'I think it's important for people who are going through this process to know they’re not alone, that their grief should not be overlooked, nor minimized by others,' the photographer explained.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 11, 2022. It has since been updated.
Trigger warning: The article contains images and themes of animal death that readers may find disturbing.
The death of a beloved pet is no less heartbreaking than the demise of a family member or dear friend. Having had the privilege of experiencing their unconditional love, companionship, and comfort, even the thought of losing this integral part of your life can be hard. While we hope and pray that we never have to experience this crushing pain, there come times when you have to make the difficult decision of letting them go instead of making them suffer unnecessary pain and discomfort. In such cases, the final moments before goodbye bears the weight of a thousand words left unsaid and a yearning to hold on to them in any way possible.
These emotional moments are what photojournalist Ross Taylor captured in his "Last Moments" series. Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, photographed the intimate and heartbreaking moments between a pet and their owners in the seconds leading up to the animal's death by euthanasia at home.
"My interest in this originated a few years back. A friend of mine at the time was going through intense grief over the pending death of her dog, who was very sick. Because she didn't want the dog to be stressed by a visit to the clinic, she decided to have her pet euthanized at home. I had not heard of this, but was very moved by the idea," he told Upworthy.
"Driven by this, I began researching it and reached out to a number of veterinary organizations. The first that responded was Lap of Love [a family-centered veterinary hospice and in-home animal euthanasia service] and within a month or so of contact, I began working with them," added Taylor, who has been a photojournalist for over 20 years.
"We would contact families ahead of time to see who would be open to sharing their story with me - I only photographed those who were willing. I also offered each family the option of doing a portrait of them with their dog before their passing, as a tribute to them, if they wanted. It's important to note that none of this could be done without the families allowing me to be there. They have my respect."
"I think it's important for people who are going through this process to know they’re not alone, that their grief should not be overlooked, nor minimized by others," he explained. "It’s real, and it’s painful. I hope people, after seeing these images, will never say to someone else after they lost a pet, “Oh it’s just a dog, or, it’s just a cat.” It’s crucial to recognize, and respect, the pain that comes along with the loss of a pet."
When asked how witnessing such grief and testaments to the undeniable bonds between humans and their animal companions has affected him personally, Taylor said: "In every possible way that I could have imagined. It’s been one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever documented. In almost every case, everyone was moved to tears, including me. I feel so sad for those going through this and my heart is more open to the grief that people feel."
"My respect for veterinarians who work with end-of-life care has grown immensely. They’re impressive people and are some of the kindest I've met. The work they do is important," he continued. "Also, the amount of people who have responded has been overwhelming. Scores of people have written to me, wanting to share their story. I’ve had some of the most touching emails and in fact, I just got a note the other day from someone who lost their cat. They sent me pictures of their last moments together. It was quite moving."