Saying Goodbye: The Hardest Images I've Ever Taken!

Saying Goodbye: The Hardest Images I've Ever Taken!

If you're an animal lover with pets, you'll know how hard losing a beloved furry member of your family can be. To some, they are like our children and they are a massive part of our lives for many years. Sadly, I lost two dogs due to old age in quick succession, and I was asked reluctantly to capture some last portraits of them before they crossed the rainbow bridge.

As a family, we picked up Riley and Finley as puppies back in 2010, a once quiet household became mayhem as through those early years they were cheeky, playful, and destructive on occasions, but I would not swap those years for anything. They were our boys, they were lovable and sweet. They made me feel safe at night whenever I was alone, which really helped me as I suffer from PTSD.


I remember one time I was working away from home, I had a Skype call with Riley and as soon as he saw me on TV, he heard my voice and was searching all around the house looking for me. When he could not find me, he just began crying out for me. My heart was broken hearing those cries but I knew it wasn't long before I saw him again. 

As the years went on, and the man and dog bond continued to grow, they both began having their medical issues. Riley in particular had heart issues and needed several operations over the latter years. Every year, we would ask ourselves "Is this the year?", I was petrified. I would have visions of Riley and losing him, I would break down crying but he was still with us.

One day, I was out on a photography trip with my wife and we were in great spirits. I came home, and Riley was gone. My parents had taken him to the vets as he had taken a turn for the worst. They came home with him and said "It is time, he will be going back in two days' time". Those next 48 hours were some of the most painful in my life, I couldn't stop crying, none of us could. We took Riley out on his very last short walks as he could not go for longer than 5 minutes at a time but he tried his best. 

The day arrived and a couple of hours before we took Riley to the vets, my mum asked if I would take some portraits of him. I honestly could not bear to, I was too heartbroken but I reluctantly grabbed my camera anyway. I sat down outside with Riley, and captured these images:

The images are not technically perfect in any way, they are a bit soft, but it shows the raw emotion I was feeling at the time and the look in Riley's eye's still breaks my heart to this day. I was not focused on making them perfect, I captured them with nothing but pure emotion.

As a family, we took him to the vet and laid down on the floor with Riley. We gave him lots of cuddles, stroking him and telling him he was a good boy. I whispered in his ear and said "I love you boy, I'll see you soon". Within another 20 seconds of me saying that, he passed. The cries from all of us in the room could probably have been heard for some distance, I could not contain myself, and writing this right now, tears are rolling down my face.


Fast forward only 6 or so months later, and Finley was going downhill fast. Losing Riley seemed to push Finley over that edge as he missed his brother. Finley was a shadow of himself, would not move anymore, and became weak. I'd left the family home and moved to a different town so we went to go see Finley and this time I decided to bring the camera to capture some shots the day before he passed. These images felt different to the ones of Riley, they had more energy about them and felt more lifelike, but as soon as I uploaded the images on the laptop, I knew this was the last time I would see Finley. 

Reliving these memories is painful but looking back, I am glad I captured these moments in time. The images tell a story for my family and my boys will always be remembered. As hard as it is, capture every moment you can with your loved ones, whether it is pets or family. 

Rest in peace Riley and Finley.

Greg Sheard's picture

Greg Sheard is a Scottish based photographer, focusing on wildlife, landscape and portrait work. Greg's mission in life is too help those who suffer with mental health issues and be a voice for the millions of people around the world who need that care, attention and awareness.

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Such a lovely and touching article. Having photos is the way to keep memories that we may lose over time. They look lovely pups and although they aren't physically here, they will live on in the hearts of everyone they touched.

Thank you Max, you are absolutely right that photos are a great way to keep those memories forever in the mind

Thanks for this, Greg. Riley and Finley look like great little friends. When they leave us they leave a hole in our hearts. These are great photos, a very heartwarming tribute to them.

Thank you Mark, I really appreciate that. They really do and no matter what anyone says, they are family, not just pets

"When a much-loved Best Friend leaves, he takes a piece of our hearts with
him. He also lovingly leaves a piece of his own heart with us to remind us
of how much he loved us while he was here, and how much he longs to be
the one to greet us when we, in turn, go to The Rainbow Bridge."

- Zygmunt W. Hrozsmencko

Thats a beautiful quote, thank you for sharing Willy

I'm in total sympathy with you Greg. After 10½ years of constant companionship, I lost my Airedale Terrier ("Teddy O'Neill") in September of 2021. I have many great photos of him throughout his life and I took several shots of him on his next-to-last day in one of our favorite hangout spots, a large farm field near our home. I'm 68 years old now and if by the grace of God, I make 88 years old, I will have these pictures to keep me company and remind me of Teddy's wonderful spirit and loving nature. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Teddy is lovely, thank you for sharing your story too and I'm so sorry for your loss. Having these memories are so important and it's a great way to reflect on all the amazing, loving and special moments in life we share with these wonderful companions.

When one door closes, another opens and yesterday we introduced Bear to the family and I got a cheeky shot on my phone. I hope that you too, can get a new companion for new memories.

I'm very sorry :-/

Please do not get me wrong. And that goes for everyone. It doesn't matter if the image is a little soft or not always sharp. Let's not always excuse and justify everything. In the end, it doesn't matter. I also cried a little while reading. I know the pain well and am very sorry about your loved ones. I love animals, and life without them is unimaginable. The pictures are wonderful.

Thank you Nina, I really appreciate that 🙏

As a family, we picked up Riley and Finley as puppies back in 2010, a once quiet household became mayhem as through those early years they were cheeky, playful, and destructive on occasions, but I would not swap those years for anything. They were our boys, they were lovable and sweet. They made me feel safe at night whenever I was alone, which really helped me as I suffer from PTSD.

Yep, this is what I wrote.

What a touching article. I know how you feel. Last year I lost one off my cats way too young ( he was only 10 years old) he had an inoperable tumor in his tongue and we had to put him to sleep. The day before I took some photos of him playing in the garden. The day after his death I processed the photos , it was the hardest editing session ever. Still miss him.

Hi Ruud, I am so sorry for your loss. As hard as it is, you did the right thing but I know it's such a tough situation to battle mentally. 10 amazing years with a great cat, that you cared for and loved. Glad you got to take those memories too which you can treasure and honor.

Cruel pain.
I'm very sorry.

This is so spot on for me right now. We lost Copper, a 17 yr old Shiba Inu in Nov, and now Wally (13) just had a stroke along with an enlarged heart and will probably cross that rainbow bridge tomorrow. But my tears are clouding my wanting to take that "one last picture".

Thank you for your sensitive article. They are just a part of our family as our two children.

Hi Elgin, i am so sorry for your loss of Cooper and I wish you all best wishes with Wally. It's one of the hardest decisions to go through and only you know when the time is right. Enjoy each moment you have.

Thank you. Wally joined Copper today

I am so sorry, my condolences 🙏

I'm very sorry for all of that and I send you a lot of strength