One reason I became a pet photographer was the deep feeling of appreciation and love that I had for my own pets. As a pet parent, my furkids bring me happiness and worry, love and uncertainty. My husband and I try to do everything we can for our pets to help them live happy, healthy lives.

In exchange, we receive unwavering devotion and affection, currently from Laura, our 8-year-old greyhound, and Olivia, our 14-year-old Maine coon cat. We were previously owned by an adorable hamster named Chloe who crossed the Rainbow Bridge (a common way to say “passed away”) in 2002.

Animals have a true way of working their way into your heart, so when they pass away, it’s heartbreaking.

As a pet photographer, I share in my client’s sorrows when a beloved furry friend passes away. The client has, in essence, lost a piece of themselves.

My first experience with the profound nature of an honor session (that’s what I call them) was when I photographed a beautiful beagle from Brewer named Marti. Marti was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and later passed away after a valiant battle. Before she passed away, her owners received the gift session, and together we created touching images of Marti at her home in Brewer.

Those images not only were fun to make, but they served as a cherished document of a life lived and loved.

That’s why how we honor our pets is just as important as how they lived. It doesn’t matter if your pet’s life is touched by illness or if the pet lived until a ripe old age. What matters is the legacy the pet left.

Here are four things you can do to honor your pet:

• Create a bucket list, which should include some of your pet’s favorite things to do. Always consult your veterinarian if there are concerns about how certain things will impact your pet. Take along a video camera or a still camera to document the experience.

• Keep a journal.

When we lose a pet, it’s natural to feel deep sorrow and in some cases anger. Some people in your life may not understand why this loss affects you in the ways it does. They may suggest to just get over it or that it was just a pet.

The fact is, that bundle of fur was a part of your family. Journaling can help you express your feelings and memories. Write about what you loved most about your pet. Collect stories from family and friends or even your pet service providers. Use this as an outlet to express how much your pet meant to you and use it to heal.

• Use your vet as a sounding board.

Whether your pet passed away on her own or you have to make the choice to let her go, your veterinarian is your partner in helping make the final steps. By working together with your vet, you’re honoring your pet by making the best possible choice for it.

• Create images that honor your pet. As someone who works with pet parents, I know first hand how important it is to create images that capture the spirit of the pet. Whether you choose to hire a professional photographer or you take these images yourself, you’re making a conscious choice to find beauty in life. I have had many clients remark how glad they were that they had their furry friend documented. How glad they were that we took the time to create images that captured their pet, looking glorious.

If you choose to hire a professional photographer to create images of your pet and your family, make sure they are comfortable with photographing pets. They should have experience working with elderly or ill pets, and use patience and understanding to capture an image that will become an heirloom.

Because in the end, the memories you capture today will be your healing tomorrow.

That’s the true meaning of honoring your furkids.

This poem, “The Rainbow Bridge,” is referenced often by pet parents who are coping with the loss of their beloved pet. It gives hope even in darkness.

The Rainbow Bridge

Author unknown

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.

There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.

Debra Bell is a freelance writer and graphic designer and is the owner of Bell’s Furry Friends Photography (a division of Bell Imaging & Design LLC).