From Mary Jo Dilonardo’s article for Mother Nature Network:
When photographer Isa Leshko first met a 34-year-old spotted horse named Petey, there was something about the arthritic, kind Appaloosa that captivated her. His eyes were clouded with cataracts, his coat was dull and coarse, and he moved stiffly as he followed her around the pasture.
Mesmerized by the gentle animal, Leshko ran inside to grab her camera.
“I wasn’t sure why I was so drawn to him, but I kept taking pictures. It had been a long time since I felt this kind of excitement while holding a camera,” Leshko says.
Leshko and her sister had been caring for her father, who had successfully fought stage 4 oral cancer, and her mother, who was dealing with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
“When I reviewed my negatives from my afternoon with Petey, I realized I had stumbled upon a way to examine my grief and fear stemming from Mom’s illness, and I knew I had to find other elderly animals to photograph,” Leshko says. “I wasn’t thinking about embarking on a long-term project. I was seeking catharsis.”
More than a decade later, that encounter with Petey has resulted in Leshko’s haunting book, “Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries” (University of Chicago Press, 2019). The work features images of horses, cows, chickens, goats, pigs and other farm animals that have been rescued and are living their final days in safety.
“The experience had a profound effect on me and forced me to confront my own mortality,” Leshko says. “I am terrified of growing old, and I started photographing geriatric animals in order to take an unflinching look at this fear. As I met rescued farm animals and heard their stories, though, my motivation for creating this work changed. I became a passionate advocate for these animals, and I wanted to use my images to speak on their behalf.”