January 9, 2022
“Four years ago, my cat Tilly died in a tragic accident after her head got stuck in a bed frame. It was the most traumatic and heartbreaking experience I’ve ever been through. I loved that cat so much. We were attached at the hip and we had such a special bond.
I’ve been a photographer for a while, but after her death, I wanted to begin working on a project in her honor. It was for that reason I started The Tilly Project, a free end-of-life pet photography service that aims to capture the special bonds between pets and their humans.
About nine months ago, a friend of a friend reached out to tell me her dog Lacy had to be put to sleep. So I decided to take the photos and post them to my social media. It didn’t take long before it blew up.
I began taking more end-of-life pet photos, and before I knew it I was getting hundreds of messages from folks across the world. I had people offer to fly across the country just so I could take their photos.
It got to a point where I wasn’t able to keep up with the amount of requests I was getting. I also have two other full-time jobs in animal welfare, so it felt impossible to juggle all these requests, even though I wanted to.
I wondered, how can I help these families without physically being there for each and every request? At the same time, I had other photographers reaching out asking how they could get involved.
About four months ago, I decided it made sense to expand the outreach to include other photographers, and that's when The Tilly Project began. I created a Facebook group that now has over 4.5 thousand members, and we now have a list of over 500 photographers on our site who offer end-of-life pet photography — Not just in Maine, but across the world.
The website not only offers the service of photography, but also includes resources for coping with the loss, how-to guides for taking your own pet photos and more. What started off as one family photo session has evolved into something much bigger and meaningful than I could have anticipated.
I think people are drawn to this type of photography because, in some form or another, we’ve all experienced loss. I think even folks who have never had an animal can relate to the imagery. The image captures very raw, real, vulnerable emotions, particularly love and grief.
Moving forward, I hope the project continues to evolve and expand. I want pet owners to know this resource exists. It’s incredible seeing people post their sessions across the world.
I’m appreciative of the fact that this resource is self-sustaining and growing. It’s community collaboration, and I think it’s amazing how far this has come in such a short period of time. I’m thankful for every opportunity I’ve had as well.
How lucky I am to have my work revolve around animals, which I’ve loved since the day I was born. Even today, I still pick drowning worms out of puddles because that’s how empathetic I feel about them. It’s who I am and who I’ll always be.
I’m happy to spread that love through community collaboration, and I’m honored that people trust me to capture those final memories with their pets before they go.” — Lauren Kennedy, End-Of-Life Pet Photographer
For more information about Lauren and The Tilly Project, visit: thetillyproject.org