The Tilly Project is a Maine-started nonprofit that connects pet owners and photographers around the world with resources and with each other.
SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — A Maine-started nonprofit is helping people overcome the grief that comes with losing a pet by connecting them with local resources and photographers.
The Tilly Project was created by Lauren Kennedy in 2021 and started as a small Facebook group. Kennedy, who lives in South Portland, came up with the idea after receiving a message from a friend about where to find an urn to hold a pet’s ashes.
“I told her, ‘You know, I’m going to have to look into that, but let her know if she wants free photos of her and her dog and her family, and her dog before she’s put down, just let me know,'” Kennedy said.
The pet’s owner, whom Kennedy had never met, accepted the offer.
“It was heartbreaking and it was also a great honor to be able to capture his love with her,” Kennedy said. “I asked the family for permission if I could post it and share what I did, and I did it and it went viral.”
The video, which was shared on TikTok, has more than 100K likes and thousands of comments.
Within hours, Kennedy’s inbox was flooded with requests from pet owners and messages from other photographers across the country. Some even offered to take her on a plane to take pictures of her pets.
“I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do all of this by myself,” Kennedy said.
Thus Project Tilly was born. The Facebook group-turned-nonprofit is an end-of-life pet photography network that provides resources for pet loss and bereavement and builds a support system for those who have lost or are about to lose a pet
Kennedy named it after his own cat, Tilly, who died a few years earlier.
“I lost her in a very tragic accident right in front of me,” Kennedy said. “He was so sweet. He was my little shadow, he followed me everywhere.”
“There came a time when I had to think of a name for what I was doing and I thought there was no better way than to say his name and speak it often and often and be able to use it in a way that celebrates the love that I shared with her,” Kennedy added.
Since its inception, Project Tilly has attracted more than 1,200 photographers from around the world. Ashley Carroll, a New York photographer, saw Kennedy’s post on social media and instantly knew she wanted to be a part of the project.
“Some people, when I say I take end-of-life photos of pets, they say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so sad, how do you do it?'” Carroll said. “Obviously it’s sad, but I don’t find it sad. It’s beautiful. You’re focusing on one pet and you’re making sure to show how much these pets love you.”
That love can be seen in the many photos Carroll has captured between owners and their pets. Carroll’s advice: get your photos taken as soon as possible.
She said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I haven’t had one negative comment,” Carroll said. “When I finish their gallery and send it out, I usually get a response with just an essay of how much these photos mean to them, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you should have given me a warning because I’m in the parking lot crying.'”
There has been such a demand for end-of-life photos of pets, which has made it possible for the Tilly Project to now be a non-profit organization. Kennedy said he hopes to see the project and its resources grow in the coming years. One of his goals is to create brochures listing local services and photographers to distribute to various areas. In most cases, the photographer will provide end-of-life photos of pets at no cost.
She adds that these photos not only help commemorate a pet, but can also be used as a tool to navigate the pain that comes with saying goodbye.
“I think it serves a much bigger picture than just taking pictures with your animal,” Kennedy said. “Bereavement is horrible and losing a pet is one of the worst heartbreaks I think you can go through, so I feel like I’m…I don’t want to say I’m helping anything.” but again, it just allows them one extra thing to be able to navigate through that pain and be able to look back and really be able to validate that pain as well.”
For more information on Kennedy and the Tilly Project, click here.
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