Story Rebecca Evans Photos Nette Shaff
Mortality isn’t something we like to think about, yet it is something we all must face. If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, you’ll relate to the longing many endure. That need for connection. Pictures and photo-albums can help us through the grieving process, pulling in fond memories, treasured reminders of those who are now gone. Enter Nette (pronounced “Net”) Shaff, who captures images of seniors. And not just any image. She’s a “character” photographer, shooting photos in an organic way. At the perfect moment, she showcases the personality of her client in action. This is not an easy task; immortalizing the heart of another for all of time.
Nette doesn’t photograph your average senior either.
She captures your aging pet.
Her career path began, like many, as a personal hobby, when she adopted two chihuahuas. Chuie, a chihuahua-mix and, Hercules, a five-pounder. Both inspired her during her college years to snap shots of them using her digital camera. Her business didn’t begin with portraits, but instead, in stock photography. Hercules was (and still is) a popular image in the world, a chihuahua with his tongue dangling, missing many of his front teeth.
“In fact, I just saw Hercules on a Valentine’s Day card,” Nette says. “He’s still all over the world, even though he is no longer with me.”
And that is the essence of her work; immortalizing our much-loved pets.
As her own pets aged, she realized, “they won’t be here forever,” and the power of their images helped ease her grief when both of her dogs passed within three days of one another. This influenced Nette to launch Paw It Forward, photo-shooting senior pets for free and, if owners wanted to pay, she’d ask instead they donate to their favorite rescue organization.
From there, Unleashed Fur, LLC, emerged, a place pet-owners could celebrate their beloved companions. Nette seizes a moment, usually one of joy or silliness, and owners leave with the character-memory of their pet created for all of time.
Think of her service as a time capsule for someone’s heart.
There exists a time of grace, where bodies move from youthful vibrance into fragility. Life is special. Death is difficult. In that moment between, there’s a realization that, as death nears, life becomes even more precious. Many of Nette’s clients discover their pet has a terminal illness, their days are numbered, and they have to let go.
This year’s event will be Friday October 31st and Saturday November 1st, with family night on the 1st and adult night on the 31st.
Nette’s approach is not a typical “portrait sitting” or “posing.” Her background in stock photography offers a unique experience, allowing the animal’s personality to shine through. Her creative approach allows the pet to be himself, move around, get comfortable. She offers both indoor studio shots along with outdoor location shoots, which is limitless and timeless thanks to the beauty of Idaho.
Our pets remind us of unconditional love, often bringing out the best in us. As we witness their loss in health, they soon reflect our own aging, reminding us to remain courageous and calm. Nette’s magic commemorates the essence of this love, this exchange, and it is a gift that can help fill the void once a pet moves on.
Additionally, each year the event is staffed by 40-60 volunteers a night. Volunteers do everything from guiding tours to playing inmate actors to making prizes.