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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

Mike the Dog's Tribute Table

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.”

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I know my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” has brought comfort to a great many grieving pet owners, and I do my best to perform my Animal Chaplaincy Services both online and in person to validate their feelings of and support them through their times of crisis. I just really wish we had a pet loss funeral home in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area like the one started by Coleen Ellis in the story below. Anyone out there thinking of starting one, please contact me right away!—Sid

Pet funerals: When four paws go six feet under.

By Shannon Proudfoot, Postmedia News October 14, 2010 11:07 AM

Coleen Ellis, a leader in the pet-funeral business who runs Two Hearts Pet Loss Center in Greenwood, Indianapolis with her two step children Brian (right) and Amy (left) her husband Chris Burke and the pets Ellie Mae (the black Border Collie/Flat Coat Retriever mix), Rudy, the cat, Mike The Dog (the Golden Retriever), and Crisco (Yorkie/Chihuahua mix). Photograph by: Shawn Barney, Photo Handout

NEW ORLEANS — Coleen Ellis knows not everyone understands what she does for a living.

But those who don’t understand her services don’t need them.

Ellis is the owner of Two Hearts Pet Loss Center in Greenwood, Indiana, and a pet grief expert who spoke at the National Funeral Directors Association convention in New Orleans this week.

“I wanted to give families options, instead of them walking out of a vet clinic with a leash and collar in hand,” she says. “I wanted them to be able to do whatever was right for them, just as we do on the human side.”

Jocelyne Monette, founder of the soon-to-open Greater Victoria Pet Memorial Centre and a former pet funeral director in Montreal, says a big part of her job is simply telling people it’s OK to mourn their pets.

“You have so much support for the loss of a human and nothing for the loss of a pet,” she says. “Pet loss is such a disenfranchised grief, and as a society we’ve forgotten how to grieve, let alone grieve for the loss of a pet.”

Ellis worked for 15 years in the traditional funeral industry and grew to love the rituals that helped families say goodbye. When her beloved 14-year-old terrier-schnauzer mix, Mico, died in 2003, she found a traditional funeral home that would cremate her, but Ellis says they asked her to enter through the back door and not to disturb a family that was grieving a “real death.”

“When I tell people that my dad died, people say, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry, it’s been five years and I’m sure you miss him,'” she says. “When I tell the wrong person it’s been seven years since Mico died and I still cry, they look at me and go, ‘Are you kidding me? It was a dog!'”

Believing other grieving “pet parents” would need the same comfort she’d sought out, Ellis founded the Pet Angel Memorial Chapel, which she says was the first stand-alone pet funeral home in the United States. She sold the business two years ago and now focuses on education and consulting for the growing handful of pet memorialization businesses in Canada and the U.S.

Monette’s business will open in Victoria in November, offering pickup of remains, visitation, private cremation and delivery of the ashes to a family so they can avoid the trauma of returning to the vet clinic. Prices range from $275 to $450.

A couple of years ago, she conducted a visitation for a cat in Montreal that was attended by 35 people, she says, with the beloved pet snuggled under a blanket in repose.

“Our relationships with our pets are very special and we have the right, like anybody else, to grieve with loss the way we need to,” Monette says.

Kevin Woronchak was also inspired to join the pet death-care industry by his own heartache, after his family lost a cat and two dogs in one horrible week in 2006. Recalling that “devastating” week still chokes him up.

He and his wife Joanna run Until We Meet Again Pet Memorial Center in Vancouver, lovingly wrapping pets in blankets and removing them in small moulded-plastic caskets, offering grief support groups and giving families a calm and soothing place to say goodbye.

Woronchak is a firefighter by day, and much like a human funeral director, he says it’s incredibly rewarding to be there for families in need, but sometimes the pain hits too close to home.

“A couple of months ago, I had a really rough week. A lot of my good friends lost their pets and then I went to a house-call and there on the floor in their living room was my Kayla who I’d lost,” he says of a dog who looked just like his beloved German shepherd. “I had such a hard time trying to provide comfort to the family, yet I was hurting, too.”

Ellis says many people worry what their friends will think if they have a visitation for their pet. Just as with human funeral rituals, she tells them the farewells are for sake of the living and not the dead — and if their friends laugh instead of supporting them in a moment of pain, she advises them to find new friends.

“So many people whisper the sentence to me, ‘Do you think pets go to heaven?’ They whisper it because they get embarrassed,” she says. “My comment is always, ‘Do you think they go?’ and then they whisper it back to me, ‘Yes.'”

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/FUNERALS/3665190/story.html#ixzz12MRQpEBM

 

If there is one tiny bit of positiveness to come from the Gulf oil spill, it is that compassion for animals (both wildlife and domestic pets) seems to be on the rise. I was touched by the mission of the Sumralls, below. Every time someone creates an environment like theirs to support and sustain the bereaved animal lover, humanity’s collective soul improves just a little bit.—Sid

Pet funeral home opens on Mississippi Gulf Coast

NICOLE DOW, The Sun Herald
Published: 04:00 a.m., Monday, August 2, 2010

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Linda and Glynn Sumrall care about pets. So much that they opened A Pet’s Memory, a pet funeral home and crematory in Gulfport, so owners would have such a facility after the loss of a pet.

“They can sit down and talk to someone where their loss isn’t trivialized,” Linda Sumrall said.

The Sumralls came up with the idea for the business after thinking about what they would do if they lost any of their pets. The family has three golden retrievers — 11-year-old Cindy, 5-year-old Maggie and Molly, who is 2-1/2.

“When we were planning, I thought of how we would want to be treated,” she said.

Linda’s husband, Glynn, said they treat each animal that comes in as if it was their own.

“We meet people on a really bad day and try to make it better,” he said.

The Sumralls started the pet crematory business at the end of June. Before that, Linda had a pet pooper scooper service.

“That shows how much I’m into pets,” she said.

Glynn still works with the U.S. Postal Service.

In 2008, the Sumralls started the Pet Oxygen Recovery Mask Program to supply fire stations throughout Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Stone counties with reusable oxygen masks to aid pets after a fire.

Linda Sumrall said she started the program after watching the news and hearing a story about a house fire in Gulfport. The family and their dog was rescued, but the pet had taken in too much smoke into its lungs and died, she said.

That’s when she made some calls and discovered that local fire trucks weren’t equipped with oxygen masks to fit pets.

“I thought for sure that the cities would have them,” Sumrall said.

The family decided to raise money to supply the pet oxygen masks to the fire stations across the Coast by hosting car washes and collecting donations from individuals and businesses.

“We’ve donated 66 sets,” Sumrall said. She said they have 32 more to go to supply all 98 stations with a set.

The family is now accepting donations at their pet funeral home. After they finish raising money for the oxygen masks, Sumrall said future funds raised will be donated to the Humane Society.

Sumrall said it was no easy task going from the idea of their business venture to opening the facility.

“It’s taken 2-1/2 years to get this business open,” she said.

Picking the right location was a challenge. They had to have the right permits and certifications and be located in an area suitable to the city and surrounding businesses. A Pet’s Memory is now located on 28th Street in Gulfport. Sumrall said she wanted to have a facility that was dignified and respectable.

The crematory is located onsite where pet owners can arrange a private viewing. The equipment used is similar to what a local funeral home uses, Sumrall said.

Cremation costs are based upon the weight of the animal. Sumrall said the cost of a private cremation starts around $80 and can range to about $210 for heavier pets. A Pet’s Memory has cremated cats and dogs as well as more unusual pets such as a bearded dragon lizard, a guinea pig and a ferret.

The first pet the family cremated was formerly one of their own. Sam, a golden retriever from their dog Maggie’s litter, was killed by a car when he was 2 1/2 years old. His remains are in an urn at the pet funeral home.

A Pet’s Memory Pet Funeral Home and Crematory also sells caskets for families who prefer to bury their pets at home instead of cremating them.

At the funeral home, the Sumralls have set up a “last moment room” where families can say their final goodbyes to their pets.

“A lot of tears are shed,” Sumrall said. “Men have cried, too.”

Sumrall has been certified as a pet bereavement counselor by the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. She said she has taken the equivalent of 10 college courses. She also lends her time as an online pet loss counselor for the organization.

“Grief is real, and grief hurts,” she said.

Sumrall said the service her business provides is something that was needed on the Mississippi Coast.

“I’m honored to do this,” she said.

___

Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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I was just interviewed by Susan Loving, managing editor, ICCFA Magazine International Cemetery, Cremation & Funeral Association for their December issue. She was asking me questions about pet chaplaincy, but I learned a lot about the official business. It is really exciting to learn of current thinking about pet loss and the services various enlightened businesses are beginning to provide to grieving animal lovers. For instance, some places have Grief Therapy animals on-site for bereaved families! It’s a long, slow process, but we (as a society) are learning!

Lucky for me, my high school aptitude tests showed I should either be in advertising or a funeral director. Promoting this book, I guess I’m doing both!

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