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.