It’s not that long ago that pets were mostly cats and dogs, with the occasional exotic bird and guinea pig mixed in.
Today, pets come in all sizes and species from rats, to snakes, to birds, to dogs, cats and pot-bellied pigs. And Dmitri Zaslavsky has cremated pretty much one of everything.
“We just did a lion from Cat Tales,” said Zaslavsky, who runs Family Pet Memorial Crematory and Cemetery in north Colbert. “That’s unusual for us. But we’ve done almost anything else you can think of: bearded dragons, hamsters, snakes, and of course, cats and dogs.”
Zaslavsky and his wife Faith Zaslavsky recently took over the business started by his in-laws, Tom and Leslie Allen.
“We talked about that for a long time, it’s kind of a personal thing that we do here and it just seemed wrong to sell it,” Zaslavsky said about his decision to carry on with the family business.
The cemetery has been around since 1967 and the crematorium, which now features four individual cremation units, has been added since.
“We started doing private cremations in the early 1980s, and there’s been quite a shift in that we used to do mostly burials,” said Zaslavsky. “We guarantee a private cremation which means one pet at one time in the cremation unit.”
Many pet owners don’t think much about what’s going to happen to Fido’s remains when he dies. They enjoy their pets while alive and push aside the thought that inevitably their pet will die. Apartment-dwelling pet owners rarely have a place to do a proper burial, so many chose to have their pets cremated and placed in an urn.
“Pets have become much closer members of the family and more and more owners want the remains back,” said Zaslavsky. “It gives them a sense that they still have something.”
If the pet is euthanized at a veterinary office, the body will be picked up there, or Zaslavsky can make a house call when a pet is euthanized at home.
“One of the toughest calls was from a man who was losing his seeing-eye dog,” said Zaslavsky. “He was crying so hard when we got there. Remember, the dog had been with him every moment of every day for the last 12 years.”
When a pet’s body is picked up by Zaslavsky, it’s wrapped and tagged, and taken to the crematorium.
There, it’s cremated on its own, the ashes are sifted and ground to a fine dust and put in a sealed plastic bag, which may be placed in an urn or a wooden box, depending on the owner’s wishes.
The whole process takes between three and four hours, depending on the size of the pet, and owners have the pet’s remains back within two days.
“We have different urns available if that’s what people like,” said Zaslavsky. “And we seal the ashes so you can’t knock over the urn and spread the ashes all over the floor.”
Some pet owners just want the ashes back so they can spread them over a dog’s favorite hunting grounds, or on the sunny spots the cat preferred in the backyard.
Family Pet Memorial can’t cremate a horse, but most other pets weighing less than 200 pounds can be handled. The price of cremation depends on the weight of the pet starting at $100 for a pet weighing less than 2 pounds, and topping out at $285 for a pet weighing 200 pounds.
In the cemetery, little headstones mark the last resting places for hundreds of pets.
“When we do a burial, people bring stuff to put in the casket, like toys and pictures,” said Zaslavsky. “Sometimes the owners do their own little ceremony here. Memorial Day is the big day around here. Lots of people come out that day.”
Being a pet undertaker may seem like an odd occupation to some, but Zaslavsky wouldn’t trade.
“Yes, it gets sad sometimes,” he said, “but the compassion I can share with people every day means a lot. And they are always so thankful when they get their pets back. That is worth a lot.”