Losing a pet is one of the hardest things an animal lover can go through. That’s why Sarah Ernhart of Sarah Beth Photography developed Joy Sessions, a way to help pet owners say goodbye to their furry companions and remember them after they’re gone. Since 2010, Sarah (who happens to be Sidewalk Dog’s official photographer as well) has been taking heartfelt photos of pets that may not have much time left. Because these sessions are generally short-notice, Sarah often takes a note from the Postman’s Pledge and lets “neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail” prevent her from capturing the love between a pet and its person.
Sidewalk Dog: Tell us about your Joy Sessions.
Sarah Ernhart: A Joy Session is a special, end-of-life photography session just for terminally ill and elderly pets. They’re offered at a reduced rate because I want everyone to have the opportunity to remember their loved ones through beautiful, meaningful images. These sessions are often scheduled on very short notice, and my regular clients have always been flexible with rescheduling if a Joy Session is needed by another client.
SE: It’s been growing every year; to date, I’ve photographed more than 80 Joy Sessions.
SD: Is it emotionally taxing to work with animals close to the end of their lives?
SE: One of the biggest challenges comes when the Joy Session is truly last minute: I’ll get a tearful phone call and shoot the session within days or even hours. It’s a stressful time for the family, and I’ve definitely cried right alongside many of them. I’ve found I’m able to sympathize while staying detached enough to remain professional.
SD: What are the animals typically like during the shoots?
SE: It’s fascinating to me how many animals seem to know exactly what we’re doing, and get a wonderful burst of energy just for the session. They’ll do things they haven’t done in a long time, like running or jumping or playing with their toys. I had one dog who immediately came up and leaned against me, and the owners said she’d never done that to a stranger before. A couple of clients have had to laugh at how crazy and happy their Joy Session dog acted, saying, ‘no, seriously; he really does have cancer.’
SE: The sessions are incredibly rewarding for me; I’m able to create something that people are going to love and remember for the rest of their lives, and the owners are so, so grateful. I feel honored to be welcomed into people’s lives at a very difficult time, entrusted with preserving moments they can never get back.
For so many people, their pets are their whole lives. They’ve been through everything together–jobs, homes, relationships, breakups–all the ups and downs are made that much easier with a pet by their sides. For others, the animals are taken way too soon … they may have only spent a few months or years together before an illness takes over. Whatever the situation, I do my best to give them something that celebrates those relationships.