Minneapolis + St Paul Pet Photography Blog

When the Photographer Needs a Joy Session

Over the years, I’ve helped hundreds of people celebrate the life and love they share with their pets through my end-of-life Joy Sessions. It’s a time to capture some lasting memories before they pass, and memorialize your pets in a beautiful, dignified way. Often, I’ll hear about how the images help with the grieving process, and how they become even more valuable as time goes on. I see every day how important it is to have tangible images of our loved ones; to look back on moments with a smile, to imagine holding them again, to close your eyes and reminisce about your favorite memories together.

I always knew at some point that, of course, I should have my own Joy Session with Gracie. I just didn’t think it would be this soon.

She’s been my perfect little sidekick for over 11 years: joyful, playful, loves everyone she meets. A stellar model with the patience of a saint – as long as treats were involved!

When she went blind last year, we were devastated. Our little peanut was so sad, bumping into everything, didn’t know what was happening. Her sleep cycles were all over the place, lots of stomach upset and doctor visits. But then things turned around. Some of her eyesight was coming back. She was running around again, pulling ahead on walks and sniffing all there was to sniff, all with that familiar Gracie smile. The happy-go-lucky pup was back, and things were relatively normal for a few months.

Then, as they do, everything changed again. She was bumping into things more, acting a bit strange, and whatever sight had come back seemed to be gone again. No explanation other than, yep, it’s probably still SARDs (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration). One kidney value was elevated, but she did need a dental cleaning, and maybe that would clear it up. Checked again a few weeks later, and while that value was slightly down, it was still elevated.

Then she wasn’t interested in walks anymore. It was mostly standing around, doing nothing, then some sniffs, maybe a tiny bit of enthusiasm for a little bit, but mostly at a speed that was barely a saunter. Not at all like before. She was also drinking ALL the water, getting up multiple times at night, and her eyes seemed to bother her more.

Then she wouldn’t eat. This dog was ALWAYS excited to eat. More elevated kidney values plus a liver value, and she was very dehydrated. We hospitalized her for 2 days on IV fluids to try and flush out her system. The best case scenario would be all those numbers going down, and we could continue with kidney support. Worst case scenario would be those numbers going up… which they did. Dramatically :(

We don’t know why she’s in acute kidney failure. It could be some kind of cancer. It could be leptospirosis or a tick-borne disease. It could also be related to her SARDs. It seems a lot of dogs with that disease are dying from kidney and liver failure, and there’s very little knowledge out there about anything SARDs related.

The vet was surprised that she’s eating at all, given the state of things, but she really is – and with gusto! She’ll only eat chicken, bone broth, and blueberries, though today she wanted a little banana and cat food. We’re on the “anything goes” protocol, so as long as she wants it, she can have it. She’s getting an antibiotic in case it is lepto, IV fluids at home (thank you, Dr. Dustin!), and we’re taking things one day at a time. She’s tired and has to go out to pee all the time, but she still has a spark in her eyes, and perks up when she “sees” friends.

I went back and forth on actually wanting pictures taken, because she was feeling so terrible, and I was sad, and it felt too late. But on Friday, it hit me hard that, YES, we need to do this. I’m so grateful to my friend Kirsten for coming on such short notice and taking these wonderful pictures of our little family.

I know a lot of you don’t like having your picture taken, and I am absolutely there with you. Plus neither of us had showered that day, it had been a rollercoaster week of emotions, and Gracie just wasn’t the same as she used to be.

But none of that mattered.

This was an opportunity to capture the three of us together one last time before things really went downhill. It wasn’t about how I looked, or how I thought I looked. It was about these moments, our relationship with this special little creature that was supposed to be here at least 3 more good years. (The arbitrary amount of time I projected onto her little schnauzer-y destiny.)

I’m so, so happy we took that opportunity and now have these images forever. I don’t know how much time we have left with Gracie, but I have these photographs, and I love them. I get to hold onto my little Grace-Pants through these – and all the photographs we’ve created over the years – for the rest of my life.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” ~ Winnie The Pooh

Images by KME Photography


Hi! I'm Sarah, but feel free to call me Sarah Beth. I've been a professional photographer for over 17 years, and I've been an animal lover and an artist my entire life. Read More . . .


Sarah Ernhart
Sarah Beth Photography

2205 California St. NE, Suite 101
Minneapolis, MN 55418