Ross Taylor is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who has worked as a photojournalist for more than 20 years.
During this time, his pictures have captured the stark realities of life in some of the world’s most adverse living conditions and often focus on social issues related to, or as a direct result of, traumatic events. “It’s my hope that such documentary work in this realm can help build empathy toward others, by lending more insight to conditions we share,” Taylor told BuzzFeed News.
For his new series, Last Moments, Taylor focuses his camera on a certain trauma that many of us have had or will experience in our lives — the loss of a beloved family pet. With the guidance of licensed veterinarians, Taylor was allowed access to capture the emotional final moments between owners and their pets. The resulting images are a sincere and respectful representation of the undeniable bonds between humans and their animal companions.
Here, Taylor speaks with BuzzFeed News on his emotional journey through Last Moments and shares with us a selection of pictures from the series:
The focus of Last Moments, in part, is to help those going through this process to know they’re not alone, and that their grief should not be overlooked, nor minimized by others.
It’s real, and it’s painful.
Nationally, thousands of pet owners go through this painful experience each year, and the decision to have at-home pet euthanasia is part of an emerging trend to receive end-of-life care in the home, instead of at a clinic.
Producing this body of work has been one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had. It’s fundamentally shifted how I react when someone tells me they lost a pet, or that a pet is dying. My heart is more open toward those going through this process, and I have a profoundly deep respect for veterinarians who do this daily. They’re impressive people.
I was moved by my time witnessing the emotions with each experience. In almost every case, everyone was moved to tears, sometimes sobbing profusely. But all of these families are so grateful to the veterinarians for their compassion. This blend of heartbreak and compassion is striking. The work they do is important.
There’s one particular image of a woman who is anguishing out loud over her dog, just moments after she realized that her dog had died. She’s cradling her pet’s face tenderly in her right hand, while her husband and the veterinarian, Dr. Dani McVety, reach out to comfort her. It was one of the early cases I witnessed, and it had a profound impact on me. It was in that moment that I realized the importance of documenting the intensity of the bond.
My heart broke for her in that moment.
My interest in this project originated a couple of years ago. A good friend of mine was agonizing over the death of her dog, and she decided to have her pet euthanized at home. She didn’t want the animal to be stressed by a visit to the clinic and thought it would be easier on her dog at home. It was an intense and emotional experience for her. In many ways, it was her hardest in years.
Driven by this, I began researching the topic and reached out to a number of organizations. The first one that responded was Lap of Love, based in Tampa, Florida. McVety, the founder and CEO of the Tampa-based organization, was open to my request, and more importantly, the reasons behind it. Within a month or so of contact, I began working with them. I also began working with Caring Pathways in Denver. They are also a deeply compassionate organization, and I’m profoundly thankful to them as well.
Finally, none of this could have been done without the families allowing me to be there. They have my respect. I think, in the end, the reason they allowed my presence has a lot to do with the fact that we all have a story to tell, and theirs is worth sharing.
Since beginning this series, the amount of people who have responded to the project is overwhelming. So many people have written me sharing their story. The universality of the bond, and the pain when it’s broken, is something to which millions of people can relate. I’ve had some of the most touching emails and recollections of stories from people; it’s just incredible.
I hope people will never say to someone after losing a pet, “Oh it’s just a dog,” or, “It’s just a cat. You can get another.” It’s crucial to recognize, and respect, the pain that comes along with this. I hope, in the end, it builds more empathy toward one another.