felt that’s where I needed to be and to do that session. And actually, this morning, the client reached out to me and sent me a really nice email and said that her dog is cancer free, the tumor was removed. And she said, I know she said, thank you so much for caring, I wanted to share this with you and that’s what it’s all about. Because I want to go with people on the journey, be able to be for them if they need someone to be there for them in case they need somebody to talk to and be able to share with.

    Lynn

    I would say the majority of my clients, they will let me know that their pet has passed away and just how thankful they were that they were able to get those moments capture those moments. And then you know, I typically just send them, you know, a card, letting them know, you know, that I’m thinking of them and stuff. Yeah.

    Angela

    What I what I really want people to understand is that it’s such an emotional journey for us as your pet photographer, in that not only do we become a little teeny tiny piece of your story with your dog or your pet but your pet also becomes a part of our story. Every single dog that I have photographed every single goat, horse, cat, pig that I have photographed in the last five years is part of my story and who I’ve become and who I’m going to become in the next however many years. Whew! So just like barking dogs in the background tears are always welcome and expected. Any last words from anybody? Nancy, you’ve been quiet

    Nancy 

    Yeah. I do think it’s so important to have those memories captured of time just of you enjoying your pet, taking time with each other and looking at each other petting, petting your pet and it’s just the session is designed just to be just a joy, loving with your pet. I think that’s so, so special.

    Angela

    Darlene take us out.

    Darlene

    Do you want me to cry some more?

    Angela

    Absolutely.

    Darlene 

    No, I’m just to everyone, and how everything is so raw with me having lost my Kota in August. It is all raw. It’s all real. It’s  emotional. And I myself, I am even going through grief coaching right now to help me through the entire process, which is one of the best things that I can do for myself. But it is so so meaningful to get the photos done. And I can’t tell anyone enough of it. So there is no reason to wait. Do it right now. Because even if you have 1000s of photos on your cellphone, which we all do, you still will not have enough. I have photos all over the house everywhere. And I still am thinking I didn’t get enough. I didn’t get here. We didn’t go … we didn’t go to New York that last time on that vacation and I didn’t get those photos of Kota. Like there’s not enough so just my advice. Get it done. Capture that joy while your pet is still alive and energetic and joyful because you don’t want to have any regrets.

    Angela

    And let’s just point out that Darlene is going through grief coaching with Beth Bigler of honoringouranimals.com, a really good friend to One Last Network and who will be appearing on the podcast very soon. Thank you all so much for coming this morning. I think it was such a great discussion. And I hope people get a little insight into our process with our end-of-life sessions, and how we just want to share your story. Thank you all so much for coming. Have a wonderful day.

    I speak on behalf of all professional pet photographers when I say we honored and humbled by the opportunity to create beautiful portraits of you and your pet as you take your last walks together.

    It’s why every member of our group at One Last Network wants to improve the service we provide to you and become a part of your support network.

    Sometimes just having someone to listen to you, someone who gets it, someone who will never say “it was just a dog” is all you need to help you get to the next step.

    Next week we find out more about Jes Wasik and Bark and Gold Photography, celebrating the joy and love between pets and their people through heirloom art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

    4 thoughts on “Episode 7: The Art of End of Life Pet Photography”

    1. You all are my dream team to do this alongside! What an exciting venture to explore with those who simply “get it” like each of us do, and then be able to bring that to our individual client experiences.

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