Archive for the ‘Pet Loss and Bereavement’ Category

Funeral home offers services for 4-legged family members

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

This ossuary is for Emma, the first pet to be cremated at D.O. McComb & Sons’ Tribute Center.D.O. McComb & Sons’ Tribute Center in Indiana includes services for deceased pets such as burial, cremation and a private room for viewing by owners, reflecting pets’ modern status in many homes as family members.

Memorials to pets prove it’s more than puppy love

An unusual item appeared in the newspaper the other day. It was an obituary – for a dog.

The death notice identified the dog’s owner and even included calling hours at D.O. McComb & Sons new Tribute Center on West Main Street near Lindenwood Cemetery.

While the obituary was, as far as I can recall, a first for the newspaper, the concept of special treatment for a deceased pet is nothing new.

People have been falling in love with their pets since long before Rin Tin Tin, Lassie or Old Yeller came along, sometimes with good reason. A pet will never tell you you’re ugly or overweight, and it will never ask you where you’ve been when you come home late. It will just be delighted to see you.

While your kids may prove to be crushing disappointments, a pet generally doesn’t have the wherewithal to ruin the family name, get busted for selling drugs or sell your jewelry while you’re out of town.

Truth be told, for many people, a pet is the most loyal – even the only truly loyal – creature in their lives.

That has become evident to the people at D.O. McComb. A lot of people want a respectful exit for their pets, so when the funeral home opened the Tribute Center in October it included something unusual: a separate crematorium for pets, and a separate room, now called Emma’s Room, where a deceased pet can be briefly laid out and the owner can enter and say hello and offer one last goodbye before cremation, Dave McComb says.

It’s just a sign of the times, he said. Pets have become more important as members of the traditional family move to far-flung places. Kids leave. Wives leave. But pets remain as faithful companions and, McComb said, their status has become elevated.

Other animals, such as service dogs and police dogs, have earned a higher status in the minds of many. Maybe they don’t rate a funeral, but a thoughtful sendoff is soothing for the owners.

McComb’s can either cremate a pet and put its ashes in an urn, or arrange a burial in a portion of Riverview Cemetery that has been set aside  for pets.

The funeral home hasn’t promoted the service yet, but at a Tribute Center open house, the concept drew a lot of attention and was well received, McComb said.

“We’ve had requests for even services for a while now,” McComb said.

While you won’t find preachers conducting funerals (don’t all dogs go to heaven anyway?) there can be services where an owner or friend might even eulogize an animal and friends or family members can show up and offer condolences.

“What we’ve learned is that people fall into two categories: pet owners and pet parents.”

To the pet parent, a pet becomes just as important as any other member of the family, somebody they will always remember.

The cost of a pet cremation? It varies depending on the size of the animal, which can obviously vary wildly, but the pet crematorium can handle animals up to 300 pounds.

7 Ways to cope with the death of a pet

Saturday, October 6th, 2012


Pets are more than just animals — they’re family. And anyone who’s ever lost a pet knows it’s terribly heartbreaking. Whether it’s your first time to lose a pet or your third, it never really gets easier, only more familiar. Thankfully, there are many ways to ease the sorrow and help you recover from such a devastating loss. If you or someone you know is suffering from the loss of a pet, then take a minute to read these seven tips to help you cope and return to a more peaceful state of mind.

  1. Allow yourself to grieve:

    One of the most important things you have to remind yourself of following the loss of a pet is that it’s important and perfectly OK to grieve. Everyone grieves in different ways and for different periods of time. It may last a few days or a few years. Either way, it’s a completely personal experience that may require taking off work or spending some time alone to bounce back.

  2. Express your grief openly:

    A big part of the healing process is expressing your grief openly. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings and memories. Holding it in will only make the grieving process more difficult and painful. This is especially important to remember when talking to your children about the loss of a pet. When explaining the situation, be sure to express your own grief and reassure your kids that it’s OK to be sad and that you also feel the same way.

  3. Spend time with your surviving pet:

    Spending time with your surviving pet can help you cope with grief and ease the pain of losing an animal. Surviving pets may need a lot of TLC at this time because they are also affected by the loss. Even if they weren’t close, your surviving pet may whimper and act lethargic because they are distressed by the sudden changes. Comfort your surviving pet and try to create a positive emotional state within the home.

  4. Do something in your pet’s memory:

    Whether it’s spending time at the park where you used to walk your dog, volunteering at an animal shelter, or making a donation in your pet’s memory, these special moments can help you turn a painful situation into a positive one. If you like to write, paint, or make music, you can dedicate it to your beloved pet.

  5. Keep a journal:

    Keeping a journal is one of the best things you can do to record your feelings, thoughts, and memories about your pet and keep track of your grieving process. Doing so will help you work through the grief and make sense of the things happening around you.

  6. Memorialize your pet:

    Memorializing your pet can help you overcome your loss and remember the good times you had together. You can have a memorial for your pet in private or with the company of friends and family. Some people write a letter to their pet or create a photo album and leave it by an urn or their pet’s burial spot. You can memorialize your pet on his or her birthday or anytime you feel like reminiscing.

  7. Seek support:

    Many people have been in your exact shoes and know what it’s like to lose a beloved pet. Seeking support is a healthy and encouraged way to cope with the death of a pet. There are many forms of support available to grieving pet owners, including pet-loss support hotlines, pet bereavement counseling services, and online support groups with chat rooms and message boards where people can tell their story and share comforting words. Support can also come from friends and family who knew your pet and can help you hold on to the good memories.

AHF Board Member Study Featured in NY Times

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

AHF Board Member Dr. Alice Villalobos is an expert in an animal’s Quality of Life.

Read More about Dr. Villalobos’ work and compassion for your pet’s end of life issues

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement – Chat Rooms Weekly

Friday, July 20th, 2012

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement hosts chat rooms for people to learn how to cope with the loss, and anticipated loss,  of pets.  There are certified pet bereavement counselors in every chat, and there is no charge for this service . Come see what we do, and chat with others who understand the pain of pet loss.

Euthanasia Means “Good Death”

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

If you are an animal lover, your pet is probably one of your best friends. When that best friend is facing the end, it’s tough to say goodbye.  In this NBC29 Special Report, we look at the difficulty of deciding when it is time to say goodbye and your options afterward.

When animal lovers adopt a pet, they make a commitment to care for them, even when they’re sick and close to death. Most humans will outlive their companions, and the end of life for pets can bring deep grief and raise a load of questions.  When that happens, we humans get very emotional.

When dealing with a pet with a terminal condition, people often have a difficult time deciding whether to euthanize, or when the time is right to end their companion’s suffering.

John Dove has two cats, Krogie and Mocha, and cherishes the friendship he has with them. “I don’t have any children, but if I had children, I don’t think I could love them any more than I love my animals, they’re my kids essentially.”

Dove recently experienced the profound pain of losing an animal when his 12-year-old cat Scamper had a stroke.

“And then all of a sudden, he let out a yelp and I looked around at him and he was hyperventilating very heavily, so it looked like something was really wrong,” he said.

A quick trip to an emergency veterinarian divulged the dilemma a lot of pet owners face. “So at that point I had to make that very painful decision.”

Dr. John Andersen deals with clients who face euthanizing their beloved pet. “We’re in control and there’s a time we just have to make that really hard decision.”

Dr. Andersen is not only a pet owner, he is also a veterinarian in Albemarle County and says he understands the deep human-animal bond. “They’re a best friend, they’re kind of a confidante, they’re an explorer with you, they provide a lot of things.”

Only last year, his dog Kaya died after a prolonged battle with cancer. “When we had our dog, I was not married, just a bachelor. She took me through that and getting married and having kids,” he stated.

After 30 years of practicing in a clinic, Dr. Liz Palmer decided to start a mobile veterinarian service specializing in end of life care for pets.  So when a pet goes from having good and bad days to bad and worse days, she can help with in-home euthanasia.

“When an animal gets very, very old, it can be very stressful to bring them to a clinic. They can get very nervous or confused,” she stated. “I hear an awful lot, that ‘I would prefer my animal to die naturally’…barring a heart attack in their sleep, I think dying naturally is overrated.”

Dr. Andersen says some people have such a tough time letting go, they often put off the inevitable. “If I hear regrets from people, it’s often because people feel like they waited a little bit too long and when they look back, they have this image of their animal suffering.”

After Dove decided to end his cat Scamper’s suffering, he took his buddy’s body to the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA for cremation.

The SPCA offers private cremation for $130.00 and a variety of decorative tins for people to choose.  “You leave your animal in their care and a day or two later, they call you and tell you the ashes are ready,” Dove said.  Dove has Scamper’s picture and tin displayed at his home in memory of his beloved companion.

Paws and Remember is a company that offers everything from jewelry stamped with paw prints, key chains that carry ashes, to tiny caskets.  The Staunton company also provides cremation, most packages start at about $150.00 and go up from there.

But some pet owners can’t afford any extras.  Paws and Remember general manager Todd Dean says “If they don’t want their pet’s cremains back, then we will place them in one of these gardens here.”

The company has above ground crypts and a place where people can visit and leave flowers or pictures of their pets.

Since the death of Kaya, Dr. Andersen has adopted a new playmate for his other dog Boon. She’s an 8-week-old black lab named Ruby.  Dove did the same for his other little cat Krogie. He adopted a playful 3-year-old named Mocha from the SPCA. The new addition to the family gives Krogie a friend, but can never replace Scamper.

When he thinks back on the loss, Dove says “Love your animal as much and as often as you possibly can because you never know. I mean it almost doesn’t seem fair in a way that they don’t live longer than they do.”

For people who are struggling with the decision of whether to end their pet’s suffering, Dr. Andersen says the meaning of the word euthanize might help:  it means “good death”.


Helping Kids Deal with the Loss of a Pet

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Losing a pet can impact the entire family, but it can be particularly traumatic for children because it’s usually their first encounter with loss and death.  As parents, we can feel overwhelmed and helpless knowing that we cannot shield our kids from the painful reality of death. Although we can’t stop our kids from having a broken heart, there are things we can do to make their bereavement process as healthy and manageable as possible.

The first step to help kids learn how to cope with the loss of a pet is to be honest with them. As difficult as this may feel it’s important to tell them the truth! Stay away from half truths and euphemistic descriptions about death. Instead, sensitively explain to your child that his or her pet has died. A child’s understanding about death will vary based on his age.

According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, kids between the ages of 7 and 9 tend to have the most questions about death. If your child asks you what happens after death, you can explain your understanding about life after death, but it’s also okay to admit that you’re not entirely sure.

This loss can also trigger a child’s fears that you or other people he or she loves will die. Remember to be patient and try to address these fears as they come up. For example, if your child asks you if you’re going to die and leave them too, you can say something like, “Most people die when they are very old, and I don’t plan to leave this earth for a very long time.”

The second step is to honor your child’s feelings. Help your child to express his or her grief. You can encourage your children to make drawings or write stories about their pet. It’s also very helpful to have them recall happy memories, which allows them to both grieve and remember happier times with their pet.

Kids may need to cry and express their feelings of loss, which is to be expected. They might also struggle with other complex emotions like anger, denial and guilt. Encourage your child to talk with you about his or her feelings. This will allow you to explain that what they are experiencing is normal and a natural part of the grieving process. Ultimately, parents want to help their children move through their feelings of depression and eventually come to a place of acceptance.

One of the ways to encourage your child’s healthy acceptance of a pet’s death is to find a way to memorialize this passing. Having a burial, memorial or similar type of ceremony helps to reinforce the importance of the pet’s life while also marking its death. This can be done in many different ways. Kids should be allowed to participate in whatever way feels right for them. Maybe it’s marking the gravesite, making a garden stone with the pet’s name on it, planting a tree in remembrance of the pet, or designing a collage of the pet’s photos and placing it in a frame.

Managing loss and death is ironically one of the most difficult aspects of life.  But if handled correctly, the loss of a family pet can be a valuable opportunity to teach an important, yet tough life lesson about how to deal with loss in an open and healthy way.


Dr. Robi Ludwig, Contributor  to

AVMA Brochure on Pet Loss

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Click Here


Coping with the Death of a Pet

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The English novelist George Eliot said it best about pets when she wrote, “Animals are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions and pass no  criticisms.” Perhaps that is why some pet owners feel closer to their animals  than even other members of their family.

It is no wonder, then, that people experience intense grief at the loss of a  pet and that it can even rival the same levels as the death of a human friend or  family member. Rest assured, that somber feeling following a loss is  completely normal.

What sometimes can make it harder to cope with the death of an animal in a  pet and owner relationship is the impossibility of being able to talk about the  situation if the pet is aging or ailing. — In human interaction, such a  discussion may be able to alleviate some of the questions people  face. Animals don’t understand the process of dying as much.

With humans, conversations can create some closure for loved ones. But  depending on the type of death the animal experiences, there may be no sense of  resolution for a pet owner because there is no opportunity for  communication.

There are several ways that pet owners can help themselves, and others, move  forward after a loss. Here are 7 tips to cope with the loss of a pet.

1. Maintain a normal routine

Sometimes pet owners are used to a schedule that was based on their animal’s  needs. Waking up to walk the dog in the morning was not only a way to keep the  pet healthy but it also helped boost the owner’s activity level.

Be sure to stay active so physical health does not become a concern on top of  emotional strain.

2. Consider holding a farewell ceremony

A farewell ceremony doesn’t need to be as elaborate as a human funeral  typically is, but having a dedicated time set aside to remember your pet and say  goodbye can be very therapeutic and help move you closer to closure.

Deciding how to dispose of your pet’s remains is a personal choice. Some  people choose to bury their pet nearby where it can be visited on a regular  basis. This might not an option for everyone so cremation and keeping or  releasing the pet’s ashes might also help. Still others have gone to the extreme  and decided to take the remains to a taxidermist to preserve the pet.

3. Keep photos or videos

Photos, scrapbooks, home videos, collages and other forms preserving memories  can be a good way to remember the fondest times owners have shared with their  pets. Whether it is a visual reminder or just a journal or even as simple as a  poem, having something concrete that you can revisit time after time can help  you remember your animal.

4. Understand the grief of others

What might be easy for one person to move beyond can seem like an  insurmountable obstacle for another.

Seniors, especially, may have had a long relationship with a pet that may  have been more significant because they have already lost a lot of people in  their lives. The loss of a pet can trigger a response in them to revisit some of  the pain of the loss of human relationships as well.

With a child, the best thing to do is to be honest with them as much as  possible about the death of the pet. Assure them that this pet is no longer in  any pain and although they’re gone, they will always be alive in their  memories.

Having a memorial service is even more important for kids than adults — even  if it’s just for a pet like a fish or hamster — it’s just as important to  acknowledge the significance of the animal’s life.

5. Understand the grief of other pets in the household

For families with multiple pets in the household, the owners are not the only  ones who suffer when an animal dies. The pets themselves have their own  unique relationship in playing with each other or just serving as  companions.

Owners must take that in consideration to give the remaining pets a little  more love and attention to help fill the void that was left without their animal  friend.

6. Finding a replacement pet

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death of the pet, jumping in  and trying to find a replacement as a distraction is not a good idea and can  actually make the grieving process worse.

If the death of a pet is sudden and unexpected, it is important for owners to  take time and fully evaluate when might be a good time to find another pet.  However, if the pet has been ailing or aging for some time, owners may have  already begun the grieving process earlier, and can plan to find a new pet  sooner than expected.

7. Find a support group

If the grief becomes too much to handle alone, surrounding yourself with  others experiencing similar feelings can be beneficial.

Support groups are available in some location for those who need  it.

Pet owners will often feel the same five stages of grief associated with  human loss including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Perhaps they feel guilty because they didn’t do enough to save them or second  guessing themselves on deciding if euthanasia was the best option.

Sometimes people will look at you and try to make you think you shouldn’t be  experiencing as much pain as you are at the loss of a pet. But grief over the  death of a pet really depends on where you are in your life. People have  different reactions to grief and different expectations of death and dying. This  naturally creates varied responses to death of human figures or pet figures.

Rhondda Waddell is the Professor and Director of the Center for Values,  Service and Leadership at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida.

Read more:

How to Handle a Pet’s Remains Can be a Complex Decision for Owners

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Donna and Mark Hein have an agreement: Whoever dies first gets the dogs.

The dogs’ ashes, that is. The Lockport couple plan to have the cremains of their two beloved canines buried with them when they go.

“We did that with our two Dobermans growing up. We put their cremains in the caskets of my parents after they passed,” Donna Hein said.

For now, though, the ashes are kept in decorative tins.

Increasingly, people’s devotion to their pets is becoming larger than life. They go to great lengths, sometimes at great expense, to protect and honor their animals into eternity.

Like the Heins, who had their pets cremated at Kozy Acres in Joliet, many opt to handle after-life matters themselves instead of just leaving a deceased animal with a veterinarian.

Last year, there were five pet funeral services at Lain-Sullivan Funeral Home in Park Forest. Loving Memorial Pet Care operates there. It has its own crematory, owner Michele Johnson said.

Business has increased 20 percent a year over the five years she’s been in operation, Johnson said. She attributes the growth to the personal touch she offers.

“We have 24-hour-a-day assistance,” she said. “We’ll come to your home or to your vet to pick up an animal.”

Grievers get time to pay their respects before the pet is cremated. Johnson also sells burial palls and caskets for people who opt to bury an animal.

The palls are stuffed with herbs designed to keep critters away from pets that are buried in a back yard.

Each pet owner who chooses cremation gets a keepsake card with the paw and nose prints of their beloved animal. They also receive a tuft of fur in a keepsake sack.

Johnson also sells a complete line of urns, scattering containers and memento jewelry.

“I try to accommodate every request,” she said.

Including the saddest ones.

Last summer, Stephanie Fisher, 21, of Park Forest, was killed in a fiery car crash on the same day her dog was slated to be euthanized by a local veterinarian. Fisher’s parents had both their daughter and their chocolate Lab, Bosco, brought to Lain-Sullivan. The two buddies were cremated simultaneously.

Johnson has cremated llamas, birds, snakes, even a goldfish.

“People love their pets,” she said. “So we treat them with respect.”

At Kozy Acres pet cemetery and crematorium in Joliet, there are 40 to 65 cremations a week. Therese Piaza, who co-owns Kozy Acres with her ex-husband, Tom Gaura, said both private and group cremations are more popular than burial these days.

With private cremation, a pet’s remains are returned to the owner, either to be buried or kept. In communal cremation, pets are cremated in groups, with all the remains then scattered across the cemetery.

“It’s still dignified but less expensive,” Piaza said.

Some people, including Cheri Packard, of Shorewood, prefer a traditional burial. Packard has six dogs and one cat buried at Kozy Acres pet cemetery in Joliet.

“We had a wake and a funeral for all of them,” Packard said. “I just feel that’s the right thing to do.”

Kozy Acres, which opened in 1981, has 2,500 marked plots, many with headstones that include photos of the animals buried beneath them. Some feature statues of dogs, cats or of St. Francis, the patron saint of children and animals.

For those who simply can’t part with their animal friend, there is a third option: preservation.

Jil-Marie Williams and Dan Borchers, of Chicago, had their dachshund, Weezy, preserved last summer using a freeze-drying method offered at Don’s Taxidermy in Wilmington.

“We have her sitting on our dining room table right now,” Borchers said. “She still looks real.”

Williams and Borchers said their 7-year-old canine died unexpectedly.

“We never got to say goodbye,” Williams said.

At first they thought they would have her cremated. Burial, Borchers said, was not an option because the couple plan to move in the near future.

“All our friends and family asked, ‘What are you doing?’ But now they see how nice she turned out,” Borchers said. “I recommend it to everyone.”

The option, which calls for removing the internal organs and body fluids before freeze-drying in a position chosen by the client, is becoming increasingly popular, said Don Franzen, owner of Don’s Taxidermy.

Many taxidermists are reticent to mount a pet because it’s difficult to achieve an authentic look with an animal that a human is so familiar with. Freeze-drying, though more time-consuming and costly, can get those results.

“In the last two days, I’ve gotten six calls about it,” Franzen said.

Some requests come from as far away as Maine.

“It’s not for everybody,” he conceded.

Those who do choose it seem to enjoy having a lifelike preservation of their animal, he said.

The cost for freeze-drying is based on an animal’s weight. An 8- to 10-pound dog starts at about $550, Franzen said.

Most people approach him with the admission, “People think I’m crazy,” he said.

“But who is anyone to judge?” he said.

“Most of them cry when they come to pick up their pet,” he said.

Franzen, also a taxidermist, said working with pets requires a whole new approach to the preservation process, one that calls for sensitivity and people skills.

“It’s like being a mortician,” he said. “You have to listen to the people, hear their stories. It’s important.”

Williams and Borchers said they were impressed by the personal touch Franzen and his wife extended.

“It was so personable,” Borchers said. “We’re very happy with the result. It’s like you don’t really have to say goodbye.”