'People might say, 'oh, it's just a dog, why are you so upset?' But for a lot of people, their pet is their family member or their child,' she said.
Watching a pet slowly near the end of their days is an incredibly painful experience that can have a lasting impact on their owners. This is why photographer Julia Earhart recently started offering people free "end-of-life shoots" for ailing pets and their humans so that their owners would have something to remember their time with the animals. Earhart, who's been an animal lover her entire life, does everything from supporting local pet rescues to sponsoring senior dogs. She is a dog mom herself to a 2-year-old Golden Retriever named Benny and a 1-year-old Golden Retriever-mix named Bonnie. Speaking to The Detroit News, she revealed that the idea for the idea to help other people capture their pets' final moments came to her after a friend reached out to ask if she'd be able to do a photoshoot for her dog who was diagnosed with cancer.
Annelise Nearon, the owner of 8-year-old Lab-mix Cudi, rescued him about five years ago after shelter staff at the Humane Society of West Michigan said he was returned for not being the right fit. However, she soon found that Cudi was the kind of dog who'd befriend an intruder if someone broke in. Unfortunately, a few months ago, Cudi was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma—a type of cancer that forms in the blood vessels—and had to have surgery to remove a tumor in his liver. Although he's been doing better since the surgery, Nearon doesn't think they have a lot of time left together.
That's why Nearon decided to approach Earhart about doing a photoshoot focusing on the small, sentimental things she and Cudi love to do together, including snuggling and going for walks. "I thought it was going to be this hard, emotional experience, but it was really joyful," she said of the photoshoot. "I am so glad to have those moments captured. It really helped that Julia was great. She knew what she was doing and didn't make it awkward or weird."
The experience meant a lot to Earhart as well. "After that session, it made me realize just how important your bond with your animal, who is sometimes your best friend, can be," she said. "Photos aren't something a lot of pet owners might think about doing, but I know how much I love my dogs, and I know how much that would mean to me." She later posted some of the photographs from the shoot to a Facebook group called Downriver and Friends, offering fellow pet owners the chance to capture moments with the animals at no cost.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, Earhart revealed, explaining that a number of pet owners reached out just to thank her for the offer, even if they didn't need her services. Several others immediately wanted to schedule sessions with their pets and the photographer is currently in the process of coordinating with a few pet owners around Metro Detroit as they fit into her busy schedule, which includes working as a human resources coordinator and a dance teacher. "It can be emotionally challenging, but witnessing these moments between pets and their people bring me a lot of joy," Earhart said.
The photographer shared that when it comes to photographing pets, the biggest challenge is capturing their unique mannerisms that owners come to know and love. From the way a dog's eyes look in the sunlight or the way they put their paws when they sit, Earhart attempts to document the animal's spirit as best as she can. "People might say, 'oh, it's just a dog, why are you so upset?' But for a lot of people, their pet is their family member or their child," she said. "There is a real connection and a lot of emotion that these animals can bring out in us. Witnessing that, as a photographer? It fills me with a lot of joy."