Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Third in a series of “pet loss and grief told from personal experience”

watercolor of a cat bathing in front of cabinet
Sunbath, my Kublai, watercolor © by B. E. Kazmarski

Kublai was ill for nearly a year before he died, and even though my veterinarian and I tried to treat all the symptoms in an effort to make some progress it became clear that he would indeed die sometime soon, though I wouldn’t admit it. I remember that I wouldn’t plan into the future, next year’s garden, for instance, because I would picture him there with me and I knew it wouldn’t be so.

Even though I kept up all hope that he would somehow recover, the little fiction writer in my mind started drawing out scenarios of his last moments, his death, and what life would be like afterward. The little scenarios she comes up with can be frightening sometimes, but I’m glad she makes me face things and think through what I might do under the circumstances presented, otherwise I would have kept spinning in that I-won’t-consider-the-future mindset that would have left me helpless on the day Kublai died.

Compared to the present day, I had no experience then of watching for death, as I came to call it, watching Kublai’s graceful black body deteriorate and watching for “the sign” from him, and I didn’t even know what I’d do with his body after he had died.

Considering my options

image of block print of black cat and white cat
Awakening, Kublai and Sally, linoleum block print © by B.E. Kazmarski

After that first awful experience with Bootsie, I decided that I should find my options and have a plan that I could follow through when Kublai died. I don’t like the thought of burial in a cemetery, even for myself. I might not mind burying him in my yard, but it’s really not permitted in most urban or suburban places, though people still do it. Also, even though I owned my home I knew I wasn’t staying here forever, and I was really freaked out at the thought of a future owner digging him up. I also had eight cats at the time, spaced about two years apart, so I knew I’d be losing a fair number of cats while I lived here. I didn’t like the thought of leaving behind a yard full of cat graves.

I chose to have Kublai cremated, and I would have time to decide what to do with his ashes, or cremains as I learned they are called.

But I had no idea how to even start looking for how to do this, and I didn’t want to start asking for fear of looking like the crazy cat lady.

I asked my veterinarian what other people did, and she told me about a business that would pick up his body after he had died whether he was at my home or at an animal hospital and transport it to the crematory.

Planning ahead

After a few days I called the business and talked to the owner, who told me the process and the fee and suggested I give her another call when I either had an appointment for euthanasia or after he passed if he died naturally.

As unpleasant as that conversation seemed like it would be, I was so glad to talk over my fears with the owner and it took a lot of the fear out of Kublai’s eventual death; I may not have known when or how, but I knew what I’d do and the person who would help me with it. I could focus on him, not worrying about those arrangements.

Fourteen years and eleven cats have passed since that day, and that decision still works best for me except that I now have a new person and business to work with who has added so much to the service.

Meeting Deb Chebatoris and Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

photo of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation's living room
CCPC Living Room

In 2006, when I knew I would lose Moses, I discovered that the person I had formerly used was no longer in business. I remembered reading an article in a local paper about a new pet cremation business opening about six miles from me, found the article and the phone number. I called the next day, made arrangements to call again at Moses’ time and appreciated the owner Deb Chebatoris’ warm, calm voice.

Instead of her stopping at my home, I chose to take Moses to her business, not an option before, and was surprised at the comfortable, private living room setting where we could sit and talk. Two friends took me there, and they and Deb listened as I told of Moses’ rescue near death from starvation nineteen years before and my fond memories of the gentle, quiet feral kitty who had come to accept the household and how we adored each other.

Surprisingly, Deb told me that she recalled my name because she had seen my artwork in the homes of other customers, complementing my portraits and telling me how much the people cherished them.

pencil sketch of a cat in sunlight
Moses in the Sun, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

I hated to let Moses go, but as Deb explained that she would be the only person to handle Moses, that Moses would stay right there because the crematory unit was in the back of the building, and I could be assured that the cremains I received were Moses, I was tearful but relieved. Then Deb asked me to choose a color of fabric from her selection into which she would make a little bag to hold the plastic bag of Moses’ cremains, and the color of the silk rose she would attach to the outside of the bag.

This was almost too much for me, but it was the final proof of the love and dignity with which I knew Moses would be cared for.

Deb has cremated six of my cats, including Moses, and the knowledge that I can call her at any time, that they will be received into her gentle, respectful presence is a great comfort to me as their time draws near.

And she became my customer as well

CCPC logo
CCPC logo

And somewhere in that time Deb also became my customer as I undertook the management of her website, ultimately redesigning it, photographing the rooms of her business and the urns and other memorial products she carries, and creating publicity for her business and events. My freelance design business is built on the ideal of working with businesses and organizations I support and use, and it has been a pleasure promoting Deb’s business, glad to assist a person I admire and thinking of all those other animal lovers who will find her in their time of loss.

The pet cremation business

photo of kashmiri urns
Kashmiri urns offered by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Pet cremation is not unusual anymore, though service varies. On-site cremation is typically offered by a small number of veterinary hospitals, and human cremation facilities frequently offer pet cremation. You’ll also find businesses that offer pet cremation and funeral homes now offer pet cremation and pet funerals.

However, unless you go directly to the cremation facility, the person handling your pet most often isn’t the one to do your cremation. Some use local cremation facilities, others send your pets some distance away.

I had heard some unsettling stories about pets and people and cremation. That’s why I was so comforted when Deb explained that only she would handle my cats and that I would be sure that what I received back was indeed their cremains.

“From your hands to mine”

photo of fabrics and roses
Fabrics and silk roses offered by CCPC

That is how Deb describes what she does. She can come to your home to pick up your pet, visit your veterinarian if you have left your pet there after euthanasia, or you can bring them in as I did. You have the choice of attended cremation, where you can be in her living room while your pet is cremated and even look at the cremation unit if you care to, individual cremation or shared hearth cremation. Deb will prepare the fabric bag with a rose and memorial poem, and carries a selection of urns if you’d care to buy one then or later. She can bring the cremains back to your home or you can visit her living room to receive them back.

She even purchased an HHR specially equipped in the back to carry your pet if this is what you choose.

And she actually purchased the business from the woman I had initially used years before, expanding her services and adding her own special touches to it, including purchasing the crematory unit so she could do the cremations herself. In addition to the purchase being a better business decision, she was just not comfortable with taking people’s pets elsewhere and decided that she’d rather do it herself.

Not just cats and dogs are cremated, but birds, ferrets and rabbits are cremated as well as some more exotic pets, like an iguana.

Having the crematory on site and preparing the cloth bag and silk rose for you to receive your pet as well as her comforting living room setting combine to make her business unique.

A complete change in career

“If you had told me ten years ago I’d be cremating pets I’d say you were nuts!” Deb says about entering the business. “I’ve always been allergic to cats and dogs.”

A CPA with a sccessful 20-year career in hospital administration and healthcare consulting, she was “very unhappy and wondering what difference I could make in the world.” She says she prayed for an answer and it seemed to come in a chance conversation with another soccer mom who said she’d soon have her dog put to sleep and she’d use a cremation service. The woman mentioned the cremation business was for sale, and Deb, despite her allergies and lack of experience in the business, felt immediately drawn to it, calling the business owner to talk about it.

She went on a few calls with that owner and to her great surprise, she suffered no allergic reaction whatsoever to dogs or cats, and she took that as the final sign that this was what she should be doing.

Eighteen months after that conversation on the soccer field, she opened Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation in Bridgeville, PA, and began offering her special brand of comfort to pet owners.

Setting up and getting started

While she determined the procedure and services she would offer, much of the rest of the business “just fell into place.”

An architecht designed the layout, turning a storefront open to the street into a private yet open space.

“I was just going to use some furniture from my mother’s house, but I went past a furniture store and was drawn inside to find the living room setting I use.” The only addition was the rocker that was reupholstered to match the other pieces. I can attest to its comfort at a time when comfort is necessary.

She also has displays of urns and picture frames, framed newspaper articles and pieces of artwork, and added some of my artwork to the display. I love knowing that people are comforted by my paintings of my cats and of dogs I have known as they sit in the living room.

Advising grieving families

memorial markers
Memorial markers offered by CCPC

People are welcome to call to find out about the business for future reference, and Deb recommends people call for her service when they have an appointment with their veterinarian for euthanasia, if they have the opportunity to make one. If not, families can call any time their pet is ready and leave a message if Deb is not available.

Deb offers urns and memorial markers of various sorts if her families are interested in them.

“Some people choose an urn right away, or they come back for one,” she said, “but many people don’t keep the cremains, choosing all sorts of ways to distribute them.” Some families split the cremains among all the family members so that everyone can have a bit of the beloved animal companion, while some people scatter the cremains in a place they shared with their pet or that their pet especially loved.

Handling cremains

synthetic stone urn
Synthetic stone urn

“Cremains have gone to Rehoboth Beach because the dog loved it there, and another family put their golden retriever’s remains in a beer stein because it had a golden on the outside and he liked to drink beer,” Deb continues. A woman carried her cat Pyewacket in her purse, and some people incorporate some of their pet’s cremains into jewelry.

I offer to incorporate a bit of cremains into a portrait since it mixes so well with pastel, and I know other artists who will mix cremains with oil or acrylic paint in a portrait.

Deb has also laid a pet’s cremains in a casket with its owner. “If the animal was elderly or ill and the family thinks the pet won’t survive well without the person who has just died, they will have the pet put to sleep and bring it to me to cremate and be buried with its person,” she explains.

I have a sleeping cat sculpture in my backyard, under which I’ve mixed most of the cremains of each cat I’ve had cremated, scattering a little bit elsewhere in the yard if they spent any amount of time there. I decided I’ll take up a few shovels full of soil from the spot when I move and take it with me.

Pet loss events

photo of dove release
Dove release at Pet Memorial Sunday

Deb also hosts two pet loss events each year.

The second Sunday in September is Pet Memorial Sunday, and since her first year Deb has organized a number of speakers and invited her families and the general public to be a part of it. Families are welcome to write a brief memorial to their animal companions which is read during the ceremony. At the end doves are released to symbolize letting go of our grief.

Some of her families felt they would like a session, but didn’t want to wait for the once-yearly event, so Deb organized “Healing Hearts”, a smaller session held near Valentine’s Day.

I am comforted in finding Deb to handle my cats, and I know many others who are as well. I hope that you, too, can find a similar service.

For more information on Deb and Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation, visit her website at www.ccpc.ws.

Next in this series: Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook: your grieving process, and a very special CD and guidebook for those times when you need a comforting voice

Pet loss and grief told from personal experience

When I was losing a pet and making decisions, and after I had lost a pet and was dealing with grief, I was most comforted by hearing stories from others about their experiences. Sitting with one of my cats in the middle of the night, trying to determine if they were suffering in any way, if they were ready to let go, struggling to make the decision about euthanasia and what to do after they died, I felt so alone and only hearing what others had experienced and what they had decided helped me put my own situation and decisions into perspective, and let me know that I was not the only person to experience the anguish I was suffering. I’ve composed this series of articles in the hopes that others find comfort in my experiences and those of the others mentioned here, and that information included about services and products may help them in their decisions.

Read the other articles in this series:

To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long: my first and worst lesson in pet loss

Starting with pet loss—before the loss: begin preparing yourself for loss by being proactive about care and providing palliative care yourself at home

Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation: aftercare, and a profile of a business and a person I find exceptional, and exceptionally comforting

Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook: your grieving process, and a very special CD and guidebook for those times when you need a comforting voice

Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story: how grief can become the catalyst for change, turning grief into a creative effort

Pet Loss Support Information: ideas and resources for where to find comfort and support in your loss, including books about and inspired by the author’s personal experience

Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art: my own experience turning multiple losses loss into multiple creative endeavors

About the images used in this post

All of the images used here are of my cats, my inspirations and muses. I sell prints and notecards of all of them. It’s one of the things that helps me with losing them, to know that their image goes out in the world and they are thereby, in a way, immortal. To see the art visit my website and look under “Fine Art and Portraiture” for the gallery, “My Cats“. Also look under “Photography” for the five galleries of “My Cats“. You can browse prints and notecards in my “Marketplace“.

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats.

From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

15 thoughts on “Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

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  • November 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm
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    Letting go is indeed a very tough human feeling we couldn’t afford to have. But for some reasons we moved on instead. And this is all that matters among all those hurtful feelings. Pets that passed away is just like humans important to us and did pass away too. Hence, decent and proper burial is really appreciated.

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  • May 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm
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    Oh, I can’t imagine the grief of both not knowing and not being there for one of your long time friends. But how kind of your father-in-law to care for her with such respect in your absence. I am so glad he either knows of Deb or found her, and I’m glad that’s where you’re going. I can assure you of her kindness and compassion, and the comfort of her “living room” where you’ll sit with her and your kitty as long as you need to. I met Deb shortly after she went into business five years ago, and in that time I’ve lost six cats and have been comforted to know Deb was there for me. Did you get a chance to visit her website? Please read “From Your Hands to Mine” before you go and I think it will help you on your six-hour drive. Bless you for driving so far to say goodbye to your kitty. My thoughts will be with you. I hope your home selling and moving go well.

    Reply
  • May 27, 2010 at 8:42 pm
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    Thank you for your article re: Deb and her wonderful business. My cat passed away today. She was 16, and just 6 days ago my husband and I decided to send our 2 cats (16 years old, and 6 years old) to his parents home in Bethel Park (we live in Louisville, Kentucky). You see, we’re trying to sell our home and it’s a very stressful environment between the multiple viewings, open houses, etc. Our oldest cat does not handle the stress well. I thought we were doing the right thing by sending our kitties away temporarily. I had her checked out by my vet a few weeks ago–a full geriatric panel. Everything looked good, but she’s had a hyperactive thyroid the past few years and her levels were creeping up again. Her weight was way down, about 5.5 lbs. But we figured upping her Rx dose would take care of everything. Long story short, turns out my sweet girl wouldn’t eat the past couple of days, and she passed this morning at 10a. My father in law took her to Deb’s and I spoke with Deb on the phone. I am taking off in the morning to do the 6-hour drive to say goodbye to my girl. I am heartbroken, and feeling incredibly guilty and sad. I am so thankful for Deb’s services, though. I hope they will help me through this difficult and painful process.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2010 at 11:51 pm
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    You’re welcome, but I wouldn’t write them if they weren’t sincere. I wished I’d had a way to let my last two dogs go in a home setting, but because they always seem to choose holidays or weekends to let me know it’s time, I had to go to the emergency vet. The staff there were always kind and compassionate, but it can’t help but be a sterile, institutional environment. We had to request they turn off the exam room lights and leave only the X-ray viewing machine light on to make the ambiance more soothing for our Westie Mortimer. I think your goal of encouraging such unique and caring businesses is admirable.

    Should Deb have a lending library available to her clients, perhaps she would like to stock a copy of my book among her various pet loss support resources. I, too, hope to support fellow animal-related businesses. I am a member of a networking group of such business owners here in Minnesota called the Pet PAC. In February, I’ll be doing a presentation there about how they can provide general support and added services to their clients facing and/or experiencing pet loss. Whether they run a pet food warehouse or a dog-walking business, they always will encounter clients in need of compassion and guidance, and I hope to help them generate ideas on how to accomplish this through their various businesses.

    I guess you could say you and I are sort of experiencing a parallel evolution of sorts. 🙂

    Your artwork is lovely, too, by the way!

    Reply
  • January 19, 2010 at 6:34 pm
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    Thank you, thank you for writing such kind comments. By writing about Deb and her way of honoring our pets, I hope to encourage others to build businesses like hers, and to encourage pet owners to expect that kind of treatment. She is truly unique.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm
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    I applaud Deb for the thoroughness and thoughtfulness she has put into building a business dedicated to helping people navigate the turbulent waters of pet loss.

    Society would have us believe we’re somehow defective because of the intensity of our bond with our beloved animal companions. I feel sorry for those humans who have not been blessed by the irreplaceable bond of love one can share with an animal. They are missing so very much; but on the other hand, they are spared the undeniable anguish of losing perhaps a series of such dear friends throughout our lifetimes. What we animal lovers know, however, is that no amount of temporary (although it may seem interminable at the time) pain from their passing can negate the unconditional love these pets have given while with us.

    Tears are going to be a given, but our grieving process must not stop there. Celebrating and memorializing their lives are also vital to our healing process.

    To that end, events such as honoring animals on National Pet Memorial Day go a long way to help us feel we are part of a larger community of animal lovers. Thank you, Deb, for organizing such events. I spoke last fall at the Honoring the Animals Candlelight Vigil through pet loss support site Chance’s Spot and witnessed healing on the faces of many people in attendance that night.

    Eventually, we must move on. When we do so, we honor our animal companions by opening our hearts again after loss and sharing our homes with other needful pets. Rather than betraying them, in a way, we are telling our dearly departed pets, “Thank you for all you taught me about love. I’m ready to put those lessons back into practice again.”

    Reply
  • January 19, 2010 at 1:54 pm
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    Thanks for visiting, Ingrid. I was truly blessed to meet Deb just as I was about to lose my four oldest friends, all in one year. Knowing she was there at the end with her special gifts was almost welcoming.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm
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    What a lovely portrait of what sounds like a wonderful, caring and compassionate business. It takes a special person to work in this kind of a business day after day, and it sounds like Deb has created a very special place there. Coping with the “logistical” aftermath of losing a pet can be so overwhelming, and having a crematory like this one can make all the difference in how this event is remembered. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story with your readers.

    Reply

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