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I was surprised to have been quoted (quite accurately I might add) in this online article from the London Free Press. Cool beans—Sid
Society slowly acknowledging pet loss as grief
By LARRY CORNIE, Special to QMI Agency
Last Updated: June 11, 2011 12:03am
KITCHENER – On Monday evening, in a small chapel nestled within the manicured grounds and natural wetlands of Williamsburg Cemetery in southwest Kitchener, nine people gathered, in the company of a funeral director and city staff, to mourn.
It was an emotional meeting. There were tears and disquieting silences. There was ritual. And each person, by their attendance, acknowledged the need for better resources for dealing with the profound loss – of a pet.
In Kitchener, like most other municipalities across the country, a city-sponsored workshop on the subject of pet loss would have been either unthinkable, perhaps even laughable, just two generations ago.
Dogs and cats were mostly kept for utilitarian purposes, usually security and pest control. When they doubled as family pets, they were usually kept outside with access to the shelter of outbuildings.
They were fed once a day with whatever food was handy, including table scraps. Veterinary care, if they got it at all, was limited to emergencies. And when they had the luxury of an assisted death, it came, not at the tip of a euthanizing needle in an animal hospital, but at the barrel of a shotgun behind the barn.
Gradually over the past half-century, we’ve turned a half-circle.
Today the vast majority of Canada’s pets – it’s estimated there are at least 3.5 million dogs and 4.5 million cats – are cared for with a different set of sensibilities.
Most pets are sheltered in homes. Many get regular veterinary care. Some owners will spend thousands of dollars to rescue a family pet from a life-threatening illness or pay out $150 to a vet to save a $10 hamster. Some doggies get day care.
Pet care has become a multibillion-dollar business, including high-end stores complete with bakeshops. And some owners pay as much to cremate a pet as they would a parent or child.
The trend merits more than just passing notice or a roll of the eyeballs. Decades ago, our longing for companionship was met by children, parents or friends who were weekly, if not daily, in our lives. We shared communities, if not parcels of the same tract of land. Today, hundreds of kilometres often separate parents, friends and children. In urban and suburban environments, neighbours are acquaintances, but seldom regular kitchen-table visitors. And the human need for love, loyalty and companionship seeks new avenues.
Lorelei Eckel-Braun, manager of Kitchener Cemeteries (the city owns seven, including a crematorium), says the impetus for creating a workshop on pet loss came from a combination of factors, including the more significant place pets occupy in the average home and “the tremendous amount of suffering that people go through” with the death of a pet. She recruited Dianne Bauer, a funeral director who had done research on pet loss, to conduct Monday’s session.
Those who attended, Bauer said, “wanted practical advice on how they might express their feelings.”
from page E1 Her suggestions included a number of options, from collecting memorabilia for a bookshelf, to photo albums, gardening and making donations to the humane society as a way of honouring their pet.
“As a society, we tend to diminish pet loss,” Bauer said. People will experience comments like, ‘It’s only a pet; for goodness sake, go out and get another one.’ Unfortunately, I’ve heard people say the same about loss of a baby. In both cases it’s dreadful; it shows terrible insensitivity, but it happens all the time.” Those responses, Bauer says, further inhibit expressions of heartfelt emotion.
This week in an interview on an Internet radio show, Minneapolis-based chaplain Sid Korpi, author of Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, sounded a similar note about social acceptance of grief following the passing of a pet.
“Our society does not sanction it. They don’t give you support, on the whole, for grieving an animal. They’re there for you if you lose a parent, child, spouse or friend or whatever – and that’s wonderful – but they seem to have a kind of compassion fatigue kick in (when it comes to pets). . . . You can just see ‘the look.’ ” “It’s an area that needs to be explored – there are all kinds of possibilities,” said Eckel-Braun, adding this week’s workshop was only an experimental first step. A second event is planned for Sept. 15.
The times, Bob Dylan said, are a-changin’. And it’s time many of us – myself included – begin to realize that this type of pain and loss is as real as any other.
Coleen Ellis is a mover and a shaker. She has almost single-handedly made it possible for many people to access a pet-specific funeral home when they seek to memorialize a beloved animal’s passing. More and more, companion animals’ status in our lives is rising, as the value of their relationship with humans is lent credence by more professional associations. Read about the exciting new trends in pet funerals and even legal arenas.—Sid
Pet funeral industry undergoing major changes
Today, there are over 750 pet funeral homes, pet crematories and pet cemeteries across the country — and a lot of human funeral homes have or are looking at ways to offer services when pets die. By: Associated Press, INFORUM
This 2010 photo courtesy of Coleen A. Ellis for Two Hearts Pet Loss Center shows the Tribute Table for Mike The Dog in Ellis’ home in Greenwood, Ind. Mike died in July 2010 and Ellis kept the Tribute Table up for about a month as her family honored him and all of the things that were important to him in his life. (AP Photo/Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, Coleen A. Ellis)
LOS ANGELES — Her 14-year-old dog Mico had lung cancer and Coleen A. Ellis knew she was taking her to the vet for the last time. She watched as the vet started to put the terrier schnauzer’s body in a garbage bag. “I couldn’t just walk out of there with a leash and a collar,” she said. Ellis took Mico’s body home instead. A local funeral home agreed to cremate Mico. But as she waited in the chapel, Ellis said she was told they couldn’t turn on the lights because they were having a service for “a real death” down the hall. She vowed to make changes.
A year later, in 2004, Ellis opened what is believed to be the country’s first stand-alone pet funeral home in Indianapolis. Today, there are over 750 pet funeral homes, pet crematories and pet cemeteries across the country — and a lot of human funeral homes have or are looking at ways to offer services when pets die. Ellis sold her mortuary and now runs Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, which arranges memorial services and helps people grieve the loss of a pet. In 2009, she helped start the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance as a committee of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.
As the industry grew, so did the alliance. It’s holding its second annual conference this week in Las Vegas. The group’s goals are simple — set and maintain standards for services related to pet deaths, such as funerals, memorials, cremations and burials. Poul H. Lemasters, an attorney and president of Lemasters Consulting in Cincinnati, has worked in the funeral industry for over 15 years and is licensed as a funeral director and embalmer in Ohio and West Virginia. When he talked about pet cremation liabilities at PLPA’s inaugural meeting in San Antonio, he drew an audience of 200. More than twice that number has signed up to attend his session at this week’s PLPA conference.
Consumers need more than a handshake from pet morticians, he explained. They need transparency, including a standard cremation authorization form spelling out services, methods, choices and cost. The PLPA will vote on a proposed form during their convention.
“On the human side, the biggest issue out there is always wrongful cremation. On the pet side, it’s not wrongful cremations, but whether cremations are being done at all,” Lemasters said. There have been animal dumping cases in Arizona, Virginia and Tennessee, where pets were stored instead of cremated, then taken to a landfill or dump and dropped off, he said. He said Illinois is the frontrunner on laws governing disposition of deceased pets and pet funerals. Ninety percent of pet owners choose cremation rather than burial for their pets, he said.
But while cremation has been offered for a long time, many other types of legal issues related to the deaths of pets — and even the deaths of owners who are survived by their pets — are now getting more attention. Pets are named in wills, they receive trusts, they are part of prenuptial agreements.
In a few states, laws are being rewritten to treat pets as more than personal property, Lemasters said. California has a new law that says if your animal is killed maliciously, you can claim certain types of damages, Lemasters said. In Florida, a dog died while under a veterinarian’s care and was cremated before an autopsy could be conducted. The family was awarded more than $10,000 in punitive damages. Nevada enacted a law allowing pet-owners emotional damages from the death of a pet in certain circumstances up to $5,000. But pet owners can also sue for vet bills and funeral costs, Lemasters said. “The fact they are starting to recognize funeral costs for a pet, that’s pretty unbelievable.”
Memorial services are sometimes held for working dogs, too, whose deaths may affect not just the animal’s owner or handler, but an entire agency, business or community. When a police dog named Bo was killed in May 2007, Ellis was asked to help arrange a memorial service. Bo had been with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for about four years when a burglar “turned around with a gun and shot Bo a couple of times. Bo went back to his handler and died in his arms,” Lt. Benny Diggs said. Bo’s service was attended by about 150 people from the police department and the community. “I really believe it helps,” Diggs said. “When you are a policeman, especially a K-9 handler, that dog becomes your partner.”
The 30-minute service was respectful, but didn’t go overboard, he added. “We keep it in perspective. We are losing soldiers daily in Afghanistan and Iraq and police officers are dying throughout the United States every week. We never want to take away from their service or what they are doing for the community,” he said.
As pets play bigger roles in people’s lives, it makes sense they will be treated more like family when they die, and that includes holding the types of funeral services that at one time were held only for people, said veterinarian Jane Shaw, who spoke at PLPA’s meeting last year. Shaw is director of the Argus Institute in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. “Telling stories, playing music and reading poetry are all things that allow us to express what this individual meant to us,” she said, “whether it’s human or animal.”
I am a member of Connecting Directors, a Facebook/LinkedIn-type social networking group that targets those in the funeral business. I wanted to share this article they recently posted. I applaud any funeral home that is wise enough to open themselves to serving the pet-loving populace. It’s good for their bottom line, of course, but it also sends a very validating message to pet owners who otherwise might suffer from the perceived stigma attached to grieving the death of a pet as a family member. You might like to check with some funeral homes in your own area and suggest to them that they offer pet funeral services—and of course that they carry my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” as a means of providing ongoing support to their clients in need. (Subtle, huh?)—Sid
Almost 7 years later, I still hear from funeral directors and cemeterians that they are concerned about offending people by offering pet loss services. Okay, I hear what you are saying. However, as you really take a look at this group of people, the pet parents, I challenge you to understand how you CANNOT look at serving this market.
First of all, as I look at funeral homes/cemeteries around the United States, owners and employees of these operations are encouraged to “become” a part of their community. They are members of the Lions Club, the Elks Club, the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, various church affiliated associations and numerous other social clubs in their respective community.
However, as you analyze the “club” of pet parents – the numbers become astounding! Did you know that sixty-two percent of people have a pet?
That means that if you are in a market of 200,000 people, automatically you will now have a service that can be targeted at 124,000 people! 124,000 people! Do the math for your own community and what that means for you!
When on earth have you ever had a new type of service like this that automatically opens up your entire business immediately to a new demographic! Can you imagine belonging to a “club’ that now gives you something in common with over half of your market? Can you imagine servicing this group of people – and how it opens up the marketing opportunities for your entire business, all because you helped a family honor their pet in death – honor this new type of “family member?”
So, you’re still worried about offending non-pet lovers because you offer this service? Do the math,…. would you rather appeal to 62% of your market – or 38%? Because I can assure you – someone WILL go after the 62%. Why wouldn’t it be you?
Article By Coleen Ellis – Two Hearts Pet Loss Center