Heartbreaking Photo Series Documents the Raw Final Moments Owners Spend With Their Dying Pets

Heartbreaking Photo Series Documents the Raw Final Moments Owners Spend With Their Dying Pets

Any pet owner will tell you that losing them is as great a pain as losing any member of the family. It’s in these moments we’re at our most vulnerable. One brave photographer has taken on the task of capturing such fragile moments in a series that documents owners struggling to cope in the last moments of their animal’s life.

Ross Taylor’s powerful new series is one that’s sure to bring a tear to the eye of any pet owner. His inspiration came after being “profoundly moved” by witnessing a friend struggle with the deteriorating health of her pet and her subsequent decision of euthanasia. The collection of images, he says, explores the intimacy of the human-animal bond, specifically "the last moments before and after the passing of a pet at home with their owner."

Leigh Zahn fights back tears as she lays with her dog, Spencer, in her lap a final time, just moments after Spencer passed.

“She’s always been my companion. Coco was there for me when he was on deployment,” said Rebecca Cassity, as she fights back tears. Her husband, Drew, was in the military. Dr. McVety reassures her with a hug and consoling words: “This is better treatment than any one of us would get.”

The images were taken in Tampa Bay, Florida throughout 2017-18 and involved working closely with the families involved. The pet owners seen in the images were aided by veterinarians from Lap of Love, a pet euthanasia service that allows for a peaceful passing at home. Founded by Dani McVety, the organization has been working with Caring Pathways, all of whom Taylor expresses utmost gratitude for. “It couldn't be done without their willingness to participate and belief in the project... They have my respect,” Taylor said.

In one of the most intense moments I’ve ever witnessed, Wendy Lehr cuddled beside her dog, Mimosa, shortly after she passed. The muffled sounds of her cries filled the empty room as she nuzzled against her face. She cried out: “Oh my baby, oh my baby. What am going to do without you?”

“It’s tough saying goodbye,” said Carrie Peterson after she dropped sunflowers over the grave of her dog, Asia. The smell of freshly turned earth is what I remember and how peaceful Asia looked within it.

While difficult, the at-home euthanasia process can be one that mitigates some of the painful reality of the end of life. It’s worth noting that the vets I’ve worked with are some of the most compassionate people I’ve met and always offer the families a chance to have a respectful moment afterwards with their beloved pet. It’s in stillness of these moments that I sometimes felt the most emotional for everyone involved.

Bob Zahn touches his dog, Spencer, just moments after the dog passed. His wife, Leigh, left the room immediately, as it was too much for her to take. “She’s going to take it harder maybe than the loss of her parents. Your parents can tell you when something's wrong, but your dog can’t."

Vanessa Gangadyal consoles her son, Ian, 8, while her husband, Michael Gangadyal, pets their dog, Ally, shortly after its passing.

“When I was sick, she knew something was wrong,” said Bob Lutz about their dog, Heidi, who looked up at them moments before she was euthanized due to recent substantial declines in health. His wife, Cindy, added: “she helped take away our pain.” At right, watching, is their other dog, Winnie.

If you were as moved as we were by this powerful series, you can see more of Taylor’s work (some of which saw him nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) at his website and Instagram.

All images Ross Taylor, and used with permission.

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davidlovephotog's picture

WHY would anyone want this? More important, why would we want to see this? Just looks like someone using others pain for gain. Why not dead babies next or people right before they kill themselves. Oh, the butcher houses or more abused animals? Then throw in some message to try and balance it out as something from the heart.

LA M's picture

I agree...our society is rapidly descending into strange territory

David Gallego's picture

Do you know this photographer personally? How do you know this isn't coming from the heart? He obviously had consent which obviously means that it was alright with those people above. So CLEARLY they wanted this. Look you can feel however you want, just don't jump to conclusion. I personally was moved by these photo's. I think he handle it in a respectable way.

Elke Vogelsang's picture

There are actually photographers out there who can be booked to shoot pictures of stillborn babies and they have all my respect. To parents this baby was a family member for months even if it never saw the light of day. These photographers make it possible for these families to have one keepsake of their child. In my opinion it's a very important task that deserves lots of respect.

Jack Alexander's picture

Having spoken with the photographer who shot this series, it's apparent how sensitively everything was handled. Nothing was done on the sly, or without express permission of those being photographed. He worked (and speaks incredibly highly of) both the subjects and organisations involved in it, and they of him.

Deleted Account's picture

Did he say why he did it. As an art project. To help society deal with loss? For commercial purposes (commercial doesn’t necessarily mean fame) was he commissioned?

Tony Tumminello's picture

What do you mean? When there's a passing of a family member (human or otherwise) then some families want photos of the passing to remember this family member. Photography of this kind has been done since the mid-1800s: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-36389581

LINK WARNING: The article shows daguerrotypes from the victorian era of dead people, including children.

liliumva's picture

I worked with NILMDTS (Now I lay Me Down To Sleep) for a short period of time. They offer services to families free of charge that are facing stillbirth and infant death due to terminal illness. It is a BLESSING to the families who will have something lasting of their precious child. It is done very peacefully, and photographers / retouchers do not get paid for it. It is out of the kindness of our hearts, and a lot of us that have too suffered the loss of a child( myself included ), do it because we did not get that chance to have something besides a memory of our departed child. Remembrance photography is nothing new.

Furbabies are no different, and some people want the last final moments of their life documented even if it's them passing. This is a peaceful situation, they are surrounded by loved ones as they pass over. It's not cruel, like what would be done in a clinical situation. This is a statement of at home end life care for ailing pets.

Here's what the photographer has to say about this entire endeavor.

"Last Moments,” is a photo essay that explores the intimacy of the human-animal bond - specifically, the last moments before, and after, the passing of a pet at home with their owner. It is a somber, and intense, testimony to the bond and the pain that comes when it is broken.

This series looks at the intense connection shared between people and their pets. The decision to have at-home pet euthanasia is part of an emerging trend (to have end of life care in the home, instead of in a clinic). Nationally, scores of pet owners go through this painful experience each year. It’s important to note the immense care and compassion that the veterinarian community demonstrates towards the families going through this."

Deleted Account's picture


Daniel Medley's picture

That seems like an awful lot inference from such a small amount of information. People have different reasons for doing the things that they do. Who are you, or anyone else, to assume they are coming from a less than decent place?

I think the more reasonable inference is that the photographer didn't hold a gun to anyone's head and that all were on board.

Bill Wells's picture

You said "Why not dead babies next or people right before they kill themselves".

They do, It's called "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep".

Here is their website: https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org. This could be something similar.

LA M's picture

I struggle with this as well.... feel the same way about taking pictures of people in coffins...etc.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I absolutely agree. Why would I want someone to document my grief. And why strangers would want to see it. And what the hell is wrong with people these days.

davidlovephotog's picture

I repeat, why would anyone want to see this? Okay if people want to schedule a photographer to come over and wait til the last minute before their pet dies and then start snapping away with a flash because of all the cute pics of them with their pet, they really can't wait to hang that 16x24 of them crying over the dogs last breath but why would they want to show everyone else?! Should be a personal thing. We've come to a point where over-sharing is the norm.

OR AT LEAST if this site is going to throw content up like this, blur the image on the main page. Photography, techniques and gear is why I come here. Not for pics of animals dying. Call me weird.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

People grieve in different ways. I'm not one to judge that. It hurts to look at these photos, and I may not click through to see the rest. But, pain from empathy isn't the worst thing a photo can produce.

davidlovephotog's picture

Sure, it can also sell magazines. Not like I'm going to sit with my kid and show them these pics of animals dying and try and give them a life lesson from it. I'm not hanging them on my wall as art, not ruining everyone I knows day by reposting. They have no purpose or use except to the person that owns the pet and wants to remember a terrible moment forever. I find it sad that nipples and sex are not allowed, dead animals, suicides and murder front page. If some woman ever does a mass murder topless, the news is going to have a real hard time.

Bill Wells's picture

Bless your heart. As we say in the South. Some people want pictures of giving birth. I wouldn't do it because I would be on the floor. But Jessica does those. Only one in the actual delivery room.

The point I'm making is this, "Pets are like family members. If these photos helps someone handle the loss better, what is the harm?" The way we grieve is different for each individual. The parents wanting pictures of their stillborn baby. It's all similar.

davidlovephotog's picture

That would make sense if they didn't say "Sure you can create a series and post our misery all over the web." If pets are family members then maybe show them some dignity.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Responding to the photos and the most recent comment. Most recent: People handle things in different ways. I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes sharing grief can help. And, I'm still of the opinion that sharing grief can help educate others. Which, brings me to the images you shared. (I feel I'm being set up here - but anyway). Both of those images helped to shape protest movements that helped to end the war. If we're talking about dignity and empathy, ending wars is good, no? Sure, I can see the cynicism in saying they sell magazines, but, they did more than that.

Bill Wells's picture

OMG. Just maybe they want others to know that this exist for them as well. I just don't understand why it upsets you so.

If it tears at your heart, then don't do it. If it upsets you, don't look at it. But you do not have the right to tell someone else how grieve.

As far as this specific argument, you would be better served to just let it go. Agree to disagree.

davidlovephotog's picture

They don't give much of a choice when the first image is on the main page. I didn't look at any of the others. It's the better to say sorry than ask for permission technique that bothers me.

James Barton's picture

"Not like I'm going to sit with my kid and show them these pics of animals dying and try and give them a life lesson from it."

Maybe, David, you should. Your kid may turn out to be a little less emotionally frigid as you are.

Feel free to stop coming back to this article to comment if you don't like seeing the pictures.

Wish you all the best and hope one day you are able face the emotional impact of this article.

davidlovephotog's picture

Now turn that around. Maybe you and others won't be drawn to misery voyeurism. Do you stick your head out the car window as you drive by accidents too? This whole series feels like a lot of none of my business. It makes me not want to look out of respect for another persons feelings not race towards the window to watch. I don't want my kid to think it's cool to stand there watching someone else suffer and anyone that would purposely search for content like that should be on an FBI list. If you have to view others suffering to feel emotions then get your head checked. What's next, roadkill portraits?

Kody Cheyne's picture

That dog in the background of the last image... I can't handle it.

Kody Cheyne's picture

and Dr. McVety? A vet named Dr. McVety? Are we sure Tampa isn't trolling us?

Andrew Ashley's picture

What is wrong with people... This is just sick.

Chris Anderson's picture

As someone who put down my best friend just a few weeks back, I can relate with these people in the photos. This time is never easy for anyone. I respect the photographer and the people involved for the pure vulnerability they are in and I wish them all the best through the hard times they are facing along with the empty void that is left by their beloved pet Just cause it's something maybe most people don't agree with, doesn't make what this photographer does, or the people involved wrong. This is an unfortunate part of living as any being, and clearly these final moments together mattered enough to these people to be involved and they deserve others respect.

Deleted Account's picture

It is odd that some react so strongly to the documenting of such things. I can't help but wonder whether they react equally as strongly to documenting famine and war, or to the nightly news, or to the increasing environmental issue we face.

Of course, I am inclined to reflect that an immediate response of scorn would suggest a lack of empathy and understanding; which is a large part of the reason people have a default bastardry setting on social media.

In any case, hiding from pain doesn't do anyone any favours, and is simply constructing a highly skewed mental model of what life is.

Daniel Medley's picture

" I am inclined to reflect that an immediate response of scorn would suggest a lack of empathy and understanding; which is a large part of the reason people have a default bastardry setting on social media."


And I would also add probably a bit of a latent self centeredness. Personally, I would not want to photograph such scenes. Nor would I want someone to photograph me grieving. In fact, at first glance, I was a bit put off by it. But anyone with a reasonable amount of empathy and the ability to at least entertain a walk in the shoes of another should be able to understand it.

Eric Salas's picture

I understand photography and I love it to my absolute core but this is just too much to handle.

With that being said, I completely understand why a photographer would seek to capture these moments but this type. If it’s painful, thought provoking, or like this... downright gut wrenching because of the connection we hold to our pets/family members, it’s a genre that should be covered.

Photography lives to document life in a way no other form can fully capture. Bravo to the photographers willing to subject themselves to this type of emotional trauma.

Doug Ross's picture

A photojournalist colleague of mine in the UK received critical comment for images that she had recorded over the festive period in the UK, involving legal traditional country sports. In her defence she said:

"Photojournalists are not responsible for the suffering of the people they photograph, they are simply the messenger that document life as it is—life is not always pretty. Don’t shoot the messenger for translating reality into pixels or cellulose; instead, ask yourself what you can do to change the situation if you feel so strongly about images that show suffering.

"Photojournalists risk their lives to raise awareness and spread a message that can actually have a bigger impact than the limited help they can offer an individual".

From his gallery it is obvious that Jack Alexander is a highly experienced photojournalist and this is a subject matter that is raw, hard and emotive reporting on real life suffering. I'm a portrait photographer, focusing on vitality and life and can't even start to imagine how much moral courage and integrity it takes to record the final moments and death of a loved companion.

Just because a subject matter is difficult or emotive, should not lead us to the automatic conclusion that the author has somehow lost his or her moral compass. And as our colleague Daniel Medley notes in the e-conversation trail: " Who are you (I would add we) or anyone else, to assume they are coming from a less than decent place??

Philip Bloom's picture

but we document suffering to hopefully raise awareness in the hope of bringing about change, that is what I have done in my 30 year career as a documentary filmmaker. I do not understand this series and what possible benefit there can be.

Bill Irwin's picture

Perhaps for you to have sensitivity the next time someone says "I'm grieving the loss of my best friend (pet)". Maybe you will be more sensitive and understanding of what they are going through and for some, check themselves before making callous statements.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Unbelievable. A new low. What next, still born babies?

Jim Bolen's picture

Um, that's been done for a long time. Ever hear of NILMDTS?

Motti Bembaron's picture

No, I never even heard of NILMDTS. Well, can't say I am surprised.

Jim Bolen's picture

It's actually a wonderful service. They don't shoot during the tragic part of finding out about the baby. They go in later and produce nice portraits of the baby. Very respectful of the parents.

K Mill's picture

We have actually used this service twice in the last few years for our aging large dogs. Though at first I had reservations, I want to let everyone disturbed by these pictures know that this was the most peaceful, decent, loving way to let a beloved friend go. Our other dogs gathered around both times and knew exactly what was happening, and they seemed to say their own goodbyes. It was awful but SO much better than going to the vet and the others wondering where their friend went. We have done both, and what you are seeing in these pictures is a truly loving moment even if it disturbs you. Maybe I can see this because we have been there, but focus on the love you see in the series- that was obviously the intent.

Jeff S's picture

Welcome to Fstoppers. Here’s some pictures of people losing their pets. Enjoy

Jack Alexander's picture

Welcome to the comment section, where those who choose not to disclose their name, face photo, or any of their work pass mindless comment on a thought-provoking and brave photo series.

T S's picture

Welcome to the internet. This is the attitude that's making me questions fstoppers professionalism and value and making me visit less frequently. Sure it's a mindless comment but I'm noticing more and more that the authors from this sight are so fast to attack their readers if they don't agree or even make small comments like this. They raise the tolerance flag but will cut down and demean others at a drop of a hat. And a lot of times it's with the tone that the author is personally offended that others might think differently than them. Obviously this article has meaning and a personal connection to you otherwise you wouldn't have posted it. But why attack someone who is obviously a follower of your site for leaving such an empty, sarcastic comment? Just let it go. Even if they walked away from the article with nothing you at least got one more click in your count. You're the winner. Stay the winner and don't be so fast put down others.

By the way, you'll notice there's no picture on my profile...that's because I never put one there. It's that simple. I'm not here to network or draw attention to myself. I'm just here to read and learn.

Also I don't have any work posted. That's because I'm not a professional photographer. I'm just the guy to who directs professionals.

Also my profile is empty. That's just because I don't believe that simply having an account on a website necessitates me sharing all that stuff with people when 99.9% of them wouldn't care 99.9%.

I hope these facts don't automatically make you think I'm mindless.

Deleted Account's picture

Thank you! :-)
This isn't a dig but Jack posts a variety of articles so I wouldn't assume a personal connection.

Deleted Account's picture

It is what it is but "brave"? Maybe for the subjects but how is it brave for the photographer. Not my usual snarky intent; I really want to know.

Daniel Medley's picture

I'm not sure as to how the photographer broached the whole approach to those grieving over the loss of their pets, but I'm sure it wasn't easy and, yes, I'd say it took a bit of bravery.

A lot of bravery, in fact.

Deleted Account's picture

How? I've consoled people who've lost relatives. I would never describe my effort as being brave. Please explain.

Daniel Medley's picture

Perhaps I wasn't clear. I'm not talking about consoling grieving people. I'm talking about handling the process of setting up a photo session with grieving people and having them on board. It can't be easy.

Deleted Account's picture

I see your point but I'm not sure how different those two things are. Would you consider funeral directors to be brave? That seems similar. I definitely agree it wouldn't be a bit easy. Perhaps we have different connotations for "brave".

Daniel Medley's picture

There are concepts that are so self evident that an explanation should not be required.

At the risk of appearing snarky, the contextual differences between a funeral director and a photographer is one of those concepts.

Deleted Account's picture

So you're saying there's no difference between photographing someone grieving the death of their pet and doing corporate portraiture!?
Did that sound snarky? I feel like it sounded snarky. :-/
Are you from Salt Lake City?? Just kidding...

Deleted Account's picture

I think the comments reflect two world views: those who want to share everything in their lives with strangers, and I guess there's nothing wrong with that; and those who prefer to share with only their close friends, if anyone. There's no way I would want someone photographing me in a situation like that but if someone else wants to, that's their business. I just wish I could unsee it. :-(

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