The last five months of 2021 were hard, the kind of hard that only those loved by a dog can understand.
I watched one family say goodbye in the most selfless and beautifully bittersweet way to three of their senior rescues over a four-month span, two of them only weeks apart.
Another, three months after her session, to cancer and completely unexpectedly.
There was the loss of one sweet girl in late November, the type that brutally and profoundly tears into your soul and leaves your home and heart feeling fragmented.
Days later, another, just weeks after I delivered his family’s barnwood framed family portrait in which he stands tucked beneath his mom’s arm.
Most recently, I received a card from past clients who recently lost their 12-year-old dog to hemangiosarcoma.
“Don’t forget [that] somewhere between hello and goodbye there was love, so much love,” it read.
That one sentence, those 14 little words, brought tears to my eyes, not entirely in sadness but in appreciation for what we as pet photographers are fortunate to do: capture love, so much love.
The Unexpected Gifts of Senior Dog Photography
There is a wonderful saying, “When we think of those companions who traveled by our side down life’s road, let us not say with sadness that they left us behind, but rather say with gentle gratitude that they once were with us.”
There’s no denying that the finality of losing our beloved companions is incredibly agonizing; however, finding ways to capture the seemingly insignificant things that you’ll want to remember, maybe even the things you take for granted, can ease the difficult pain of watching their best friend grow older. Think of the warmth of his paw resting in your hand, his habitual expressions that only you recognize the meaning behind, those laughable quirks, and the devotedness you share with one another.
As one client shared with me just eight weeks after losing her sweet boy, “Before this all happened, I was thrilled beyond words with our photo session and the final products[…]the session itself was fun and a memory that I’ll always cherish, but even more so now, I am so thankful that I did the session with you and that I didn’t wait. I had no idea what was coming, and those photos and memories are absolutely priceless to me now. Seeing the beautiful prints on my wall makes me so happy, every single day.”
These are the unexpected gifts of senior dog photography.
Should You Book a Photography Session for Your Senior Dog?
This experience certainly isn’t for everyone—and that’s to be expected. Only you will if investing in a Rainbow Session is for you.
That said, if what I’m sharing resonates with you, here are three reasons why you may want to consider booking a photography session for your aged or ailing dog.
1. Time Passes More Quickly Than You Realize
At some point, we’ve all uttered the promise that we’ll “get around to it eventually.”
The thing is, whether that involves a work project we’ve been procrastinating on, a vacation we’ve been postponing, or housework we’ve been dreading, for many of us, “eventually” never seems to come.
I struggle with the elusive idea of eventually, particularly when we use it as a timeline for getting photos of our pets. If you read into its meaning, as defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary, “eventually” denotes “in the end, especially after a long delay, dispute, or series of problems.” These long delays and series of problems, typically health-related, are unfortunately the very reasons why many people eventually book a session.
Most of us have heard of the popular calculation that one dog year is equivalent to seven human years, but the American Veterinarian Medical Association says that’s not entirely accurate.
“It varies, but cats and small dogs are generally considered ‘senior’ at seven years of age. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter lifespans compared to smaller breeds and are often considered senior when they are five to six years of age. Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not age at a rate of seven human years for each year in dog years.”
Considering how quickly dogs age, the poignant reality is that we will outlive our four-legged friends. While I encourage you to preserve the memories of your dog while he is happy and feeling/looking as you wish to remember him, there may come a time in his life when he has progressed to a point that you don’t want to look back on. If that is the case, please do not feel guilty or judged about simply appreciating the photos and reminders of him that you already hold near to your heart. Coercing yourself into a session that may result in portraits too distressing to display once your pet has crossed the Rainbow Bridge does not serve you. Rather, trust in the peace that accompanies spending the remaining time you have left together. You will value that time just as much.
2. Professional Photos Tell Your Story at Your Pace
Booking a Rainbow Session, designed specifically for pets preparing to cross the Rainbow Bridge due to illness or aging, is one of the most meaningful and personal ways to eternalize your favorite memories and beloved characteristics of your dog before it’s too late. For many, having professional pet portraits to reflect back upon provides extraordinary solace simply by capturing your special connection and keeping you linked to your dog for many years to come.
These photos can be especially valuable and comforting as you navigate the anticipatory grief associated with saying goodbye to dogs with limited time due to illness or aging. Anticipatory grief encompasses the feelings we experience at the recognition of impending loss and will look different to each of us. Its onset may be more gradual, appearing slowly through a series of new realizations, such as your dog tiring more easily as his daily walks become shorter and slower. In other instances, it hits instantly following an unforeseen diagnosis accompanied by an accelerated countdown to the inevitable.
While together you may no longer be able to do some of the things that once filled your days, investing in professional photos of your senior dog lovingly honors this new chapter of his life even if that looks different than you once remember. There is so much beauty in telling your story your way, gently, patiently, and personally.
3. Pet Portraits Strengthen Your Bond with Your Senior Dog
Imagine being able to step back from the stress and uncertainty of your day and its surrounding circumstances, if even for an hour, to embrace the world through your dog’s eyes.
To slow time with a stroll through a favorite park.
To sit beside one another and stroke his soft fur as he nuzzles his head into your lap.
To fill with the joy of seeing a sudden case of the zoomies as your typically slumberous sugar-face romps around the room with a favorite toy, leaving you questioning delightedly where that burst of energy came from.
I can not think of a better way to thank your dog for his unwavering love, loyalty, companionship, comfort, and acceptance than by taking a break from your everyday routine and spending time together.
After all, time may pass quickly, but love doesn’t.
Are you realizing that it’s time to book a photography session for your senior dog? Don’t put it off another day longer! Choose your adventure below to begin.
Did you enjoy this post? Great, there’s more coming your way because it’s part of a photography blog circle featuring photographers specializing in a variety of niches! To see more content like this and what the next photographer is sharing for our weekly theme, “Photographer’s Choice” check out Angela Schneider of Big White Dog Photography in Spokane, WA, trying to manage her own grief with dog photos. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here.