Local News

Saying goodbye to pets is highly personalized

— Laura M. Van Horn has been breeding dogs since 1969.

Even though her mastiffs, doberman pinschers and German pinschers have gradually crossed the “Rainbow Bridge,” they have left something of themselves behind in the 16 urns Van Horn has preserved with their remains in them.

“I love all my dogs and feel they deserve to be remembered,” she said.

Ruth Anne Lawson had buried several of her pets around the flag pole where she lived.

“I made them little headstones and everything. When we moved, the new owners took out the headstones but not the palm tree that I put in place of the flag pole. Now we have our animals cremated so they are always with us,” Lawson said.

Jerri Kaplan’s 9-year-old “fur-child” Lucky Fred had to be euthanized due to complications from cancer.

“We had him cremated so he will always be with us,” Kaplan said.

Occasionally, owners are buried with the urns of their beloved pets.

The Sebring Stephenson-Nelson Funeral Home funeral director Mike Adams said they get requests on and off from people who want to spend eternity with Fido or Fifi.

The pets are cremated and their ashes put in urns, which go into the casket. Before that can be done, the funeral home has to first check to see if the cemetery is willing to take pet ashes, he said, but some local ones do.

This what Shannon Hunt hopes to do.

She had her beloved Tiffany Ann cremated, and her remains sit in an urn on her dresser. It is the first thing she sees when she wakes up and the last thing before falling to sleep.

“I had her for 18 years, and the loss of her two years ago was devastating but having her with me now has been a big help,” Hunt said. “When I pass, her ashes will be mixed with mine and we will always be together.”

While backyard burial and cremation is popular with pet owners, most pet owners — an estimated 70 percent — will go the routine route, leaving the body with their veterinarian, Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, told The Associated Press.

Saunders Veterinary Services officer manager Jordan Shannon said they offer their clients the option of burying their pets or cremating them. If they want their pets cremated, they can get their ashes back in an urn.

An Orlando-based company offers the services, she said, and if pet owners want their pet’s remains, “it’s actually their pets that come back.”

Pet owners are split between burial or cremation options with slightly more preferring to cremate their pets, she said.

Many, though, prefer to take their pets home so they can spend their last moments with them, she said, and then bury them in their backyard if they own their property.

Highlands County does not have a pet cemetery although many are buried at the one the Humane Society of Highlands County once operated before it got full.

Edna Papadakis’ German shepherd Klaus is one of those spending his final moments there.

Klaus had gotten really sick, Papadakis said, but the Sebring Animal Hospital nursed him back.

In gratitude, she sent the humane society a $500 check.

Now, he lies by an oak tree in a square grave that humane society president Judy Spiegel dug herself because she couldn’t find anyone else.

While the humane society’s pet cemetery is not available for more burials, Spiegel suggested that pet owners who want to keep their beloved animals’ memories alive could sponsor one of 40 kennels, which they started building this week.

For $500, pet owners would get a plaque in their pet’s name with room for two or three lines.

“A lot of people are going to see this,” she said.

It would also help homeless animals, she said. “I like to think that my dog would help another find a home if he could talk to me,” she said.

For those pet owners looking for custom-made pet urns, Frames & Images in downtown Sebring sells some. They are solid wood boxes that can be engraved. Another model has a lid with a ceramic tile where a picture of the pet can be printed, said Vickie Jarvis, owner.