We lost our beloved 11-year-old lab last year. She was an amazing dog who lived a great big life. She had shown little sign of slowing down in the ten years she had been a part of our family. Sometimes I didn’t believe she was a senior at all.
Then one night she didn’t want to eat dinner. A week later she was gone.
I’ll spare you the details of that week because, if you have lost a pet you love, you probably already understand the anguish. You know what it is like to have that rock drop on you from a thousand feet up and knock you off balance for weeks. You know how hard it is and how much it hurts.
I’m not here to talk to you about that. I’m here to talk to you about why I’m so damn happy that I busted out my camera in her last couple days. And why I will cherish these photos forever.
Maddie died in the middle of the night on our living room floor. The tumor that had been growing on her spleen ruptured and in a few hours she went from being her gorgeous, bouncy self to completely unable to walk. It was midnight and she was fading fast. Taking her to the vet would have meant carrying her to the car, driving her across town in the dark, and hauling her suddenly frail body into an animal hospital that she had never been to. I suspected she wouldn’t last very long and I didn’t want to stress her out more. So we stayed home and within an hour she was gone.
While her final decline was mercifully fast in the grand scheme of things, it was still hard to watch. This is a dog that spent her years climbing mountains and running through forests and suddenly, in a matter of an hour, she had lost control of her body. I crawled into bed after we lost her with the image of her struggle fresh in my mind. It wasn’t what I wanted to remember.
In the blur of the next morning I came across the picture above and realized it was the last one I took of her. It was just the day before she passed and she had been feeling great. When she curled up to take a nap in a sunny spot, one of her favorite things to do, I pulled out my camera to capture it.
She looks like a peaceful, sleeping angel in that picture. And this image has replaced the ones of her struggling. Because the reality is that while her last couple hours were tough, they don’t represent the reality of her final days. Her last week on earth was peaceful – and thanks in large part to this picture, this is how I remember them.
There’s a lot of reasons I love photography and it’s ability to help you shape the way you remember the past is certainly one of them. It can’t change the things that happened or bring back the dog that I loved. But it can impact the way I remember her final days. And for that I will be forever grateful.