At first, the idea of manufacturing cremation urns for pets seemed a little odd to Ted Meichner, who has been in the picture frame business since the 1950s.
But his misgivings vanished after he visited Reflections Pet Funeral Homes in St. Petersburg. The funeral home has a chapel, urn shop, and even a counselor for grieving pet owners, who can buy a $250 pet funeral service complete with viewing, and wine and cheese reception.
The funeral home owner told Meichner that pet urns are big business. Many customers, she said, wanted well-made wooden urns to preserve the memories of their beloved pets. The only company making wooden urns was in Indiana, and orders would take up to six months.
Meichner knew he could improve on the designs of the urns, and deliver them faster.
"I said, "Hey, this is nothing!' " he said. "This is child's play. I made up a few samples, and she was ecstatic."
Six months later, pet urns have become a lucrative business for Meichner and his wife, Louise, who run a small manufacturing company on Crafts Street in New Port Richey.
Their business, Talsco of Florida, makes picture frames, wood frames for collectible plates, glass cases for dolls and figurines _ and now urns for cremated pets. The latter is expected to account for half of the company's estimated annual sales of $90,000.
"It's got a lot of possibilities, and I think it's going to take off," said Meichner, 74.
The success of the urn business doesn't surprise Mrs. Meichner. "Pet urns are going to be an up and coming product for people to purchase because they love their animals," she said. "They're part of their family. They used to bury their pet in their yard. Now they can place them in an urn and keep them in the family home."
The urns are made of oak, walnut, cherry and mahogany. They come in various shapes and sizes, depending on the type and size of the animal. The smallest: a 16-cubic-inch, bird-sized urn that costs $20. The largest: a 3-foot-high octagonal horse urn selling for $500.
The most popular model: an octagonal base that is "a perfect fit for a 200-pound pet," according to a sales brochure.
Then there are the photo frame urns for pet owners who want to, literally, mount their pets' remains and photos on the wall.
Those are especially popular among cat owners, says Sharon Gariano, co-owner of Reflections Pet Funeral Homes.
"If you've got cat people, they always have more than one cat. So, if you have 10 cats, where the heck do you put 10 cat urns? By putting them on the wall, you can create a whole collage of their family."
Talsco manufactures about 80 pet urns a month. The company employs a handful of part-time workers, all of them semi-retired.
Ted Meichner, who said he has fond memories of a chocolate-colored Labrador, does much of the woodwork himself.
"I try to give them a product that's put together with the loving care that the animal deserves."
Meichner has had some unusual urn orders, including one for an 800-pound pot-bellied pig and a California show horse, whose remains had been stored in two 5-gallon buckets.
Building pet urns wasn't what Meichner said he had in mind when he sold his picture frame business in Long Island, N.Y., and moved to Florida in 1981. He came to Pasco to retire, but quickly grew bored.
"How much fishing and partying can you do," said Meichner, who flew B-24 bombers during World War II.
The Meichners decided to open their own business, building frames for collectible dolls and plates. They started with local stores and then expanded nationwide through mail-order catalogs and by attending trade shows in Chicago and New York.
A mutual friend introduced them to Reflections Pet Funeral Homes, which sells the Talsco's urns nationwide in magazines such as Cat Fancy and Dog Fancy.
"My clients are very impressed, not only with the workmanship, but also with the kind of urns that are now available," said Gariano, a veterinarian technician who started her business three years ago.
"The products they are making for me are the only ones of their kind."
_ This report contains information from Times files.