A Caring Goodbye to Beloved Pets
A professional, compassionate ritual can make all the difference at the saddest of times
The oasis of grass, headstones and compassion has been tucked into a Willowbrook neighborhood since 1926.
Wearing a baseball cap that says “WOOF,” Bill Remkus sits behind his desk in a building on the property he’s known most of his life.
Pet lovers’ conversations with him are both difficult and comforting — difficult subject matter, but comforting to know the last contact with their pets can be carried out with respect.
“We’re like a funeral home, we just do things on a smaller scale,” says Remkus.
For people who have cared for their beloved pets all their lives, this second-generation president of the 90-year-old Hinsdale Animal Cemetery & Crematory looks out for their animals during pet owners’ saddest times.
Approximately 20,000 gravestones dot 12 of the lovely 15 acres, each with an inscription that tugs at the heart of anyone who has lost a furry family member.
Most of the internment services are personal, with just immediate family, says Remkus, “but we’ve had burials with 30 to 40 people attending.”
Although burials and funerals for pets haven’t disappeared, cremation has become the most common choice since Remkus added the oft-requested service in 1992. It is a service he takes just as seriously as burial, which is why Remkus is concerned that a number of less-than-ethical cremation service providers have sprung up in recent years.
Too-trusting pet owners and veterinarians are often unaware of how the deceased pet is treated, says Remkus, adding, “There’s no oversight.”
There is also often no guarantee that the ashes pet owners receive are actually those of their deceased pet. In some instances, it’s possible the ashes may have been mixed with those of other cremated animals.
“What keeps us going is trying to educate people,” says Remkus. “We run an open-door policy. We welcome people to see what we do and how we do it — we are totally transparent.
“When they leave here,” adds Remkus, “they know exactly what they retrieved and what they should look for if the need arises again. An educated consumer is hard to take advantage of.”
Members of three trade associations including Pet Loss Professionals Alliance are working to implement stronger cremation standards throughout the industry. Clients should ask their veterinarian specific questions about what will happen to their pets, Remkus suggests, noting good vets will keep a deceased animal for clients to make their own arrangements, if asked.
Reputable crematoriums treat each pet “as an individual,” says Remkus. Many Hinsdale Animal Cemetery clients travel a great distance for the opportunity to be at an “attended cremation,” a more and more common ritual. Customers can witness their pet’s cremation, watching as little or as much as they wish from a viewing window. Some days, Hinsdale hosts five to six attended cremations.
“It’s kind of the final journey,” says Remkus. “You’ve gone as far as you can go with that pet, to the very end — then you’re taking the ashes back home. To some people, it’s a comfort, the reassurance that it’s their pet.”
Clients who don’t want to attend the cremation should look for companies that track the animal from the time they take custody until cremated remains are returned to the client, Remkus says.
My family was a Hinsdale customer years ago, a choice made with the help of a veterinarian in a time of grief — a decision I feel even better about after meeting Remkus and one of his three adult children working in the family business, a profession they treat as a calling.
Whenever I’ve seen one of their trucks in the neighborhood, I’ve thought about how a family must be hurting. Now I will also think about the butterfly garden Remkus is nurturing on his property.
Remkus rarely hears the comment that was fairly common 45 years ago when he started: “It’s just an animal.”
“People have always felt the same way about their pets,” maintains Remkus. “But years ago, people were ridiculed sometimes, or thought of as being too sentimental. So you kept it a secret and dealt with it. It’s more out in the open now.”Edit Module