Heaven for Family Pets
“Services, keepsakes help grieving owners find peace”
By JOHN BLAKE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/20/07
At a quaint chapel in downtown Kennesaw, the mourners gathered to remember the departed.
While a pianist played an elegiac funeral hymn, the solemn group watched images of their loved ones during a DVD tribute. The tribute flashed images of the departed at various stages of their lives: one snoozing under a blanket on his first birthday; another playing with toys on a Christmas morning; a third staring into the distance during his last years.
Pet Dreams Memorial Center”I kept telling her you can go. You can go. You don’t have to stay for me,” Jane Michiels of Dallas, Ga., said as she dabbed her eyes with tissue while recounting the last days of “Baby,” who died from kidney failure. “She’s in a better place now.”
Baby was the name of Michiels’ Shih Tzu, and Fluffy and Sprocket were the names of the rest of the departed at the Pet Dreams Memorial Center in Kennesaw. The mourners were in a better place because they could say goodbye to their pets with reverence.
Pet owners who can’t accept the thought of burying their beloved pet in a cardboard box in their backyard now have an option. A growing number are saying goodbye to their pets by taking them to pet funeral homes like Pet Dreams.
There are about 600 pet cemeteries and crematories in the United States that offer funeral services for pet owners, according to the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories.
“We are seeing more of them in the last five to 10 years,” said Celine Clark, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association. “The families that funeral homes served are coming to them and saying our pet has died and is part of the family.”
And, as part of the family, they deserve to be sent off with style.
Funeral homes like Pet Dreams offer customized funeral services, caskets and urns, personalized funeral programs, and granite grave markers. They also offer keepsake fur clippings, ceramic paw prints, DVD tributes to pets and a pet remembrance journal with white candles.
Kevin Marcy, the center’s owner, is a licensed funeral home director whose family has catered to human beings for five generations. But he decided to break with family tradition after noticing how his mother grieved over the recent death of a dog she had for 15 years.
“I realized that grief is universal in life, whether it’s with people or with animals,” he said.
Marcy, a dog lover, said pet owners go through the same stages of grief as humans: denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. In the center’s bookshelves, he displays books such as “When Your Pets Dies: A Healing Guide for Kids” and “Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates.”
“Even if you don’t have a pet or passion for pets,” Marcy said, “you know someone who does, and someone who lost a pet and how upset they were.”
People who don’t own pets may scoff at the sentiment attached to animals, but pet owners say their pets have helped them through serious illness, divorce, job loss, depression. Pets, they say, give something few humans can offer.
“With pets, you have unconditional love,” Michiels said. “It doesn’t matter how you treat the poor little pet. It will love you forever.”
The love can be so strong that pet owners eventually see their pets as members of the family. Susan and Leo Romsiewicz of Kennesaw had Cocoa, a Lhasa apso, for 13 years. When Cocoa recently died from kidney failure, both hired Pet Dreams to arrange a funeral ceremony for her.
“We don’t have any children,” Susan said. “She was our baby.”
Proof of people’s fierce attachment to their pets was evident during a visit to Pet Dreams. The occasion was celebratory; the center’s grand opening. But when a couple of pet owners like Michiels gathered in the chapel to share memories of their late pets, the event turned into an impromptu memorial service. People shared stories, sympathetic nods and pictures of their late pets.
In one corner of the chapel, someone wrote a eulogy below the photo of a snoozing cat named Fluffy that everyone in the room could relate to. It read: “You were just a cat, but little did they know the joy your friendship brought to my life.”
Denise Mortensen, a cat lover, stood outside the chapel and tried to explain the bond between people and pets. She had a tattoo of her late cat, “Wild Thang,” stenciled on her left ankle.
“A lot of this seems over-the-top if you’re not an animal person,” she said, “but in any kind of death, you need that ceremony and closure.”
Mortensen said she is so attached to cats that when her son was born years ago, she and her husband joked about their love of cats.
“We were hoping that the cats weren’t allergic to my son so we wouldn’t have to find a new home for him,” she said, chuckling.
Mortensen, the education coordinator for the Humane Society of Cobb County, did say, though, that some people can get too attached to their pets. She cited the money some people spend on pet products.
For example, one online pet store offered pet products that ranged from a $1,000 gold pet necklace, a $500 dog bed and a $700 “Haute Pooch Saigon Day Bed.” Mortensen shook her head at those extravagances.
“They’re not people,” she said. “They’re animals.”
Yet, for many, they’re something more. They’re part of the family.
According to a framed quote Marcy displays in the chapel, pets fulfill a primal need for companionship. The quote comes from a 19th-century Native American leader called Chief Seattle:
“Where would we be without the animals. If all the beasts were gone, we would die from great loneliness of spirit.”