In loving memory: Pet owners find many ways to honor a beloved friend
By Brenda Protz
Copley News Service
Teddy was 6 weeks old when her parents adopted her. It was love at first sight when Sandy and Gary West met her in 1978 at a county animal shelter. They had seen her picture in their local newspaper and thought they’d stop by to see what she was about. They already had a dog and several cats, so what was one more?
Both of the Wests had grown up with pets and made sure their only child, Chad, now grown with his own family, was surrounded by animals. It was easy, loving all of their pets through the years. It was difficult to let them go.
As the circle of life goes, all creatures die sooner or later. Some because of old age, some because of health problems. Others are euthanized for various reasons.
When Teddy became ill and was euthanized in 1990, West thought about options other than burying her in the backyard. She wanted another way to memorialize her furry friend. “We have a lot of animals (buried) in our back yard and I just wanted something different.”
West recalled an article she had read on pet cremation and looked into that option. Teddy was cremated and her ashes are in an urn in the family’s home, her dog collar draped around the urn. Since then, West has chosen to have two dogs and a cat cremated, and their remains and collars are in the home, too. Pictures of the family’s pets from over the years are scattered around the house.
While it’s hard for West to think about losing her pets, she knows now that when that time comes she won’t be without them for long. West said she will have them cremated at a local funeral home that provides the service.
Funeral director Chris Butler said such sentiments are what prompted him to think there was a need for a local pet crematorium.
“We have families come by and bring roses for their pets, or maybe a favorite toy,” Butler said. “It sometimes helps them to say goodbye.”
The Illinois funeral home offers two types of cremation services, one where the animal’s remains are returned after the procedure and another where the ashes are scattered at a family farm owned by the Butlers.
“For some, it’s just too emotional to get the remains back,” he said. “Others might not have felt as close to the animal and don’t necessarily want the remains in the house.”
Some pet owners, such as Jennifer Freeman of Springfield, Ill., opt for cremation intending to have the pet buried with them later.
Freeman’s golden retriever, Sadie, was almost 14 years old when she was euthanized. Remembering Sadie has been important for the family. Prior to the dog’s death, friends and family came and said their goodbyes. After she was euthanized, the family created a memorial for her above the same fireplace that Sadie used to lie in front of.
“After her ashes came back, we placed her on the fireplace with pictures around her. It’s a place of honor for her,” Freeman said.
Butler said that many families choose to take pets’ remains home and display them, so he also offers personalized urns. Some look like doghouses, complete with a spot for a photo of the pet. Some look like garden rocks that can be placed outdoors. One popular urn has a statue of the animal’s breed on top.
While cremation is becoming more popular, some still choose a traditional burial. Following the death of Jennifer Miller’s German shepherd last September, the pet was buried on her grandparent’s property.
Miller’s dog, Virtue, was 15 when she died and Miller thought of a special way to remember her for years to come. “We planted tulip bulbs on top of her grave, and they should be getting ready to come up,” she said.
Dr. Gregory Hurst, a Springfield veterinarian, has been in practice for 20 years and has seen families memorialize their pets in many ways.
“We have had families bring in kits to have the animal’s paw print put in concrete,” he said. “We then put a name in the concrete or even decorative stones for it to be put outside.”
Many people choose to memorialize their pet with a donation to a favorite animal agency or by purchasing an ad in their local newspaper.
Hurst said it’s hard for him to see his clients’ pets pass on as well.
“I’m coming across animals that were puppies and now they are old and failing,” he said. “It’s tough. You feel like you are losing a part of your family.”
Sandy West agreed.
“They give so much companionship. They’re glad to see you and love you unconditionally.”