When Yun-Fei Tou photographs a dog, he sets it in against a smooth backdrop, switches on soft lighting and imbues it a deep shade of dignity. The dogs are constantly on the move, but Tou snags the split seconds where they regard their fates with differing emotions. Afterwards, he feeds each dog and plays with it.
“You treat them like your own dog or daughter or son. And then you play with them, as if they are your friend...You just make sure that when they are facing euthanasia, they are in peace,” Tou said.
These photographs are the last opportunity to look at Taiwan’s death row inmates. For two years, Tou has shot over 400 dogs within hours, sometimes minutes of their last breaths.
Tou bestows a gentleness on the dogs, many of them strays, that they probably have not known for a long time. The photos show a soft light settling on mange and hairless patches to extract that Rembrandt-like blend of nobility and vulnerability.
According to the AP, shelters in Taiwan will euthanize 80,000 dogs this year, according to the AP. Dogs are afforded a 12-day waiting period, so that owners have a chance to find them, after which most dogs are put down. The ASPCA estimates that U.S. shelters euthanize 3-4 million animals a year.
Because they spend a few hours with him and become familiar with him, Tou often sees the dogs through the euthanasia. Tou believe it makes the process less frightening.
“That experience was traumatic,” Tou said of the first time he comforted a dog during a euthanasia. He went home afterward and ate one meal a day for a week, turning the lights out and sleeping the whole time.