Local pet photographer Jennifer Starr offers families a memorable way to celebrate their pets' lives when the end is near...
KCTV5 News wrote, "Whether it is months or days the pet has left, Starr is making a difference by keeping the better days in print forever.” The internationally published photographer and animal enthusiast was born and raised in Kansas City. She has always been a dog-lover, but in a romantic first encounter fit for Hollywood, 2 dogs changed her life in a way she never anticipated.
"I will never forget the day that changed my life. I met the man of my dreams at a local dog park, so essentially our dogs brought us together. I am a natural dog magnet, so Abby [a rescued Vizsla] made her way over to me and her Dad followed. We struck up a conversation about pet photography, I (conveniently) gave him my business card to 'check out my website,' and the rest is history."
Next came the proposal, which naturally took place in the very same dog park.
"He walked us casually over to the same spot where we met and I was presented with new engraved tags for our dogs' collars. He showed me a third heart-shaped tag that said "Jennifer Starr," which would become my married name. Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It could not have been any more perfect."
Their furry children made quite the pair too. Remington, a Miniature Schnauzer, and Abby, a Vizsla, became the best of friends, which they celebrate every morning with a ritual of howling (see YouTube video here).
When I learned about Jennifer and the compassionate service she is providing for Kansas City's pet community, I had to reach out for an interview. She is just as delightful as one would imagine the leading lady of that love story to be. I had the best time getting to know her while we photographed my 17 year old cat Charlie for his Picture Hills Blog debut. See our interview below, as well as a link to a slideshow of our afternoon together and some of her favorite pieces from Going with Grace.
How did the idea of taking pictures of pets at the end of their lives come to you?
I actually received so many requests from people who wanted to have their senior or ill pets photographed, that I realized there was a huge demand and need to create a separate division and offer a discounted rate to those who were going through this traumatic experience. Custom photography is definitely an investment, but I thought if I could offer some type of discount and include a photo at no charge, this would help encourage pet owners to photograph their pets even during such a difficult
Many people are so overwhelmed with grief when they find their beloved pets nearing the end. How does GWG help them through that emotional time?
I can’t really fully explain it in words, but I learned quickly how strong my heart is. I always strive to create an uplifting experience which celebrates the life of each pet and I hope to provide peace and comfort in in the form of timeless and unique photographs. Clients rarely cry during these sessions and they almost seem lost in the moment with their pet, as if they totally forget their pet is sick. In many cases, pet owners are actually quite shocked at how well their pet behaves during these shoots. I’ve been told repeatedly from clients that they haven’t seen their pet have as much energy or feel so good in a really long time. That makes my heart happy and reminds me these pets are giving their owners their absolute fullest on the day of the shoot because they feel their fate and want to ensure this is a special experience. I believe each pet keeps their owner strong during these sessions.
How do you get the pets to relax and act natural while you are there?
I really don’t have a specific process, other than being myself and loving animals with all my heart. I believe they feel this and are immediately at ease despite my (probably scary and intimidating) large camera in their faces.
You get to meet some of the coolest pet owners ever. Do they ever keep in touch after the shoot?
Most of my clients are referred by friends, Google or Facebook. Social networking is huge for me and my business and many of my clients are now Facebook friends who follow my personal life and my business adventures. I have made some amazing connections and met so many special people. Those who have Going with Grace sessions tend to voice their appreciation more publicly and share how thankful they are for the memories I gave them. Those gracious clients are the ones who keep me strong and remind me why I offer this service.
Compassion fatigue is a big topic in veterinary medicine right now. How do you cope with the emotional toll of the stories you hear about your subjects?
I absolutely can relate to compassion fatigue. My heart is heavy when I read the session requests from pet owners and even more heavy when they share their pet passes after their session. I have always been a very persistent and stubborn gal, so I don’t let these emotions get the best of me. Instead I channel those feelings into ensuring each pet is remembered forever by placing their photo and name on my website’s In Memory gallery. I feel my heart led me to offer this particular service to help pet owners cope and heal after the loss of their pet and that is ultimately what keeps me strong and passionate for this cause.
I'm sure you get to try out lots of treats and toys to engage with the pets. Any favorites?
Yes, the top two things I can’t leave home without are a bone-shaped rubber squeaker (the perfect shape to fit in one hand while I balance the camera in my other hand) and a bag of Pupperoni treats (also known as doggy crack). Dogs LOVE the smell of this treat and will do just about anything I ask to receive it.
Any tips for pet owners to catch moments of their furrbabies on camera at home? Mine usually turn out to be a huge blur...
Find an area with little distractions, entice them with treats, make the craziest noises you can think of and never use the flash. You will need LOTS of patience to capture pets at their best.
If you are still unsure about whether Going With Grace is for you, here are some testimonials from some of Jennifer's clients:
“I feel so lucky to have found a photographer that does this type of session. To know your time with your beloved pet is coming to an end is so emotional, but knowing I could count on these pictures was incredibly comforting. Jen has such respect for the relationship between a person and their pet and will do whatever it takes to have a meaningful session. I'm forever grateful for the love she captured that day.”
“It is with great sadness that I am letting you know little boy, Teddy Bear, passed on to heaven April 20, 2015. Our hearts are broken; we miss our little boy so very much. Thank you so much for the wonderful and beautiful pictures that you did of our Teddy. They are so special to us. It gives me comfort to view them. His passing has been so hard on us. Thank you again, Jennifer, for the photos that captured who he was. I will have them always.”