These Beautiful And Emotional Images Celebrate The Life Of Pets

Back in 2009, shortly before Christmas, pet photographer Sarah Ernhart did a shoot with a woman in hospice care named Joan and her black Lab.

Joan was near the end of her life and didn’t have much time left. Her friend booked the session with Ernhart as a gift for her, aware that Joan and her dog were as close-knit as pets and their owners come. Joan’s dog was named “Joy,” and throughout her apartment the word “Joy” was featured in artwork, pillows and Christmas decorations. She also wore a sweatshirt with the word “Joy” on it during the photo session.

Joy reciprocated that affection. If Joan was ever about to have a seizure, for example, Joy would position herself underneath Joan to break her fall.

For that first session, Ernhart said it was clear that Joan’s dog was the most important thing in her life. “She was so excited to have these photos, even though she knew she'd only be able to enjoy them for a short time … While Joan was the one at the end of her life, she helped me to really see the impact that animals can have us, and the importance of preserving important memories before they're gone,” Ernhard said.

For Ernhart, that photo session was so moving, as she captured the final moments together between a pet owner and a beloved companion, she would eventually offer to do the same thing for others. Ernhart started to get requests for similar sessions, but with an important difference – these involve pets that are near the end of their lives.

She named the service in honor of Joan’s dog, calling them “Joy Sessions.”

Her Facebook page says the Joy Sessions “were founded to give pet owners the opportunity for beautiful, professional photographs with their pets before they pass. Often scheduled after a terminal diagnosis, or when pets are nearing the end of their lives, the images produced from these sessions will become invaluable keepsakes.”

“While all of us take snapshots of our pets throughout our lives, we rarely appear in the images ourselves,” Ernhart said. “The idea of having beautiful, professional photographs that show not only the animals themselves, but our relationships with those animals – a touch, an embrace, a smile – resonates with pet owners everywhere.

“It's incredibly meaningful for me, to give those memories to owners and see how happy it makes them. The amount of peace and healing it provides for the owners themselves is immeasurable, as many have expressed to me how the images have helped with their grieving process. When I share the images online, others will even recount how they’ve cried at work, over a picture of someone they’ve never met. These images are taken at very emotional times, and capturing those raw moments in a dignified, captivating way really seems to bring people together.”

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