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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Previous comments

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??

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

user-156929's picture

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

user-156929'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.

user-156929'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.

user-156929'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.

user-156929'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...

user-156929'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. :-(

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I think that there is a third view, sharing pain is way to educate. Having worked at a vets office, I was shocked at how many people dropped their companions off and walked away without a tear. Maybe these kind of photos can encourage people to understand the emotional costs? Just a thought, not sure myself.

user-156929's picture

That's possible but some of us (assuming I'm not the only one) cry on the inside or in private. That may be unhealthy for some people but who's to say? I'm not sure either.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

David Pavlich and I are having a very similar conversation below. I don't want to just type the same comment and fill the message board with repeats (if you wouldn't mind scrolling a bit).
I am also very private with my emotions.

user-156929's picture

I think these kinds of conversations are much more beneficial than some of the earlier comments. Thanks!

Motti Bembaron's picture

Sorry, you are wrong. You cannot educate feelings. That's the problem with today's attitude, people (way) overestimate their ability to change others. lol

Our cats was put to sleep at home in her environment with her brother my wife and I next to her. There is no way she would be taken to a strange place to die. We cried like babies .

I do not need the cheap drama of having someone photographing me so I can share with others. I would never look at those photos again, it's in my memory where is should be.

Photographers are becoming scoop hunters.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Motti, The pets in the photos were euthanized in their homes. Not in a strange place. That being said, sometimes pets need to be taken to the vet and the decision is made right there and then to euthanize them. There isn't always time to take them home again, or, it might be too painful to do so.

I do disagree with you, the idea that you can't teach feelings, at least to me, would mean that feelings are inherent, preformed. Don't get me wrong, I do agree that people overestimate their ability to change others, but, I do believe that it is possible.

You may not need the drama of the photography, however, that would be your choice, people deal with death in very personal and different way.

David Pavlich's picture

I don't question people's reasons for having pictures taken at such times. What I do question is why would they want the rest of the world to see them? I understand that it's a deeply personal moment, but that 'personal moment' goes out the window when the decision is made to share it with the world.

I have no way of knowing, but it almost sounds like it's either seeking sympathy posts or getting their 15 seconds of fame.

I couldn't do it as a photographer because I'm a real emotional weenie when it comes to pets dying.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Perhaps they are looking to create empathy? Most people get pets without realizing the emotional cost. Maybe this will help educate? I don't know, still trying to figure it out myself.

David Pavlich's picture

I don't know, Mark. I admit to being just a little jaded about posting stuff that seems too personal or too damning considering how so many people believe that posting their every movement is somehow a good thing.

We all have our foibles, that's for sure. As far as photographing my pets on Death's Door, I can't imagine it giving any good feeling. I have pictures of my cats (2) that show them as vibrant creatures. I wouldn't want to have pictures of them at their final stages of life. Just too depressing. But, that's me.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I'm with you on the 'jaded.' I know I can get called out of touch when I mention oversharing, but, I do believe that there will be a cost to the current 'sharing' climate.
It's odd, I had to put down one of my cats just last year. I had actually taken photos of the cat just a week or two before she got sick. I'd much rather remember her that way as well.
All that said, I can't deny there isn't a power to these photos. I'm just not sure where I stand yet.

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