It's one of the best ways to honor beloved pets and give their families memories to cherish.
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end of life photography; black and white photo of family with their dog
Credit: Lauren Smith Kennedy

Photographing pets at the very ends of their lives seems like an emotionally charged task few would be willing to take on. Yet Lauren Smith Kennedy does—with beautiful, meaningful results.

She works her special side gig as an end-of-life pet photographer and founded The Tilly Project. It helps pet owners find end-of-life photographers and offers bereavement resources as they anticipate their animals' passings.

Kennedy, who works extensively in animal welfare, shoots her "Forget Me Not" sessions free of charge, often posting the sweet photos and videos to her Instagram and TikTok accounts. The photo and captions serve as memorials, telling the pets' stories and showing how much they meant to their families.

Daily Paws caught up with Kennedy to hear more about how she got into this field, why she does it, and how a difficult job can be so rewarding.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What got you into this type of work? It's not often you hear about someone being an end-of-life pet photographer.

I have always been known for my work and volunteerism within animal welfare and also for being a photographer. When a friend reached out inquiring about where to get an urn for her friend's dog who was terminally ill, I naturally put the two interests together and offered to do an end-of-life session for free.

The dog's name was Lacey and she was only 3 years old. After completing this shoot, and with permission from Lacey's family, I went ahead and shared the images I took across my social media. The response I received was overwhelming. So many can relate to the heartbreak of losing a pet and wanting to honor their lives. Pets have such a profound impact during the short time they're with us.

How do most families react to your work?

When I share the images I capture with families, I have always been met with such love, kindness, and gratitude. These shoots aren't your typical portrait sessions. Many of them are mixed with a different type of vulnerability filled with mixed emotions, tears, and heartbreak. Each photo shoot is uniquely its own, but the love of their pet and their gratefulness for the photos remain constant.

Do any sessions stand out? Do you have any favorite images?

Every single one of the shoots I've done has been so incredibly special to me. These families are not only trusting me to capture their love, but they're also taking the time to tell heartwarming stories of their pets and share memories.

It would be hard to ever choose a favorite when every single one is so moving, unique, and special. From a technical standpoint, I can certainly look back throughout the photos and recognize when I was able to get beautiful lighting or a specific shot just worked because of external factors. Having this sort of reflection and critique of my own work only allows my skills to increase for future families. Each shoot I've done teaches me such meaningful lessons in so many ways.

Kennedy lives in Maine, where she grew up. She also works as the communications director for Compassion Animal Project and as the development director for Saco River Wildlife Center.