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Prepare for pet loss with a lifetime of digital memories
There’s this picture of Spartacus during our time in Nicaragua that I just cannot get enough of. It’s hot in Granada – an average every day is between 30 and 32 C in the shade (86 to 90 F) and so our cats would seek out cool spots to stay comfortable. Well, within this colonial house there were gutters around the interior garden, and we’d often find Spartacus squeezed around the corner of the gutter. What a hilarious boy! It makes me giggle every time I see it.
I find going down memory lane and remembering all of the goofy and precious things my cats have done such a joy. I’m so thankful for technology that has made this infinitely simpler in recent years! And now that Tia’s gone, I treasure the gifts of memory contained within my digital files that much more. She comes to life every time to look at a great portrait or watch a silly video clip. I am blessed in the memory of her life.
As I considered the most important things I’ve done to make sure I have all of memories needed to soothe my soul when it’s sad, I came up with some thoughts on how to do this intentionally. The following are some important principles I’ve used when working to build up my library of images and recordings of my cats:
- Memorialize the Brilliance: Every animal has unique qualities that make them special. Tia is the smartest cat I’ve ever known, for instance. She understood how doors worked and would jump up to grab the handle and even try to flip the deadbolt. I think she was self-aware – she’d look in the mirror and I swear she could understand she was seeing herself. I captured as many videos of her intelligent nature as I possibly could.
- Freeze the Silliness in Time: These are probably the easiest things to capture and so it hardly bears mentioning, except that sometimes we forget to actually go to the effort of hitting record in the moment. Our memories are often good, but there’s nothing like reliving the funny pet moments through video or pictures.
- Capture the Mundane: Yes, I admit it, I have videos of my cats using the litter box. True, these aren’t videos that I intend to make public, but I wanted to remember the little quirks about the everyday things, like how Tia would crisscross her legs in an awkward balancing act on the edges of the box – yet never fell in. I’ve worked really hard to make sure I have videos of everything from how they bathe to the little hops they take coming down the stairs. Just watch your pet throughout the day and make note of all the little ways he or she delights you, then do your best to capture those moments on film.
- Record the Sounds: Sometimes the memory is as simple as a sound. What’s more, there will be times that, for various reasons (lack of light being primary) all you have is sound. Spartacus, for instance, used to yowl at night. It wasn’t great for my sleep, but it was unique to him and I didn’t want to forget that mournful sound he used to make. So in the middle of the night, I got out my smartphone and recorded a voice memo. You never know when you’ll want to just soak in the sounds of your little furballs.
Prepare to Nab Every Pet Photo and Video You Can Get
It’s all well and good to have goals for the kinds of video and audio memories you’ll grab of your pets, but how do you go about doing it? I’ve got some practical tips for capturing the most memorable pet videos and photos here and beyond:
- Capture Early and Often: You never know when you’ll lose your furry baby so you’ll want to start capturing pictures and talkies as soon as you can – easier than ever now that we have smartphone cameras. But trust me, at the end of a long life of 20+ years like Tia had, you’ll want to remember your animal friend when he or she was young. The technology wasn’t there when Tia was a baby and as such, I very few images and no videos of her as a kitten – and what I do have is blurry. That’s no longer an issue, unless you fail to actually do the work of memorializing your pet from the start. Don’t delay.
- Plan Some Video or Photo Sessions: You can prepare for some photos and videos. For instance, I know that when I change the sheets Spart will be there, wanting to play between the layers. I’ve had my camera in hand on several occasions to capture those moments. Pet portraits that are well composed and beautiful are also things you can plan ahead of time.
- Make Yourself Invisible and Lay in Wait for the Possible: Sometimes you’ll need to act like the nature photographer and plant yourself quietly behind the bush (or armoire or under the kitchen table) and just wait until that perfect moment arrives. Tia used to do this thing where she’d put your toy bee between her teeth and sing, but she’d never do so with me in the room. She’d do it when my husband was around, but was embarrassed in front of me. Silly girl. So this one day, I just stood around the corner and waited… and waited… and waited… until she final did it. I cannot thank myself enough for having the patience. It’s a special little trick I love to look at now, years later. Make it easier on yourself by getting comfortable and setting yourself up with a magazine or games on your smartphone so that you can pass the time without too much pain. You’ll thank me too when you succeed. Ha!
- Be At the Ready for the Unexpected: Your animal companion will surprise you with new delights you’ve never seen before. You may not know when your bird will vocalize in that unique way or when the moment will strike for your dog to chase his own tail. But you can be ready for those moments. Place your camera on the coffee table or have your smartphone always at hand for those moments and then WAIT. This will make it easier to grab those silly cat videos or perfect quiet moments with your rabbit, even when they sneak up on you.
- Use a Petcam: These are SO invaluable! We originally purchased our Nest webcam so that we could keep an eye on our cats while on vacation (someone would check in on them, but we wanted to peek in now and then, too). That worked really well, with the added bonus of capturing some fun behaviours. For instance, we had to separate Tia and Spart to keep them from fighting. A baby gate was the instrument of separation and it worked perfectly until… Tia figured out a way to get around it or under it or over it. We had NO idea how she’d done it but with the petcam, it soon became clear. Not only did the spycam let us diagnose the problem and solve it, we had a fantastic video of Tia’s brilliance in action. Watch this video and enjoy seeing her revel in the freedom and accomplishment!
- Take the Pictures; Take ALL the Pictures of ALL the Things: In other words, if there’s ever any question about whether you should capture something on film, don’t hesitate. Just do it. This may be the only time when everything lines up right – the lighting is great, the action shot is perfect, and you just happen to have your camera. Do it while you have the chance.
- Curate Regularly: Of course, if you follow my advice above, you’re going to end up with a lot of stuff to store. I set a reminder for myself to curate my animal pictures and videos once a month so that I keep only the best photos of a series and get right of videos that turn out to be just… nothing. Be vigilant to keep that which is meaningful but not so ruthless that you’re left with barely anything.
- Get Lots of Digital Storage: If you’re like me, you’ll end up with more pet photos and animal videos that your computer can handle. You’ll need to support your memory-capture habits with a robust back-up system. I cover this in a blog about cloud services and other digital image storage options.
I’ll tell you right now that on my list is capturing video of this distinctive paw shake Spartacus does after coming indoors from the cold. He’s proving very uncooperative of late and so after more than 20 attempts I’m still empty handed. But I shall prevail!
Some may not be fanatical about capturing every little wink and dog trick, and that’s ok. But if you’ve got a heart that will be comforted after the loss of a pet by the sweet, the goofy, and the previous, then I highly recommend making the effort to stock your digital storage full of as many visuals as you can.
What to Do with Your Digital Images and Videos to Get Through Pet Loss Grief
Oh, the things you’ll do with what you’ve captured! I’ve got all kinds of ideas for how to remember your pet using your pictures and videos, but here’s just a taste:
- Make a screensaver photo album
- Use photos as digital wallpaper
- Create a real-life photobook of your pet
- Get creative with photo crafts
- Design a beautiful photo collage or video slideshow
- Pick the perfect picture frame for any room in the house
- Make jewelry and other comfort objects / transition objects with your pictures
Stay tuned for more ideas of how to make the most of the digital pet memories you create to comfort yourself as you mourn your pet loss.
Images: Maryruth, Priscilla Du Preez
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