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Allowed to Grow Old

Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries

With a Foreword by Sy Montgomery and Essays by Gene Baur and Anne Wilkes Tucker
There’s nothing quite like a relationship with an aged pet—a dog or cat who has been at our side for years, forming an ineffable bond. Pampered pets, however, are a rarity among animals who have been domesticated. Farm animals, for example, are usually slaughtered before their first birthday. We never stop to think about it, but the typical images we see of cows, chickens, pigs, and the like are of young animals. What would we see if they were allowed to grow old?

Isa Leshko shows us, brilliantly, with this collection of portraits. To create these portraits, she spent hours with her subjects, gaining their trust and putting them at ease. The resulting images reveal the unique personality of each animal. It’s impossible to look away from the animals in these images as they unforgettably meet our gaze, simultaneously calm and challenging. In these photographs we see the cumulative effects of the hardships of industrialized farm life, but also the healing that time can bring, and the dignity that can emerge when farm animals are allowed to age on their own terms.

Each portrait is accompanied by a brief biographical note about its subject, and the book is rounded out with essays that explore the history of animal photography, the place of beauty in activist art, and much more.  Open this book to any page. Meet Teresa, a thirteen-year-old Yorkshire Pig, or Melvin, an eleven-year-old Angora Goat, or Tom, a seven-year-old Broad Breasted White Turkey. You’ll never forget them.

126 pages | 45 color plates | 9 1/2 x 10 1/4 | © 2019

Art: Photography

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology

Food and Gastronomy

Psychology: Animal Behavior


“The photographer Isa Leshko reveals the beauty of a full life through dramatic black-and-white images of aging animals, all of which have been rescued from neglect and abuse.”

New York Times

"Beautiful, thought-provoking."

The Australian

"By featuring both farm animals and elderly dogs, Leshko hoped to raise the question of why we pamper some animals and slaughter others."

Micaela Garber | Insider

"A poignant creation. . . . one of the things that is so remarkable about the portraits – you can see each animal's personality; their singularity and distinction. Each is a beautiful, living individual, not some abstract "thing" produced en masse at a factory for the purpose of fueling humans."


"This is partly the story of a woman who starts out not knowing how to open and close a farm gate, and ends up learning how to put animals at ease so she can photograph them in close-up (approach them at eye level; lie in the hay with them for as long as it takes; don’t take your bag into the pen, because they’ll eat it). It’s also about characters like friendly Melvin the Angora goat, and Babs the impossibly stoic, shaggy donkey, who are described in the text with an empathy at times reminiscent of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. Making the text personal makes the book feel warm and open rather than preachy, which seems the right way to go if you really want to ‘start a conversation,’ as Leshko does.”


"Leshko's photography captures animals, living on farm sanctuaries, in their old age—something we don't often have the privilege to see. Her stunning images are accompanied by biographies of these beautiful animals, who are presented with dignity and respect." 


Mayim Bialik

"By respectfully showing us the beauty and dignity to be found in aging animals of all kinds, she has offered us humans both a measure of guilt at how we have treated them and an encouragement to forward-looking advocacy on their behalf. Her compassionate, gentle, well-crafted portraits remind us that we can do better for these animals, if we only take a moment to see them as sentient, feeling individuals."

Collector Daily

“Leshko’s portraits bring to mind Peter Hujar’s photographs of animals, which similarly captured the particularity of a dog or horse (or goose or goat), a sense of that creature’s individual consciousness. Leshko’s photographs, too, are rich in respect and empathy while avoiding sentimentality….Whatever viewers’ thoughts on animal rights, her pictures give us pause to consider why some are cherished pets and others are disposable.”


"But Leshko is after something altogether different, and more spiritual. Her photographs of elderly animals serve not as documents of death, as theorists like Susan Sontag or Roland Barthes would have it, but instead as images of life, and ultimately, of gift."

Griffin Oleynick | Commonweal

“The best nature-related book of 2019 is also the single most viscerally powerful book of the year, something that could only have been accomplished through photography as breathtaking as Isa Leshko’s. In this book, on page after page, readers see gorgeous photos of farm animals who are not worked to death or slaughtered in their second year of life. The cumulative result is nothing short of astonishing.”

Open Letters

"I learned at an early age that animals are complex, thinking, feeling creatures. All animals. So often, though, we overlook the lives of those animals who are raised for farming and meat production. Isa Leshko offers us a deeply personal view into the lives of these animals. Her portraits are tender and present the inescapable fact that each subject is a living thinking creature with an individual history and personality."


"Leshko set out to make portraits of the elderly residents of farm sanctuaries to remind us that the animals we rely on for food and dairy and leather and wool are more than just a commodity, but that they are individuals deserving of care and respect and honor. Leshko’s photographs are also a reminder that all that any being wants––human or animal––is to live as long as they possibly can."

E.B. Bartels | Entropy Magazine

"Isa's raw, intimate portraits reveal testaments to dignity, courage and endurance. She is determined that these animals not be looked on with pity. They are remarkable survivors with something to say. Isa gives them the chance to speak to us loudly and clearly...What makes this book unique is that their portraits, frozen in time and silence, convey this message more powerfully than words ever could."

Kristin Heggeli | The Vegan Society Blog

"[T]his is a powerful, beautiful book that very gently invites the reader to think about some of the important and complex ethical issues that define our 21st-century systems of food production. However, unlike so much photographic work that aims to make the world a better place for all animals, the photographs in Allowed to Grow Old do not focus on suffering. There is a sense of dignity in these portraits. We don’t want to look away from these images; we are drawn in and want to know more."

Journal of Animal Ethics

"The US photographer Isa Leshko’s beautiful book Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries (2019) contains what the title suggests: old pigs, chickens, cows, sheep along with some horses and dogs, which we are more used to at this stage in life. The images are moving, and the animals seem to have a quiet dignity."


"The images in Salem, Mass-based photographer Isa Leshko’s book...reveal the quiet dignity of creatures long in years, animals spared the gun or the kill boxes of industrial slaughter and allowed to live out their days...What Leshko shows, above all, is life, the spark and heat that lives in the faces of these animals, each one individual, singular, and often discarded, forgotten, and worse."

Nina MacLaughlin | The Boston Globe

"...gorgeous and moving book..."


"It is a pleasure to see these elderly cousins of ours, rheumy-eyed, bewhiskered, unsteady on their feet, enjoying their twilight years in peace, security, and dignity."

J. M. Coetzee

"Very few books can make you laugh, cry, smile, and ponder the universe all at once. This rare, beautiful, and thoughtful volume of photographs and essays does exactly all that. Please read it, please think about its message, and, if you can, please act on it!"

Gene Stone, coauthor of Living the Farm Sanctuary LIfe

"There is great poise and dignity in the animals Isa Leshko captures with her lens: their characters shine brightly despite their often devastating histories. She looks at them, and her gaze reveals them as individuals. One hopes our society looks, too, and does better for them all. What Leshko gives us with these photographs is a reminder of the very real fates of these and all farm animals. I would love to know every one of them."

Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog

"Empathy. Humans have the greatest capacity for it. And we have the greatest need for much, much more of it. In this soulful, deeply conveyed book, extraordinary photos team with eloquent words to show us the wisdom path to becoming more human by becoming more humane."

Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words

"In Allowed to Grow Old, Leshko's remarkable, unsentimental photos of older chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows and other animals achieve something that I have not seen before in photos of domesticated animals. We get to know them, not as things to eat or produce milk or eggs for us, but as individuals with personalities and lives of their own to lead."

Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation

"Because of the betrayals they endured at our hands over long lifetimes, the eyes of Isa Leshko's subjects radiate deep sadness and reproach, but also a touching dignity and lack of bitterness and fear. I found myself stroking their fur and feathers on the pages to comfort them or perhaps to ask their forgiveness. Hers is an unforgettable book."

Steven Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project

"Beautiful art and powerful animal advocacy--Isa Leshko's portraits of elderly farmed animals are both. Abe the goat (age 21) I gaze at just because he's so handsome; the images of Pearl (age 7), Violet (age 12), and Stella (age 18) affirm for me why I don’t eat turkeys, pigs, or cows. Isa's words are compelling too: in describing her patient methods of honoring each animal's comfort level with being photographed at his or her sanctuary home, it becomes clear why these images so touch our hearts. This volume is a perfect choice for animal lovers."

Barbara J. King, author of Personalities on the Plate

"In this unexpected encounter with aging animals, Isa Leshko enables us to see what she sees: the beauty and dignity of those allowed to live into old age. There is something new in these gorgeous portraits of the old."

Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat and Burger

"Allowed to Grow Old is a priceless and heartfelt tribute in stunning images and moving words to elderly farmed animals--senior citizens--who had previously lived horrific lives. This beautiful book clearly reveals the individuality of each animal photographed, and shows that farmed animals are no different from the companion animals with whom we share our homes and our hearts. They all are sentient beings with unique characters and personalities, who simply want to live out their lives with lots of love and in peace and safety. As an ethologist who has studied the emotional lives of a wide variety of animals, I could easily feel what each individual was feeling when they were photographed, and could well imagine the lives they have led. I hope this book enjoys a global audience. No matter what language readers speak, these images transcend different cultures and belief systems. They are that compelling."

Marc Bekoff, author of Canine Confidential

"Rarely do we see elderly farm animals. Pigs, cows, horses and chickens are usually killed before they have a chance to experience a full life--which means they die young. Isa Leshko's images speak volumes: these are sentient beings. Yes, the animals are old, but also wise in years, and still living their lives, under the care of people who have their welfare at heart and want them to live as long as they can without pain. Here is a book animal lovers will want to savor and embrace--as it reminds us to hold close our own aging animals."

Virginia Morell, author of Animal Wise

"Photographer Isa Leshko chose a unique, heart-wrenching and insightful manner to convey the message of healthy lifestyle choices through her photo book. She brings to people’s attention through portraits of ageing animals how most farm animals are slaughtered at a tender age for human consumption and are never given a chance to grow old or live their dedicated life span. Accompanied by brief bios and essays by Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur and essayist Anne Wilkes Tucker, the book makes a moving impact on its readers."

Telegraph India

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