According to the Humane Society, from 1970 to 2010, the number of dogs and cats in homes increased from 67 million to an estimated 164 million. Americans spent more than $53 billion on pets last year alone.
"And I had actually thought about it a couple of years ago, thinking as a pet parent, that pets are part of the family and I get that. And I think it was an effort on our part to reach out to the community and really want to serve the whole family," said John Workman of the A.W. Rich Funeral Home.
Workman's inspiration was his own experience with having to have his beloved pet, Patches, put down at the vet's office. And now his two young dogs, Gunther and Gomer, are the poster pups for the new business. About a dozen families have inquired about the service, and there have been two funerals so far.
These services are growing across the country. In fact, the National Funeral Directors Association recently held a two-day seminar that included the topic of pet funerals. But it is still a new concept to some pet owners.
"No, I haven't. I didn't realize that was even a service that was being offered locally. Fortunately, I have not had the experience of having to lose a pet, but I know at some point we will be in that situation. So, it is interesting to know that they do that," said Jane Watson, an Essex dog owner.
Workman says he does not want to take anything away from the dedicated veterinarians who have spent years caring for their patients, but he feels he can offer the grieving family a special service. A vet will meet pet owners at the funeral home when the time comes to put the animal down.
"So, we are happy to be there on a professional level to be able to help them through that. The vet can return to clinical time quickly and we can spend the time with the family and help them go through that process we know they are going to go through," Workman said.
And there are many different products available to help memorialize a pet's passing.
Reporter Judy Simpson: Do you have people who think this is crazy?
John Workman: You do you have some people who, I am sad to say, they look at pets as personal property. And I would sit down and have a discussion with that person anytime about Patches or Gunther and Gomer, and I think we would have a great discussion about personal property versus family.
Workman says cremation services start at about $150 and can reach into the thousands depending on what the family wants. He says it all comes down to providing another option for families making a difficult decision.
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