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VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS

Pet Crematory Offers Alternative to Burying Beloved Companions

Animals: The family-run Sun Valley company, which has been in operation since 1947, has doubled its business in the last eight years.

August 29, 2000|CHRISTOPHER WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When his dog, Crystal, died recently, John Fabian grieved the loss of the 14-year-old American Eskimo like he would a family member.

"She died in my arms," he said. "We just loved that animal so much. She's been such a loyal companion for years."

The Saugus resident didn't like the idea of burying the pet in the backyard or having an animal control officer haul away the body, so he contacted Cal Pet Crematory Inc.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do," he said.

Cal Pet Crematory has been a fixture in the San Fernando Valley since 1947. Thanks to a robust economy that has boosted income, and increased awareness of cremation as an option for dead pets, the Sun Valley company has seen its business double in the last eight years.

"For a lot of people, their pets are their life," said Mark Stine, the company's owner. "Pets give unconditional love, and it's something you can't replace. [Cremation] is a way of giving something back to the pet."

Cal Pet's success reflects the growing popularity of cremation, according to Jamie Minea, owner of Forever Pets Inc., a St. Paul, Minn., maker of decorative cremation boxes. He said his company is growing 40% a year.

Tucked behind an auto-dismantling business in an industrial area, Cal Pet operates out of a modest, boxy stucco building. A large fence blocks the view of its six crematoriums from the alleyway.

Inside, Stine's three dogs, a poodle named Chanel and two Shiatsus named Muppy and Noodles, greet visitors. "When people come in, the dogs will come into the waiting room and keep them company," Stine said. "It's a nice comfort for them to come here and see life."

Stine's uncle, Alvin Carveth, started the business after World War II. Carveth, who had dogs he considered part of his family, saw a need for crematory services for pets. At the time, people thought the idea odd, but the business has survived for 53 years.

Stine, who was an advertising salesman for radio stations, took over the family business in 1992 when Carveth was ready to retire.

"I saw a good opportunity here and wanted to keep the business in the family," he said.

*

Carveth died three years ago, but the business remains a family endeavor. Stine's brother and sister, Jim Stine and Linda Herkins, work in the office and his nephew, Brian Colby, tends the crematoriums.

The company charges $80 to cremate cats and small dogs and between $160 and $200 for large animals. Inside the waiting room, customers can choose from a host of boxes and decorative urns, from cedar containers that start around $14 to engraved, bronze blocks that cost $291.

Stine declined to release revenue figures, but the crematoriums are usually running full tilt five days a week. The company handles about 600 to 700 pets a month.

The company handles mostly dogs and cats, but it also cremates birds, snakes and even frogs.

To ensure the remains aren't commingled, each animal is tracked by computer and a identification card.

"We're very careful," Colby said. "As soon as we get them from the hospital, we tag them. We have to be 100% sure. It's family pride."

The company has three drivers picking up pets from veterinary hospitals primarily in the Valley, but also in Ventura County, West L.A. and Redondo Beach.

Stine said one of the keys to his company's success is maintaining close relationships with the vets, who account for 90% of his business.

Jeanne Anger, president of the Holiday Humane Society in North Hollywood, has been using Cal Pet for 20 years and has had the company cremate 15 animals--many of them older or ailing pets that she had adopted.

Anger prefers cremation because it's clean and efficient. Besides, animals picked up by Los Angeles city or county animal control officials end up at rendering plants, where they are turned into fertilizer and other products.

"I had a little dog die during a hot summer weekend," she said. "Even though Cal Pet was closed, Mark came out to meet me to pick up the body. On Monday, they had him on a little stand, all combed out, so I could say goodbye."

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