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Funeral Biz Is Raining Cats, Dogs

As animals become virtual children, more people treat their death with respect and ritual. Owners often want to keep a little piece of their loved one nearby.

January 12, 2003|Mark Williams | Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sharon Stimpfle still weeps when she reminisces about Sebastian, her Doberman pinscher, and the seven happy years they spent together.

"Sebastian was a soul mate. He was the best friend I ever had," Stimpfle said of her 98-pound bundle of joy.

She was teaching him how to dance and spin and weave between her legs.

She would take him everywhere. At an outing to a pet fair, a mother pushed her stroller right under Sebastian's legs as the baby slept. Sebastian grabbed the baby's pacifier, tossed it in the air and caught it. The baby never even stirred.

He loved the pet fairs, and he loved going out, Stimpfle recalled.

"If I couldn't take him, I wouldn't go," she said. "He was, like, super-glued to me."

So it seemed only natural that when Sebastian died in March from a viral infection in his liver, Stimpfle had him cremated, as she had done with her five other dogs. All of their remains are kept in urns on the computer desk in the family room of her home. Some urns have the dogs' pictures.

Pet cremation has grown in popularity as owners come to consider pets their family. Because of this, owners are more comfortable expressing emotions when the animals die.

These are some of the same people who seek out specialists to treat their animals for cancer or heart disease -- much the same as people would be treated, said veterinarian Nikki Kelly. "They're children, not just animals," she said.

Nine months after Sebastian's death, Stimpfle sometimes takes his remains, or those of her other departed pets, with her on car trips. Which set of ashes she takes depends on where she is going and which pet liked to go there. "It brings me comfort," she said.

Most clinics now offer cremation, though figures on cremations nationwide are not available. And any funeral home can arrange to have pets cremated.

Bill Remkus, owner of Hinsdale Animal Cemetery near Chicago, began cremating pets 10 years ago at the request of pet owners. Today, the cemetery does as many as 20 a day.

"People nowadays are more open about expressing their feelings about companion animals," he said. And their motivation for having pets cremated reflects a change in society, added Kelly, who has practiced throughout Ohio.

Dogs and cats account for about 90% of the 2,000 cremations Schoedinger Funeral Service does each year. Goats, rabbits, even goldfish and an iguana have been cremated there.

"It's about people wanting choices," said Randy Schoedinger, the company's vice president. "Pets are valued more as part of a family."

Ohio law requires separate crematories for animals and humans, but most states do not, said Jack Springer, executive director of the Cremation Assn. of North America in Chicago.

Costs vary depending on the weight of the animal and the choice of a private or group cremation.

At Schoedinger, the cost can range from $50 to $125. Owners can bring their pet to the funeral home or, for $25, have it picked up from a veterinarian's office. Pickup at the owner's home costs $150.

The funeral home also offers urns that range from $25 to $250.

Schoedinger said people can keep the remains in an urn that can be easily taken from place to place, or bury or scatter them at their pet's favorite spot. He said some owners even ask that their pet's remains eventually be placed in the owner's casket.

Springer said crematories that offer their services for family pets endear themselves to potential customers.

Pet Cremation Services Inc., in business in Columbus since 1996, cremates mostly dogs and cats, but there have also been guinea pigs, a mouse and a 650-pound pig, general manager Gary Reynolds said.

Barbara Lacey said over the years she would bury her pets' remains. But when her beloved Shih Tzu, Dosa, died in February, she wanted to preserve a part of her. For 15 years Dosa had brought her so much joy.

"I thought so much of this dog. I had her so long. I love her so much. I couldn't just put her in the ground," said Lacey, 63, a retired elementary schoolteacher.

She had Dosa cremated and keeps the remains in a wooden urn graced with a statue of a dog on top.

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