Sunday, May 27, 2018
Pets

It's a dog's afterlife: Pet death care industry booms

BY PETER JAMISON

The wake for Coleen Ellis' terrier-schnauzer mix was well attended. Mico had been a small but strong-willed animal, displaying the noblest traits of a blended ancestry. Her terrier's air of authority was enhanced by the schnauzer's characteristic beard, white and wiry like that of a kung fu master.

Even in death, the dog seemed to command the attention of humans. Almost 40 people filed through Ellis' living room to gaze upon Mico, in an open casket with a blanket, squeaking snowman and gerbil toy. Memories were shared, along with some good belly laughs and honest tears. That night, the lifeless Mico stayed with Ellis and her husband in their bedroom.

Weird? According to Ellis, an Indiana resident who today is part owner of a pet funeral home chain with a franchise in Pinellas Park, there was only one strange fact about the pomp that attended her terrier-schnauzer's 2003 passing: "What was disturbing to me is that I was having to do it all myself."

No more. Anyone who thinks pet funerals are the province of wild-eyed empty-nesters and Doctor Dolittle-like eccentrics need only stroll into the nearest mortician's lobby to find that pet death care, as industry insiders call it, is booming.

Anderson-McQueen, one of Florida's largest family-owned chains of funeral parlors and crematories, handled more pets than humans last year, according to company president John McQueen. About 3,500 of the St. Petersburg firm's 5,700 funerals and cremations were for animals.

Ellis is a consultant for pet morticians in addition to maintaining an ownership stake in Pet Angel Memorial Center, the company she was inspired to start by the lack of services at the time of Mico's death. She said the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, a trade association, estimates that close to 1.9 million pets were provided professional death services in 2012. Of those, the vast majority were cremated, with only about 21,000 buried, she said.

"It's a great business with pets," said Ernie Johnson, who attended a morticians convention — featuring multiple seminars specifically about pet funerals — in Tampa last month. "You don't have any strings attached. You don't have dysfunctional families fighting, or multigenerational families where people have been divorced and remarried." Johnson, a third-generation director of human funerals in Locust Grove, Va., said he has added two pet crematories to his operation.

Still, people remain more profitable to bury or cremate, and account for the bulk of revenue at many funeral parlors that cater to both humans and animals. At Anderson-McQueen, the price of basic pet cremations ranges from $99 for a creature weighing less than a pound to $249 for one that weighs more than 100 pounds. A simple human cremation costs $2,995.

Most people opt for a straightforward cremation of their animals. Through Anderson-McQueen's Pet Passages program, they are entitled to some time alone with their loved one in the Rainbow Bridge Room, a New Age-accented vigil chamber where large lit candles are arrayed around a dark doggie bed on a tiled bench.

Full-frill funeral services like the one Ellis had for her terrier cost extra, and are rare, McQueen said. They do happen. He recalls one particularly elaborate open-casket service in the company's chapel off Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg. The deceased was a Scottish terrier, clad for the occasion in a plaid sweater. A bagpiper played a dirge.

The veneration of dead animals has ample precedent. Gripped by their centuries-long interest in mummification, ancient Egyptians performed death rites for all manner of animals. Some of them, including cats, crocodiles and ibises, received individual funerals from priests who considered them sacred.

The contemporary interest in pet funerals probably has ponderous explanations rooted in sociology and psychology — the increasing number of childless American homes, a growing acceptance of the idea of pet as family member. McQueen sees a less complicated reason for the trend: simple affection.

"It seems like the grief associated with the loss of a pet is much more pronounced for many people than the grief associated with the loss of a person," he said. When a pet dies, he said, its human counterpart loses a source of purely unconditional love.

"My wife's not always happy when I get home," McQueen said, "but my dog's always happy when I get home."

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

Comments

Find A Friend: Pouncer the Kitten

In the market for a younger man, are you? This charming hottie has no credit score, but he’s undeniably alluring in premature gray. Pouncer is a 9-week old baby bachelor seeking love, companionship, conversation, and cuddles. A bad-boy to his toys, P...
Published: 05/24/18
Find A Friend: Patty the combo terrier

Find A Friend: Patty the combo terrier

Okay, so it’s not Gasparilla. But Patty’s got purpose, she’s dressed like a pirate to steal your heart. Originally named "Frozen," she held out for a cheerful name and a caring foster family. Patty’s a year and a half old, appropriately energetic, an...
Published: 05/22/18
Hernando Pet of the Week for May 25

Hernando Pet of the Week for May 25

Humane Society of the Nature CoastBear is a 4-month-old St. Bernard/golden retriever mix. He’s soft, cuddly and growing fast. Bear is looking for a family that wants an amazing big dog. Inquiries about adopting Bear or other dogs and cats can be made...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Hernando Pet of the Week for May 18

Hernando Pet of the Week for May 18

Hernando County Animal ServicesEllis is a handsome 3-year-old male, orange and white domestic short hair. After being found injured, he was brought to the shelter for care. Since his owners have not claimed him, he is available for adoption. Ellis is...
Published: 05/09/18
Updated: 05/13/18
Hernando Pet of the Week for May 11

Hernando Pet of the Week for May 11

Humane Society of the Nature CoastBoone is an active 2-year-old border collie who exemplifies his breed. He is ready to learn agility, which would enable him to be a very good Frisbee or disc dog, or help herd your livestock. Inquiries about adopting...
Updated one month ago
Find A Friend: Luke, the Mastiff Mix

Find A Friend: Luke, the Mastiff Mix

Supersize that burrito, please, Luke is one beefy baby. This robust pup isn’t quite a year old and weighs a solid 90 lbs. Larger than life and always entertaining, Luke’s a lover with a smooth coat. He lives for long walks, toys, and other pooches. L...
Updated one month ago
Find A Friend: Oh Boy, the Cinco De Mayo cat

Find A Friend: Oh Boy, the Cinco De Mayo cat

Fa la la la bamba! Celebrate Cinco de MEOW with a grande adoption special: all cats 5-months and older will be offered to good homes for just $5 on Saturday (May 5). So, snuggle and play with this young chico, a 6-month sweetie called Oh Boy. The mil...
Updated one month ago