By Alison Rentschler | Photography by Sarah Beth Photography
When your dog or cat gets older, you may begin contemplating how you’ll remember them when they’re gone.
Joy Sessions®, by Sarah Ernhart from Sarah Beth Photography, provide a creative and meaningful way to cherish and keep those memories of your pet. In a Joy Session, Ernhart takes photos of pets that are elderly or terminally ill in a professional photo session.
She had the idea for Joy Sessions more than six years ago. “Then people started seeing other people doing it, and it started to snowball. It became clear it’s what I was supposed to be doing,” said Ernhart. Now, about 80 percent of Ernhart’s photography sessions are Joy Sessions.
About the sessions, Ernhart explained, “I encourage people to plan ahead. When the pet is feeling better, the memories will be happier. But if people need a last-minute shoot, I can do it. I try to be as accommodating as possible.”
Ernhart, based in the Twin Cities, mostly does Joy Sessions in the area, but she’s willing to go other places in the United States.
Before a Joy Session, Ernhart discusses the photo session and ideas with the owner.
“Once I show up to the studio or park, the first 10 minutes or so is settling in and letting the dog get to know me, and seeing what the owner wants. I just kind of roll with it, and see what the pets want to do…. Every shoot is different.”
Clients have appreciated Ernhart’s patience and calm demeanor. “I make it easy for them.” After a Joy Session, Ernhart sends the digital files to the client to review, and the client can decide which photos to order as prints or albums.
A Joy Session in Rochester
In a recent Joy Session in Rochester, Ernhart had a photo session with Alissa Caron and her dogs, Basil and Sandy, in Alissa’s backyard.
“Basil was getting kind of old, and we had recently adopted another dog … Basil was having some health issues,” Caron said. “I wanted a photo with both of our dogs.” Caron reached out to Ernhart.
“Sarah came all the way down to our house in Rochester, and she was so flexible and accommodating,” Caron explained. “There were so many things I wanted to capture. I felt like I was honoring him (Basil) with a professional shoot.”
Ernhart sent Caron the photo gallery of the photos after the shoot. One of Caron’s wishes had been to have a photo of Basil running at the camera, which Ernhart was able to capture in the photo session. “He looked so happy, like a little puppy.”
Caron said the experience was worth it. “These dogs are part of my life, and I’m going to treasure them. It’s commemorating them… You can’t have that moment back. I’ll have Basil running on my wall forever.”
Joy Session Website
In addition to doing Joy Sessions, Ernhart also operates www.joysession.com, a Joy Session website. It’s a resource for people all over the world looking for photographers who offer end-of-life pet photography sessions.
“The goal was for it to be a go-to place if someone is losing a pet to go through the journey, find photographers, resources, and share your story. I try to make it interactive and fun,” said Ernhart.
Photographers who offer end-of-life pet photography sessions can be listed for free in the directory on the site, or they can sign up to have a premium listing that offers more resources. More than 400 photographers are listed in the directory.
“My whole focus in doing this is for more Joy Sessions,” said Ernhart. “I want every pet owner to do them and understand it’s an option.”
Alison Rentschler is a writer and editor living in Rochester, Minn.