Pet funerals offer a fitting farewell for furry friends

Angie's List member Sylvia Wiley of Indianapolis wanted a more personal approach when her daughter Lauren's rescue dog, an elderly dachshund named Gramps, succumbed to a sudden infection late last year.

Wiley had lost her 10-year-old Sheltie, Penny, a decade ago and knew the heartbreaking aftermath following the loss of a beloved pet. The impersonal process of a prompt cremation and having the cremains returned to her in a plain box didn't help her find closure, she says.

To help ease her daughter's grief, Wiley decided to call Pet Angel Memorial Center, a highly rated southside Indianapolis pet-only funeral service provider that opened in 2004. The center's staff placed Gramps' 6-pound body in a miniature casket and family members said their last goodbyes during a viewing before he was cremated.

John Pyle, the center's manager, says an increasing number of families want more meaningful final arrangements for their pets. "People are becoming very close to their pets, so this need to take care of them as you would a family member has become great," Pyle says.

"When you love something and you lose it, you grieve," says Coleen Ellis, the original founder of Pet Angel. With the anthropomorphism of pets as family members, especially among empty-nesters, she says pet "parents" experience almost the same grief as they would with a family member.

Cremation has traditionally been an option, but the phenomenon of pet-only providers and more human funeral homes offering pet services is relatively recent – and growing, Ellis says. "When I started, there were probably 500 providers nationwide [that do this]," she says. "Now it's close to 800."

Frank Cooper, a manager at Oaklawn Memorial Gardens in Indianapolis, says partner company Flanner & Buchanan, a highly rated traditional funeral home, began offering pet cremation, memorial and burial services three years ago.

"We had many families asking for it, and it was a service we could provide," he says. Today, Oaklawn features Forever Friends, a 2-acre cemetery reserved exclusively for pet burials.

Indianapolis resident Sue Gerrish says in 2006, her 10-year-old German shepherd, Max, died suddenly in the night after developing bloat, a condition where an animal's stomach restricts circulation or breathing.

Her husband, Mike, who passed away last year, called highly rated All Pets Go To Heaven Crematory Inc. in Indianapolis. An on-call attendant respectfully collected Max for cremation just an hour after the Gerrishs' early morning call.

"They conducted themselves just like Max was a human being," Gerrish says.

Like humans, pet owners must make decisions about their pet's final journey. For cremation services, pet owners have the option of individual or communal processes, and the remains can be collected from their homes or veterinary offices.

Ellis says cremation arrangements can start at $300, depending on the ceremony and size of the animal. Cooper says intact burial services, which must include a container, can range from about $700 to $1,000. "It's worth the investment to have the closure," Wiley says.

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Pet funerals give furry friends a final resting place

More families are treating their pets as members of the family, and a growing pet funeral industry is proof. Funeral providers offer a variety of services to fit each family's needs.

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