A photographer who specialises in capturing one final, emotionally-charged photoshoot between ageing pets and their owners has shared some of the tear-jerking images she’s taken.
Lauren Smith-Kennedy, 28, who lives in Portland, Maine, takes poignant black-and-white photos of owners enjoying cherished time with their beloved pets as the animals approach the end of their lives.
The pet photographer says she hopes the images provide some comfort to the owners when their pets have passed – and reveals she’s been asked to fly all over the world for her job.
Powerful: Pet photographer Lauren Smith-Kennedy, 28, who lives in Portland, Maine, captures animals and their owners when the pets are nearing the end of their lives – pictured: Jill and Amy Barkley-Roy hug Winston the 12 year old golden retriever
Just before you go: Opie the dog struggles with ill health as his owner comforts him
Two siblings express their grief in different ways: The Smith family children hug CC, their 11-year-old border collie. While the girl recounts memories, the boy breaks down in tears
Smith-Kennedy says: ‘It really is a truly heartbreaking time for any family on their own journey of grief.
‘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.’
She says she struggles to contain her own emotions when she looks back on the photos but holds it together while shooting the images.
‘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.’
Discussing some of the hardest photoshoots she’s done, she says watching two young children saying goodbye to their 11-year-old border collie, CC, was difficult.
The photo shows the siblings crouched down around the pet, having been prompted to ‘give him some love’, and each express this in entirely different ways.
Vocation: Smith-Kennedy says ‘It really is a truly heartbreaking time for any family on their own journey of grief.’ She asks families to share memories of their time with their animal as she photographs them
Powerful black-and-white photographs show owners embracing their ageing pets and Smith-Kennedy admits she finds the work emotional. Pictured: Odie the 11-year-old black lab sits in the middle of Albuja family for a final goodbye
The photographer says she contains her own emotions during a shoot but can be in tears when looking back at the images. Pictured: owner Kat Cavalry sits beside Indi the Irish wolfhound
The remembrance photos bring comfort, says Smith-Kennedey. Pictured: Brian and Tim sit on the ground as 11-year-old Malibu rests between them
The young boy is moved to tears as he reaches out to touch his pet, and his mother looks over sympathetically at her heartbroken son.
Within the same image, a young girl shares a fond memory of her time with the dog, which prompts a smile from her grandparents who look down lovingly.
The photographer, who lives with her boyfriend Brendan, 30 and four-year-old cat Percy, says the images ‘really show the different dynamics of how people deal with their 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.
The emotions are honest, says the photographer. Pictured: Ron and Phyllis hug their 12 year old golden retriever, Winston
Winston, aged 12, enjoys affection from his owners. Right: Owner Lisa Rose-Ewing places hand on Abigail, her 15 year old golden retriever
Laurie Garrity kisses 14-year-old golden retriever Lola as the rest of the Garrity family pets her
‘I ask them to tell me about their pet and this is why the emotion in the images is so real. If I was a different person looking at my pictures from a different perspective, I think they would destroy me.’
Smith-Kennedy also works as a wildlife rehabilitation centre worker, began volunteering as an end-of-life pet photographer when her own cat Tilly passed away in a freak accident.
She found the work helped her through her own grief and also enabled her to help others too.
‘It has all grown so quickly, and has been a privilege to witness and I hope we can all help as many families as possible,’ she says.
Hey little lady: Owner Andrea Lynn holds Maggie the 12-year-old Chihuahua in an affectionate pose
Lisa and Brett Ewing hug Abigail their 15 year old golden retriever. Right: Owner Zoe rests her head against Lola the 8-year-old chocolate labrador’s head
‘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.
‘I started doing this because of Tilly, it allows me to work through my own grief, but also honour all of these other wonderful pets. It has been very cathartic.’
And while dogs are the main focus of her work, Lauren has also been asked to photograph the final moments of other animals – including a pet rat.
An emotional owner, Misty Lee Coolidge, is seen hugging Bruno, her 13-year-old labrador
Owners Alex Steed and Carolyn Kendrick lay with Vera their 12-year-old pitbull/boxer mix
See you again, Sweetie: This 14-year-old dog, named, Sweetie enjoys a cuddle with her owner
Not just dogs: Kennedy says she’s started to snap other animals with their owners, including Sophia Cuff, seen here kissing Velma the rat
The photographer says she hopes she can photograph many different species to show the bond people have with animals
She said: ‘We honoured a rat called Velma, rats don’t live very long and she was suffering from respiratory problems, she was just so sweet and loving, and was loved very much by her family.
‘Lots of people wouldn’t necessarily think of having the same love for rats as with cats and dogs but it’s about the connection we build and the memories we create.
‘In the future I hope to have representations of many more species too, because the bond is there no matter what the animal.’