One of the most difficult aspects of being a pet photographer is documenting a pet who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I feel I have been led along a very specific path in life. As my journey as a photographer has unfolded, I have become known for capturing senior or ill pets and the bond with their human, while managing to stay strong enough during the process to create an uplifting experience and bring closure to each family. It means so much to me when my clients express their gratitude for giving them a gift they will cherish forever and helping them through their last moments with their beloved pets.
Melissa Sigler, a fellow photographer, chose me to document the bond she shared with her kitty. I was honored to be a part of it and I visited her family’s home in Lawrence where we could spend a day celebrating Jessie’s life. Jessie had been in chronic renal failure for 2 years, and while a strong survivor, she was not able to fight any longer and they made the heart wrenching choice to set her free of pain the day after her photo shoot.
Here is a helpful article if you are experiencing a similar situation and struggling with the idea of setting your pet free.
How do I know when it is time?
Courtesy of http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu
Perhaps the kindest thing you can do for a pet that is so sick or so severely injured that he or she will never recover normal health is to have your veterinarian induce its death quietly and humanely through euthanasia. Your decision to have your pet euthanized is a serious one, seldom easy to make.
How will I know when?
If your pet can no longer do with you and your family the things he or she once enjoyed, if your pet cannot respond to you in the usual ways, or if there is more pain than pleasure in his or her life, you may need to consider euthanasia. Likewise, if your pet is terminally ill or critically injured, or if the financial or emotional cost of treatment is beyond your means, euthanasia may be a valid option.
What if Your Pet Has a Terminal Illness?
Your veterinarian understands attachment to pets, and can examine and evaluate your pet’s condition, estimate your pet’s chances for recovery, and discuss potential disabilities and long-term problems. He or she can explain the medical options and possible outcomes. Because your veterinarian cannot make the euthanasia decision for you, it is important that you fully understand your pet’s condition. If there is any part of the diagnosis or the implications for your pet’s future that you don’t understand, ask to have it explained again. Rarely will the situation require an immediate decision.
Will it be painless?
Euthanasia is almost always accomplished by injection of a death-inducing drug. Your veterinarian may administer a tranquilizer first to relax your pet. Following the death-inducing injection, your pet will immediately go into a quiet and irreversible deep unconsciousness. Death will come quickly and painlessly.
How can I say goodbye?
The act of saying goodbye is an important step in managing the natural and healthy feelings of grief, sorrow, and sense of loss. Your pet is an important part of your life and it is natural to feel you are losing a friend – for you are.
Once the decision for euthanasia has been made, you and other family members may want to say goodbye to your pet. A last evening with your pet at home or a visit to the pet at the hospital may be appropriate. Family members who want to be alone with the animal should be allowed to do so. Farewells are always difficult.
How can I face the loss?
After your pet has died, it is natural and normal to feel grief and sorrow. The forgiving process includes accepting the reality of you loss, accepting that the loss and accompanying feelings are painful, and adjusting to your new life that no longer includes your pet.
There are many signs of grief, but not everyone experiences them all, or in the same order. Even before death has occurred, you reaction may be to deny your pet is sick or injured when you learn the extent of your pet’s illness or injuries.
Anger may follow denial. This anger can be directed toward people you normally love and respect, including your family and veterinarian. People will often say things that they do not really mean, perhaps hurting those whom they do not mean to hurt. You may blame yourself or others for not recognizing the illness earlier or for being careless and allowing the pet to be injured.
You also may feel guilt and depression. This is when you usually feel the greatest sense of loss. The tears flow, there are knots in you stomach, and you are drained of all your energy. Day-to-day tasks can seem impossible. Sometimes you may even ask yourself if you can go on without your pet. The answer is yes, but there are times when special assistance may be helpful.
Once you and your family come to terms with your feelings, you can begin to resolve and accept your pet’s death. When you have reached resolution and acceptance, the feelings of denial, anger, guilt, and depression may reappear. If this does occur, the intensity of these feelings will be much less, and with time, these feelings will be replaced with fond memories.
Although the signs of grief apply whether the loss is of a loving pet or a human loved one, grieving is a personal process. Some people take longer than others to come to terms with denial, anger, guilt, or depression. If you understand that these are normal reactions, you will be better prepared to cope with your own feelings and to help others face theirs. Family members should be reassured that sorrow and grief are normal, natural responses to death. See the Normal Grieving Process.
They may not understand
Often, well-meaning family and friends may not realize how important your pet was to you or the intensity of your grief. Being honest with yourself and others about how you feel is best. If despair mounts, talk to someone who will listen about your pet and the illness and death.
Remembering your pet
The period from birth to old age is much more brief in pets then in people. Death is part of the life cycle for all creatures. It cannot be avoided, but its impact can be met with understanding and compassion. Try to recall the good times you spent with you pet. By remembering the pleasure of those times, you can realize your pet was worthy of your grief. You may also wish to establish a memorial of some type in honor of your pet.