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