Reporting Aristea Brady
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In life’s many changes, sometimes, there’s comfort in the things that stay the same. This is what one Minneapolis photographer says she hears every time she goes to shoot a pet and their owner.
Sarah Beth Ernhart has made it her life’s work to capture this friendship unlike any other.
What’s different about her work, she takes pictures just before the two say their final goodbye.
Just before winter sets, trees have their last burst of color. Ernhart would call that the tree’s “joy session.”
“They’ll have a burst of energy that they haven’t had in weeks,” Ernhart said.
Capturing man’s best friend’s last burst of life has become Sarah Beth’s passion. Although it’s a concept that hard to explain in words, she’s better with pictures.
“Just being open enough in that moment to let your emotions come out and allow me to be there in that moment, to capture it, is beautiful,” Ernhart said.
The photo that started it all features a woman who was in hospice care, and her service dog, Joy.
“Joy sessions” were born after their shoot.
“Naming it after Joy, like this amazing person and her dog, it was the perfect thing to do,” Ernhart said.
Joy’s owner passed shortly after the session.
Now, years later, Ernhart continues to capture life before its end.
“It’s like seeing these still photos of people … it’s like you are feeling that moment all over again,” Ernahrt said.
Joy sessions happen either just before the end of a human’s life or more common, before the end of a pet’s.
WCCO-TV captured Joy still photographing 13-year old Mason, and his owner Jen Myers. Myers says Mason is the one thing that’s always there to make her feel good at the end of every day.
“You can see, they look into each other’s eyes, and they, she knows his quirks,” Ernhart said.
“Mason has really been, probably the most consistent thing in my life over the last 10 years. He is completely forgiving of everything,” Myers said. “Mason’s been through the suicide of my father, leukemia of my 2-year old nephew, moves and it’s that ‘Marley and Me’ moment … he puts his foot here and just sits with me.”
Mason was diagnosed with cancer in the spleen. He likely doesn’t have much time left.
“To come home and know that I’m going to get that tail wag, and I’m going to get the lick on my face and then we can sit and crash on the couch together, helps me get through a lot of those days,” Mason said.
Ernhart says she thinks the animals know exactly why they’re there when she’s shooting.
“It’s like they are giving their all for this thing they know is really important for their owners, and often … they’ll pass away the next day, like later that night,” Ernhart said. “They know it’s going to happen and it’s not sad for them. It’s sad for us.”
Much like the seasons will come back around, sometimes the hardest part is saying goodbye to that one.
“He was there through my formative years, my 20s and my early 30s of my life, and to come home and not have him in the house is going to be hard,” Myers said. “We’re going to love and live every day that we can, and when his time comes he’ll go peacefully and dignified, and that’s the best I can hope for him.”
Ernart offers her joy photography sessions at a discounted rate.
If you’d like to learn more about her or see more of her work, visit sarahbethphotography.com or http://www.joysession.com. You can also visit her social media page at https://www.facebook.com/joysession.