We were living in Nicaragua - where vet care was... well, let's just say we had to be creative. We'd taken Tia and Spartacus to the vet and had the usual bloodwork done. Our vet indicated that ours were the oldest cats she'd every treated - and they were only about 15 and 14 years old (respectively) at the time! Feeling that perhaps, as a result, she wouldn't have the expertise necessary to deal geriatric cat issues, we had their bloodwork results sent back to a vet in the US who kindly interpreted them for us. The news we got back wasn't great. We were told that Spartacus had developed a thyroid issue and they'd both started to show signs of kidney failure.
I was in a panic. I did some initial research and found out that kidney failure was likely fatal and began thinking my little ones wouldn't be with me for long. It was at that time that I made a determination to take as many photos and videos of my kitties as I could to ensure I'd be able to remember them later. Thankfully, we had 6+ additional years with each of them, so the end wasn't as imminent as I feared, but I'm SO grateful that I made it a habit to record both the special and the ordinary times with them so that I'd have something to comfort myself now.
Regardless of whether your pet is still with you or has already passed away, I want to help you make an inventory of the stuff you already have and develop a plan for how to capture those items (assuming you still can) that you're missing. You WILL thank yourself for going through this process.
1. Start by collecting all of your pet's videos and photos and comparing them to this inventory list
Alright, so you need to begin by collecting all of those random photos and videos that you have of your pets from every corner of your life. Where might you look? In your photo storage boxes (check them ALL!), every junk drawer, your sock drawer, the kids' toy chests, old frames, under the bed, hanging on the wall, in your wallet, thrown into shoe boxes, behind the couch, and wherever else you can think of. Uncover some, ahem, negatives in your travels (yes, some of us still have those)? Go through them all. Perhaps your old film will have pictures that were never printed. Are there treasures waiting for you on those brown strips?
Don't forget all of your digital devices: every camera, every smartphone, every memory card, every old computer or back-up hard drive, your old iPod, your iPad, your OneDrive, Google, Dropbox, and Shutterfly storage lists, and any other device you can think of. Move all of these digital files into one convenient area on your computer for now.
IMPORTANT: I'd recommend organizing things in date order if at all possible. Carefully sort your physical memories by age and then rename your digital photos and videos (I like the yy.mm.dd file naming format) so that you can quickly review them in order.
Now that you've got them all together, survey what you have to get an idea of your current inventory. You may have a wish list of your own of the types of memories you want of your pet, but here are some lists you could compare your collection to. Gaps will quickly emerge - trust me!
Must-Have Pet Videos Prior to Pet Loss (Action Shots!)
- Enjoying a favourite treat
- Getting pets
- Going for a walk
- Playing at the park or in the yard
- Chewing on a toy
- Having a nice long drink
- Getting brushed
- Catching a ball
- Chasing a string
- Doing a special trick (your cat jumping up to open a door, for instance)
- Showing personality
- Going for a car ride
Must-Have Pet Photos to Prepare for Pet Loss
- Posing for a pet-perrfect portrait (the formal pose)
- Hanging out with every member of the family (at least one with each person)
- Sleeping in the sun (warm and cozy)
- Sitting on a favourite lap (or every lap!)
- Cuddling with you in bed (pet love)
- Snuggling under a blanket (so cute...)
- Jumping through a hoop or chasing a toy (action shot)
- Getting their point of view (take a pic from behind your pet that follows their gaze)
- Being up close (snapshots of a wet nose or beautiful fur colourings)
- Spending time with other furry friends (fun!)
2. Turn your unchecked items into a challenge list
If doing the inventory has identified some of the gaps in your photo and video collection, then you're not alone! I do hope that you have time to capture some more of the fun, silly, and special memories you'll want to have later. [If you've sadly run out of time, I am so sorry - feel free to skip this step...]
If you're lucky enough to still have your pet with you, then I recommend going through this list and trying to capture as many videos and photos off of these lists before time runs out. If your pet is young - all the better! I firmly believe it's NEVER too early to start. You'll be able to get some of the best action shots when they're young.
Here's what I'd recommend you do:
- Create a task list for yourself: Whether you write down the missing items or put them into a digital to-do list, it doesn't matter. The important thing is that you see the task regularly enough to remind yourself to capture those shots when the opportunities arise.
- Have your camera or smartphone at the ready: If you've got a great DSLR or just the camera on your phone, be sure to have it with you as much as possible so that you're equipped when the chance strikes. Having your regular camera in a prominent place may also serve to remind you to be on the lookout for precious moments.
- Stage specific shots: For many types of videos and pictures, it's easy enough to stage the occassion so that you can capture it. Does your dog love to chase jer favourit ball? Take her out and grab that video! Does your feline relish sitting on your lap? Sit down and invite her on over to capture that cuddle shot! This is an especially useful trick if you know you're running out of time.
- Buy or borrow a pet cam: Having a video camera in your house to capture those silly things your pet does when no one else is around can be invaluable. Seriously. Some of my best videos of Tia and Spartacus came to me this way. I have one of Tia sneaking thorugh a baby gate, another of Spartacus emerging from under the sheets, and many others. These devices could be a treasure trove of pet videos you'd love to have in your collection, so find a way to get one - even if it means borrowing from a friend!
- Hire a professional: Feeling like you don't have the expertise to capture the memories you'd like to have? Why not hire a pro pet photographer or videographer? They'll know all of the tricks to capturing some great shots - and having your inventory checklist handy will make your time with him or her focused and productive.
So these are the basics of how to expand your pet memories portfolio so that you've got a lot of what you want and need for later on. But if you're still coming up short, let's check out some other sources of pet photos and videos...
3. Can't find the memorable pet photos or videos you want in your collection? Ask around!
Sometimes you might find that even if you don't have the photo or video that you want in your collection, someone else in your life will! Asking around to get other people to contribute to your inventory is a great way to get memories of when your pets were younger and is one of the best options for filling in gaps if your pet has already left this life. So don't be afraid to send a call out to your friends. Ask them to dig through their files - both digital and hard copy - to see if they've got some images or action videos you can add to your collection. You never know what items they have you may have forgotten about!
Just today, actually, a friend of mine (I haven't seen her in over 10 years!) found a picture of Spartacus in a photo album at an old workplace of mine. I'd taken him with me to the office one day to give him an adventure and to give our retirement residents someone they could cuddle. I personally didn't have a picture of that day, but she did, and when she found it, she quickly sent it over. Thank you Barb!
Likewise, I've received photos of both of my cats from a variety of other people - my sister, my Mom, and several other friends. All of them have been added to my inventory of pet photos and are treasured for their windows into my cats' lives.
Know where else you may find some GREAT candid videos of your pet? Your existing security camera, web cam, or pet cam! Many of these have memory cards or store their videos in the cloud. So don't forget to mine these devices to see what nuggets of joy you can find.
4. Safekeep your animals photos and videos
Remember getting all of your pet's videos and photos together is only part of the challenge. Once you've got them, be sure to put them away safely. I recommend digitizing all of your pet memories and then storing them using a cloud service. This way if you experience a flood or fire or robery, you won't risk losing the memories you cherish. Plus, these cloud services also make it super easy to share your photos if you want to have someone create a pet memorial video for you.
After doing all of this work, you should have a good foundation for remembering your pet when the time comes. I'd love to know what other poses or videos you've got on your list? Share just in case I've forgotten some crucial ideas that others may want.