Anticipating the loss of a loved one is probably one of the toughest things most of us will at some point go through.
And the depth of our grief on losing someone from our daily lives can be debilitating, whatever the circumstances. That's true whether the loss is of a dear-to-us person or of a beloved animal who shared our days. It's a topic that's hard to think about — and hard to do justice in words.
Clearly, it's important to honor the memory of loved ones who have died and to seek out support for persistent grief, whether through friends or professional counseling. And some pet owners might already be aware of a Champaign company that helps people memorialize departed pets.
The Kelley Vault Co. of Champaign provides pet cremation and pet-memorialization products through its offshoot company, Paws & Remember. It's a franchise of a national company run by a local family. The Kelley Vault Co.'s primary business since it was founded in 1928 has been to supply burial vaults to funeral directors throughout Illinois and Indiana. A human crematory was added in 1983 and the pet crematory in 2008.
Paws & Remember spokeswoman Mary English said the company is providing a service locally for which there has been an increasing demand across the nation.
"The after-care industry for companion animals is definitely changing," English said. "Whereas in the past, most pet owners would bury Old Blue out underneath the shade tree in the family backyard, today's society is much more transient than it has been in generations past, meaning burial is no longer a viable option for those pet owners who want to remain close to their deceased companions."
Increasingly, pet owners are choosing cremation after losing an animal, and pet crematories are becoming more common across the nation.
"Cremation fills a specific niche in that it offers the family the option of keeping the deceased pet close to them, should they so choose," English said. "The scattering of cremains is also a common way for a family to pay tribute to their loved one and is often done in an informal ceremony at one of the pet's favorite places, like a dog park, hiking trail or out on the lake. You'd also probably be surprised how many pet owners choose to keep their dog's cremains in their automobiles because, well, dogs love car rides."
English, an avid animal lover, said offering care and compassion to grieving pet owners is the basis for the local Paws & Remember franchise: "Behind every pet that comes through our facility, there is a family, usually devastated by the loss of their loved one. Without proper support, many pet owners can find themselves 'stuck' at different stages of the natural grief cycle, hindered (or even stopped altogether) in their ability to heal.
"Paws & Remember works to help pet owners through every stage of the natural grieving process by bringing together grief support services and a wide range of memorialization options. We take great pride in being able to take an active role in assisting a family in remembering their loved one in a meaningful and healing way."
Paws & Remember provides its services through 32 veterinary clinics across Illinois and accepts walk-in or scheduled appointments at its office. The company is a member of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance. The company offers an assortment of traditional urns as well as memorial products like paw print impressions and locket-style pendants that hold a portion of cremains, as well as glass beads and pendants with cremains incorporated into the glass.
All five members of the Champaign Paws & Remember team own pets. English has a 5-year-old pit bull named Wojtek who gives kisses on request and a 9-year-old tortoiseshell cat named Berrian who is pretty sure she's the center of the universe. Growing up, English and her siblings always had pets, including but not limited to dogs, cats, hamsters, snakes, fish, rats, toads, hermit crabs, African millipedes, parakeets, bearded dragons and tarantulas.
"I honestly cannot remember a time when I did not have at least one animal companion in my life," she said. "Animals have been there through all of the major ups and downs in my life, and because I've been fortunate to have so many animals in my life, I've also known the inevitable pain of having to say goodbye many times.
"It is never easy to lose a pet; each animal has its own soul and brings its own spark into our lives, and when that leaves, even when you know it's going to happen, it's painful. Properly memorializing a deceased pet helps celebrate the beauty in its life and can positively refocus memories that may otherwise turn into depression or despair."
For more information, Paws & Remember, 1901 W Springer Drive, C, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or by special appointment; you can call 355-5551 or visit pawsandremember.com.
For pet loss grief counseling, support is available through the Companion Animal Related Emotions Pet Loss Hotline offered through the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. The line is staffed by vet med students from 7 to 9 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 877-394-CARE (2273) or from Champaign-Urbana at 244-CARE.
This column is dedicated to your pets in The News-Gazette's circulation area. If you have a special pet story you'd like to share, please send an email to Siv Schwink at firstname.lastname@example.org. Schwink is a freelance writer and interpretive naturalist. She lives in the country with her three kids, four cats and a ferret.