“I think I’ve been really blessed to work with these families over the past ten years,” says Deb Chebatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation (CCPC), as she prepares for her tenth Pet Memorial Sunday Celebration on Sunday, September 14. “I am honored to continue hosting this ceremony. From past years’ thank you notes families have received healing from attending.”
The second Sunday of September was set aside as a time to remember our pets by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories. Chebatoris has hosted a ceremony on Pet Memorial Sunday since 2005 for families who have lost a pet.
“Our society does not normally have a ritual to help families transition through the loss of a pet. This event is an effort to meet that need,” said Chebatoris.
Our animal companions have become more respected members of our society, from recognizing that people will not evacuate even a life-threatening situation if they can’t take their animals to realizing that a close bond with an animal can help people heal from both physical and emotional traumas. Our animal companions fill a deep place in our lives; for children they are sometimes the closest friend and confidant, for seniors they are often a singular daily companion. Grief after the loss of a cherished animal companion needs to be treated with respect.
A history of compassion
“I step into people’s families for a brief time,” Chebatoris said as she described one family who had planned a wake and celebration of their pet with all family members in attendance when Chebatoris returned the pet’s cremains, inviting her to join them. Over the years she has cremated not only cats and dogs but also ferrets, rats, birds, rabbits, iguanas and even sugar gliders with the same respectful promise that the pet is given “from your hands to mine”, is only handled by her, and is cremated by her at her facility in Bridgeville, and returned to its caretaker in a special handmade bag.
Out of her compassion for the families and pets she has met has come several innovative programs to help people keep their pets healthy and well.
“It’s one thing dealing with a death after a long and happy life,” Chebatoris said, “When I need to work with a family whose young, healthy pet has succumbed to an accidental death, it is a double tragedy.”
In the spring of 2011 she began hosting free pet first aid introductory and certification classes and advocating attendees prepare a pet first aid kit. Donations at these events led to the purchase of pet oxygen mask kits, in turn donated to the communities where the classes were held.
In 2013 her two dogs were attacked by a neighboring dog while on a walk. Knowing how many dogs are critically injured in attacks and how many dogs are euthanized for aggressive behavior, Chebatoris hosted free canine aggression seminars which were attended by hundreds over the course of a year in the hopes that injuries could be prevented.
Pet Memorial Sunday
The ceremony is on Sunday, September 14, 2014 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Melrose Cemetery in Bridgeville.
Over the years attendance has grown from families Chebatoris has worked with and others who have read or heard about the event including friends of CCPC families. “Anyone who is dealing with grief over the loss of a pet is welcome to attend,” she said.
As part of the ceremony, speakers will discuss our relationships with our pets before and after their death. Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Hospital in McMurray PA, will speak on “Our Last Moments Together”, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, will speak on “Our Grief Response”. I offer my insights on why, after experiencing such grief, many of us choose again to open our hearts to pets.
These speakers are followed by “Words of Tribute” written by pet owners and read by the speakers. Participants’ tributes share with all attending what was so very special about their departed pet. Chebatoris has tips and examples on her website to help illustrate a meaningful tribute.
“Keeping a tribute to your pet to only 50 words can be a challenge,” Chebatoris remarks, “but limiting your remembrance to 50 words helps you to focus on the essential elements that made your pet special.” Families are also encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to be displayed during the ceremony.
While holding a lit candle, attendees are given a Release Recitation focusing on the transition to being in this life to being a treasured memory.
One of the most touching parts of the ceremony is the dove release. To symbolize letting go, a single white dove is offered to each person to touch. Each touch is like a final goodbye before that dove is set free, followed by the rest of the flock.
The gathering will be held under a tent in the cemetery rain or shine. Light refreshments served afterward as families are invited to share their experiences with each other and speak to the presenters.
For more information or to RSVP, please visit www.ccpc.ws or call Deb at 412-220-7800 by Friday, September 12. If you wish to compose a tribute, please send that by Friday, September 12. The Pet Memorial Sunday page on the site includes an e-mail address and fax for Deb as well as instructions for composing and sending your Words of Tribute.
Also, in order to provide a peaceful environment for all, it is not appropriate to bring live pets to this event.
To read about past Pet Memorial Sunday celebrations, visit the CCPC’s blog “Animus” and read “Pet Memorial Sunday 2011”.
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Loving Again After Loss
I’m always happy to speak on this topic. It’s focused on why we choose to live with animals, especially after a loss. Deb watched me over a period of years lose a number of cats, then gain a number of cats, then lose again, and decided I would probably have something valuable to say about loving and losing and loving again. In 2011 I spoke about losing all my senior cats in one year, and then losing Lucy, but that she brought me Mimi and her children. In 2012 I spoke about losing my two oldest kitties, Cookie and Kelly, in one year and though I’d just lost Kelly a month before I knew it had changed my relationship with cats forever. In 2013 I spoke about taking in Lakota and Emeraude knowing my relationship with them would be brief, and losing Lakota after six weeks but loving him nonetheless.
Why do we take animals into our lives? Because we need them, and also because they need us, and we can’t fear to love for fear of loss.
Perhaps I’ll see you there. If not, my thoughts will be with my own losses, and all those I’ve read about in the past year.
Each Friday I post articles about Health and Safety and Veterinary Medicine as well as press releases about animal events in the Pittsburgh area.
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Weekly schedule of features:
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