Losing a pet: How dog photography is helping me heal

Big white dog in autumn leaves in Summerland, B.C.

Sometimes we know it’s going to happen. Your dog has been given a diagnosis that’s hard to swallow.

Other times, the news comes out of the blue.

Most times, the dog lovers who’ve had their portraits done with me will reach out and share their sorrow.

When you’re faced with losing a pet, I want to be a shoulder for you, a sounding board, a part of your support network. Part of the service I provide as a dog photographer in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene is listening … just listening … if you need me to.

From the second we make first contact, I’m asking you questions. I want you to tell me about the special memories you’ve made with your dogs and about the amazing adventures you’ve taken with them.

It’s not just for me to be able to design a custom session and create unique portraits of you and your dog together.

It’s because your stories are important and need to be told.

Plus, they help me heal.

Learning to let go after losing a pet

Shep’s heart was exploding, the veterinarian said. He was going to die painfully with seizures. I had no choice.

I held onto him and whispered, “I love you” over and over and over until he let his last breath go. I stayed for what seemed like forever after that, not wanting to say goodbye.

Dog portraits in Lake Okanagan
Shep in Summerland, B.C.

I grieve to this day, beating myself up and wondering if I had noticed the signs earlier, would he have lived another six months or a year. He had already dodged death when his stomach flipped into full torsion 10 months earlier.

What if …

We often spend our lives mired in those thoughts and regrets.

I’m learning to let them go.

Shep’s death was an impetus to launching this business. Knowing I had so many wonderful images of him exploring Western Canada, I wanted other dog lovers to have them to.

the writer and her first dog at Banff Ink Pots
Shep and me at Banff National Park

I had only cellphone selfies and quick snapshots from friends, so I’ve wanted to give dog lovers the gift of beautiful portraits of themselves with their best fur friends.

As I noticed more and more people coming to me towards their pet’s last days, I wanted to get better at my job.

Not the photography part. The listening part. The helping part.

Prompted by a Hair of the Dog podcast earlier this year, I started reading a book on dealing with pet loss, The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss. It instructs pet lovers to write out their memories, the good ones and the bad ones, and to then attach statements of forgiveness or affirmation to them.

Remember that time you left Shep home all day to go play softball and party with your friends and he tore up the house?

Forgive.

Not Shep. He doesn’t need the forgiveness. It wasn’t his fault.

You.

Forgive yourself for leaving him home all day without any company, when all he wanted was you to be there.

Remember that time you stood on top of a mountain with him and looked down at the Bow River Valley and knew that you and he and this were all you needed in that moment and into the future?

Appreciate that. Let it remind you that his life taught you to be more independent and more self-reliant than you’d been in the past.

Then you take all those bits and write a letter to your dog. That’s the Cole’s Notes — ah, Cliff’s Notes for my American friends — version at least.

I’ve moved through the pages of this book during portrait sessions with dogs who are no longer with us, they live beyond the Rainbow Bridge now, waiting for us to join them. (That’s my version of the afterlife, by the way …. a place where I’m surrounded by all the dogs I’ve loved in this lifetime.)

I’ve also met with a local grief counselor to chat about ways I can provide a better service to you when your dogs are ready to move on to their next realm. I left that coffee date feeling better prepared to work with every client.

Saying goodbye

Henrietta, a dog I’ve loved since I first met her at Santa portrait sessions three years ago, died on my birthday, August 18. Her mum, Hilary, texted me to let me know and I broke down in sobs.

Beautiful dog portraits can help heal after losing a pet
Henrietta

It’s no small coincidence she was a big white dog, a Great Pyrenees. I’m so drawn to these livestock guardian dogs.

The last time I saw Henrietta, she and her family were packing up to move to Phoenix. I was invited to the house for one last session with their pack of six and when the cameras were stowed away, I laid down on the floor of the living room with her.

woman with her Great Pyrenees at Hauser Lake in Idaho
Hilary and Henrietta

Ever so gently, she put her huge paw in my hand and we stayed there for a good half hour, just sharing each other’s space.

I knew then it would be the last time I ever saw Henrietta but I didn’t know she would leave the world so quickly.

It isn’t always easy putting my whole heart forward to do sessions for dogs like Duke or Dexter or Molly, but I have to do it. I know I’m putting myself in a position to feel the sorrow of a dog dying but your grace and your love for your dog have given me the space to heal from losing Shep.

As I watch you enjoy your dog for her last days, I am reminded that they come to us for too short a time but a time that can be filled with meaning and laughter and joy.

With each session, the pain of losing Shep is fading.

And I hope that the images we create together give you something to hold onto when that pain grips you and the tears flow.

Great Pyrenees at Hauser Lake in Idaho
My beautiful friend

Rest thee well, Henrietta. I will see you again someday.

All around the circle

Remember one very important thing: If your dog has received that diagnosis or you feel she’s nearing her “time,” please reach out. I will move mountains to get you on my schedule if you are losing a pet.

There are very few reasons that would keep me from ensuring you get portraits of you and your dog together.

Our worldwide pet photographers circle is writing about a heavy subject this week. We’re making tributes to dogs we’ve lost, whether our own or our clients’, and why it’s important to get those portrait sessions done.

Let’s head to BARKography by Kim Hollis in uptown Charlotte NC with 12 year old chocolate labrador retriever Diesel.

When you get to the bottom of her post, click the next link in the circle and then keep going until you find yourself back here to my healing heart. That’s when you know you’re home.

Right where you belong.

nv-author-image

Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

5 thoughts on “Losing a pet: How dog photography is helping me heal”

  1. I’ve read that same book and went to a 6 week grief workshop led by a friend of mine on the book. It was really helpful for me and grieving the death of my first dog Sloan. I love that you’re a shoulder for your clients. That is amazing.

    1. I found another one today while I was out shopping for a silent auction basket. It’s called Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet.

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