Pet funerals give furry friends a final resting place

by Paul F. P. Pogue

Phillip Pugh, an Angie's List member in Tampa [Fla.], had no experience dealing with pet loss. When his Maltese, Bailey, died suddenly in 2007, he contacted highly rated Honor Thy Pet in Tampa [Fla.] to pick up Bailey for cremation.

"They carefully wrapped him in linen, were respectful about us saying goodbye and removed him from our home," Pugh says. "They asked if we had special toys or photos to go along with him. They treated our pet like the member of our family he was."

Only a recent phenomenon, more pet owners in the Tampa area and around the nation are turning to professional funeral providers to help arrange final goodbyes and burials for their beloved pets.

A part of the family

Coleen Ellis founded Pet Angel Memorial Center, a pet-only funeral service provider in Indianapolis in 2004, and later founded the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance in 2008.

She says the industry has grown remarkably: from about 500 providers nationwide in 2004 to about 800 today.

"We as a society, and baby boomers in particular, see pets as the new children," Ellis says. "Every part of the industry is humanizing these little pets. We're not only wanting them to be like little people in life, but little people in death, as well."

When Honor Thy Pet co-owner Carmen Yebba retired from the traditional funeral industry five years ago, he put his experience and lifelong love of animals to work offering cremation and memorial services for pets.

Fees for a regular cremation service start at $155, and go up depending on the animal's weight and additions such as urns or memorial jewelry.

"The experiences people go through when they lose a pet family member are not much different from someone who loses a human family member," Yebba says. "Holding a service or scattering the cremated remains in a special place helps the family cope with that loss."

Personalized memorials

Sometimes a pet's death occurs suddenly; other times, as with humans, you're well aware of its approach. Angie's List member Susan Nieradko of Lutz knew her 11-year-old Scottish terrier, Teddy, had little time left after a long illness in 2008.

She made arrangements for highly rated Pet Angel Memorial Center in Pinellas Park [Fla.] to pick up and cremate Teddy's body when the time came. He passed peacefully on a Sunday morning, and Pet Angel arrived within 45 minutes of Nieradko's call.

"They handled him with all the reverence that they would a human," she says. "They laid him on a pillow in a little white casket. They gave us some time to say goodbye, then returned the ashes a few days later. Pet Angel did a lot of good in a horrible time."

Bill DeBusk, manager of Pet Angel Memorial Center, says no matter what kind of animal or what form of memorial the family desires, the most important component of his work is giving dignity and respect to each animal.

"Whether it's a little girl that walks in with her hamster, or the family who just euthanized their 250-pound mastiff, that little hamster meant just as much to her as that mastiff did to the family," DeBusk says. "It's about helping a family ease through a difficult situation."

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