Lauren Smith-Kennedy is a Maine-based photographer who offers free end-of-life photo shoots for pet owners. Her photos show the tender moments families share with their beloved animal companions as they say goodbye for the final time.
“I recently began offering free end-of-life photography to owners and their pets as a way to always remember one of the purest forms of love and companionship that exists,” Smith-Kennedy writes on her website. “I chose to offer my services for free to make them accessible to all.”
The photographer spends up to an hour with each family, shooting black-and-white portraits as the owners cuddle with their pets to create memories they can look back fondly on.
“It really is a truly heartbreaking time for any family on their own journey of grief,” Smith-Kennedy says. “It’s the profound heartbreak you feel knowing the life you have shared with that animal and anyone who has had a pet can relate to that.
“When I’m there, I’m doing my job and if I let my own feelings become a distraction it would take away from giving the family the gift of remembrance. But when I’m driving home and when I sit and look at the pictures, that’s when my emotions catch up on me.
“If I was a different person looking at my pictures from a different perspective, I think they would destroy me.”
Smith-Kennedy’s photos show the different dynamics of how people deal with grief.
“I don’t tell them how to feel, I just prompt them to do something with their dog and this inspires memories that lead them to feel a certain way,” she says. “I ask them to tell me about their pet and this is why the emotion in the images is so real.”
While the photographer initially only accepted shoots located within 35 miles of her home in Portland, Maine, the success of her work has broadened her horizons.
“I have been inundated with requests, some people even offering to fly me places, but I can’t always do it because of my work in animal rescue,” she says. “I started doing this because of Tilly, it allows me to work through my own grief, but also honor all of these other wonderful pets. It has been very cathartic.”
Image credits: All photographs by Lauren Smith-Kennedy / Animal News Agency