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Photographing Terminally Ill Dogs
“Joy Sessions” by Sarah Beth Photography

The service dog’s name was “Joy” and photographing her had a profound affect on Sarah Ernhart. The photo session was a gift from a friend of Joy’s guardian, who was in hospice. Joy was among the most important individuals in the woman’s life, and the pictures meant so much to her that it inspired Sarah to start something new with her business, Sarah Beth Photography.

The dog’s name gave her the idea to name the new service “Joy Sessions,” which she has trademarked. Joy Sessions are photography sessions offered at a reduced price for people whose pet is terminally ill. She often schedules Joy Sessions for the same day or the next day, as soon as they’re needed. Images from her Joy Sessions are emotionally compelling because of a couple of factors. Ernhart’s photographic skills, including making her subjects comfortable, a strong eye for composition and design as well as an understanding of the technical elements such as lighting and depth of field, combine with her focus on the relationship between people and dogs to create memorable photographs with extra special meaning. It’s her contribution to helping people go through the trauma of saying good-bye to a pet.

Sarah contributes to her local pet community in other ways. She donates 10 percent of her pet session fees to local non-profit groups that help animals such as shelters, rescues, or advocates for animals. She offers discounts of up to 50 percent for people who have adopted their dogs from rescue and is a member of HeARTs Speak, whose stated mission is to unite the individual efforts of animal artists and animal rescues into collective action for social change.

Sarah’s photographs are lovely, and what she says about them shows her love for dogs as well as her images do. My favorite comment? “Ohdinn’s studio session was a gift from his mom’s best friend. He’s getting up there, and they wanted to bring him in while he still had some pep. If this silly, happy old man doesn’t make you smile, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.”

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photo by Sarah Beth Photography.

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