New York State Funeral Directors Association

About six years ago, Michael Harris spent part of September-- recognized as Pet Memorial Month – wondering why there weren’t more-meaningful services available to memorialize his beloved Rottweilers Hanna and Luke.

These two best friends died within weeks of each other and Harris had only two choices: leave the pets with the veterinarian to be co-mingled and cremated with other pets or pay more to have them cremated “individually”- separated but still cremated at the same time.

And he learned the wait for returning the cremated remains was going to be two weeks. For Harris, a third-generation funeral director in Upstate New York, that wasn’t good enough.

“They were my best friends. They went everywhere with me, they were family members,” Harris said, adding that the available options seemed archaic.

The New York State Funeral Directors Association member started researching the topic, traveled around the country visiting pet cremation operations and realized there’s a big void facing families who want to treat their pets, after death, like they would treat any other family member.

“Basically the more Information I found, the more appalled I became with how pet cremation providers actually handled the remains of pets.”

In the six years since, the Harris family has developed a pet memorial system – providing complete pet cremation, funerals and memorial services -- that they've now spread to more than 20 U.S. states.

The family’s Paul W. Harris Funeral Home in Rochester opened the Pets at Peace Memorial & Cremation Service by Paul W. Harris Funeral Home Inc. in 2009.

The service – operated and situated separate from the family’s funeral home – employs three people full-time and one part-time.

Equipped with a pets-only crematory, the Pets at Peace operation pays for itself – supplies, employee pay and benefits – and it’s catching on.

The Harris family is providing training and licensing to pet funeral providers throughout the country now.

A new operation is set to open near Philadelphia in a couple months, and there are already licensed affiliates doing business in Utah, North Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, to name a few of the 29 states the family’s system has spread to.

The longstanding void in addressing a family’s wish to memorialize a deceased pet stands as a major opportunity for funeral homes looking for ways to help more people in their communities.

“Our profession’s changing before our eyes,” Harris said.

Pet Funeral Services Foster Relationships

Preparing final services for family pets helps funeral homes establish relationships within their communities, an important step for firms that seek to serve family needs whenever they arise, he said.

“We’ve gained so many new families to our traditional funeral home business,” Harris said.

Cat with kidsThe family’s system involves more than private pet cremations and funeral services.

Few crematoriums can say they cremate one pet at once – it’s rare for only one pet to be in the cremation chamber at one time – so there’s no co-mingling of pet remains.

Families get cremated remains of only their pet, not somebody else’s.

It’s also common in other situations for a family’s pet to be placed into a freezer to await cremation – that’s neither dignified nor acceptable, Harris said.

Services they offer to families include immediate transfer of the pet from the veterinary hospital, paw print impressions, and a guarantee the pet’s family members get only the cremated remains of their pet back.

And they work to make sure it happens within 3 days.

The wait for a pet’s cremains in other places: “If you’re lucky, two weeks,” Harris said.

They also offer an online memorialization site with room for photos and videos of the pet, an obituary and ability for guests to light a candle in honor of the beloved family pet.

The family offers a training program “Pet Passages Academy” and certifies those with the proper skills as “Pet Funeral Directors.”

Harris said he communicates with interested parties via e-mail, then on the telephone before a three-day, intensive training program.

“When you leave, you will know 110 percent how to efficiently run and operate a pet loss division that is in synergy with your human funeral home,” Harris said.

People can learn more about the family’s method to memorialize deceased pets through their website.

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