When I first started doing pet photography more than a decade ago, it was pure bliss, and I couldn’t imagine anything more fun and rewarding. Also, since I got my start in the world of rescue animals, I was just taking pictures of adoptable cats and dogs, and there was no pressure, deadlines, or anything stressful. Then one day I got an email from a woman who wanted to buy a photo session for her sister, who had a sick dog named Bliss. This sweet, little girl had congenital heart failure, so the session with me would be her last. It was heartbreaking for me to take the photos, seeing a happy, smiling dog through my lens and knowing it was short-lived. Several months later, Bliss passed away, and her owner sent me a photo she took of me during the session with her dog posing for me. The caption read, “Josh, thank you for being an angel in my life; now I’m one in yours.” I still get misty thinking about it, and will always remember how happy Bliss looked in the photos, and how grateful her parents were to have done the session while Bliss was still full of joy.
Since that time, I’ve done many more end-of-life sessions for both cats and dogs, and each one holds a very special place in my heart, and makes me feel tremendous gratitude that I can provide this gift to pet owners. It’s not something I ever thought I’d be doing when I started out, and it’s something I wish I didn’t have to do, to be honest. But sadly our pets don’t live forever. I did a session in 2014 with a dog named Cha Cha who couldn’t walk anymore, so she was carted to a park where she could feel the cool breeze as well as her owner’s love as she gave her gentle kisses and scratches. Both Cha Cha and her owner were so happy on that day, and despite photographing hundreds of pets since then, I can still remember every second of that afternoon and how Cha Cha looked so happy. I still love looking at the photos even after all this time, and I’m sure her owner does as well.
Sadly, not everyone gets the chance to experience this, because a lot of pet owners wait until it’s too late to consider a photo session for their dog or cat. By the time they realize it’s something they want to preserve in their memory, their pet is too sick, too frail, or no longer the dog or cat they used to be, making it extremely difficult to capture the essence of who they used to be in happier times.
I know nobody wants to consider these types of events. I certainly don’t want to think about the time when my cat and dog might get sick, but if you have a senior pet, or even a pet that is young and healthy, I would strongly urge you to consider a photo session. It’s a cliché, but the photos and memories will truly last a lifetime.
Josh Norem may be best known as The Furrtographer (TheFurrtographer.com), his San Francisco Bay Area-based pet photography business. He landed the Beast of the Bay’s 2016 Best Pet Photographer title and lives in Alameda with his dog Gertie and cat Rufus.
Main article photo by: Josh Norem