Photojournalist Ross Taylor has taken on the immense task of creating the photo essay “Last Moments”. While the title of his sensitive title clearly describes the subject, what is almost impossible to describe is the intense emotions experienced when a pet parent must say goodbye to their failing pet. The truth is that our pets suffer from many of the same kinds of illnesses that plague us, and just as we suffer with our human loved ones through sickness and death, we also suffer with our animal companions as they take their own last journeys in life.
Because the experience is heartbreaking and universal, comfort can be gathered from learning what to expect. This is the both the strength and the difficult part of opening our hearts to the images Taylor has captured of these exceedingly intimate moments with pet families. For Taylor, a University of Colorado at Boulder assistant professor, the photo series is a work of love which he hopes will compassionately help those who feel alone in these circumstances by shedding light on what happens during this difficult time.
Taylor reached out to organizations which focus on providing in-home euthanasia for pets. Two of these, Lap of Love and Caring Pathways, are those which agreed to allow Taylor to ask permission to work with their pet families. His work involves a process which always begins with asking pet families permission to document their last moments with their pets. Many families gave permission, and others did not. Taylor’s documentation only took place due to the openness of those families who allowed him access to their homes, and to the same openness of the veterinarians and their teams who coordinated care for the procedures.
Lap of Love is a veterinary hospice which provides in-home euthanasia for pets. The organization founded by Dr. Dani McVety includes veterinarians across the United States. The organization coordinates medically supervised, family-centered hospice care which maintains quality of life and comfort for geriatric or terminally ill pets until their natural death takes place or their family decides upon euthanasia. The overarching goal of veterinary hospice is to prevent suffering and provide comforting care based on each pet’s condition. There is much that can be done to relieve pain, manage wounds and bandages, give fluids and supplementary nutrition so that pets can pass through the stages of death with less suffering. Education is provided for families who wish to understand their pet’s illness and learn what to expect from life’s end stages as their pet experiences them.
Caring Pathways provides in-home pet care at the end of life, with compassion. Dr. Larry Magnuson founded the organization to help provide different ways for pet families to say goodbye. The focus is on gentle care, in-home consultation, medical assessment, palliative and hospice care, euthanasia, body care and final memorialization services. Access to outside resources are referred for families to receive guidance as they experience the grieving process.
The end stages of life with an aging or terminally ill pet are difficult to experience. Pets have the same kinds of troubles which humans do, and this makes their goodbyes painful. For some, easing the passage of those last days with care are not always gentle memories. Watching pets pass on is a small taste of what it is like for humans to do the same. For others, the grieving is equally intense because pets are their only family.
Taylor’s Last Moments documents the last journey in the lives of pet families. It’s not an easy thing to do in a society where the norm has been to increasingly accept that the responsibilities of end-stage caregiving of human families should be given to medical professionals. Realizing that society struggles with end of life issues and taking on a project which documents them so poignantly requires courage. Taylor’s current photo series, and the feature-length documentary film he and his friend Luke Rafferty are planning to extend this project will be viewed as controversial. It’s inevitable; considering the universally touching, yet highly personal topic.
Taylor had seen social media memorials posted by pet parents who were offering agonized testimonials to the long-term bonds with their pets- which had been broken when their pets died. Taking steps to document these moments is his way of honoring these beautiful bonds. Perhaps societal permission to approach end of life issues and fully grieve will be eased with Taylor’s insightful photographs.