Paw print

From clay prints to jewelry, pet owners have may ways to memorialize their companions.

For some pet owners, the sad journey of a pet’s death ends when they leave the animal at the vet’s office or at a pet hospital. But some want more closure. They need the kind of rites that mark the passage of a beloved family member.

That’s when pet loss services become an option.

While the loss of a pet is hard to contemplate, planning ahead can help make decisions easier when the time comes to say, "Goodbye."

“When your emotions are at rest is the best time to choose," what you would like to do, advises Charles Crook, president of Good Shepherd Pet Services, which has an office in North Charleston. 

Whether you leave your pet with the veterinarian or contract for services, the default for pets is cremation. Before the pet’s body is cremated, owners can often spend some time with the departed pet’s body to say goodbye.

“We make an effort to make the pet look presentable. We’ll bathe the pet, brush the fur, close the eyes and mouth," says Mary Wozniak of McAlister-Smith Funeral and Cremation. "Usually they’re covered by a blanket and you only see them from the head and neck, but we leave a paw out so they can hold onto the paw. It’s healing for people in the same way viewing a human body can be.” 

Veterinarians typically work with cremation services to handle pet remains. Crook says Good Shepherd create a software called PETS to improve communication with pet owners once the pet has been handed off for cremation. The system allows Good Shepherd to notify owners so that they can make additional choices before their pet is cremated, including having a clay print taken of their pet's paw or bringing a favorite toy to be cremated with their animal. 

Post cremation, there are an array of options for handling your pet's remains, from urns to custom jewelry. In recent years, Crook has noticed that the clay prints of a beloved pet's paw are sometimes even more important to owners than the actual remains. 

“I think the reason that is is because it’s personal," he says. “People want personal, people want choices.”

While Crook, a former funeral director, is passionate about pets, he says his job is truly centered around a love for people and allowing them to write their last chapter with their pet however they choose. 

“We hold their hand through that process and make sure their needs are being met," Crook says. 

- Rachel Cook, Helen Mitternight

Frozen in time

While cremation is the default for pet remains, owners can preserve their pets perpetual for a higher price via freeze drying.

“It’s really a very unique way to preserve your pet," says Charles Crook, president of Good Shepherd Pet Services.

The preservation process takes about a year and involves cleaning, embalming and drying the body. While the eyes are replaced with marbles, the rest of the remains are the animal's original parts, from claws to fur. Headquartered in Piedmont, South Carolina, Good Shepherd has six locations in three states, including one in North Charleston, and Crook said his business freeze drys about 30-50 pets each year.

The services starts at $995 and increases based on the animal's size. While Crook said this option is best suited for small animals, it can be completed for larger animals. However, the process is longer and more expensive the bigger the pet.