Losing a pet can be like losing a family member for some people, and when it comes to death, they’re being treated like it.

A growing number of pet owners have moved away from backyard burials, opting for pet cremation and even pet cemeteries with perpetual care in what has become a high-growth industry.

Dr. Joanne Lefebvre, a veterinarian at San Cayetano Veterinary Hospital in Rio Rico, said pet cremation allows owners to ensure that once they die their ashes will be spread along with their beloved pets.

“They have every intention of having their ashes scattered along with their pets where they will rest together,” says Lefebvre, who lives in Sahuarita.

She is founder of Haley’s Angels, a home euthanasia service for pets she started in 2007 and named after her late dog.

“It’s Haley’s legacy and his ashes are scattered on my property,” she says. “So many people choose cremation and while some don’t want the ashes back, many more do so that they can be scattered in a certain place or kept in an urn or box where they can eventually be mixed with their own.”

Pet cremation averages $50 to $150, depending on several factors including type of cremation and the pet’s weight.

A place of rest

Bobbi Tucker, senior warden at St. Francis-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church in Green Valley, knows where she wants to eventually put her beloved standard poodle, whom she affectionately called “Charming Chas.”

“I had him cremated through a local veterinarian who used a cremation service and his ashes were put in an urn I bought after looking at many online,” Tucker says. “I have four other dogs cremated, too, and when I die their ashes will be mixed with mine and I will be placed here in the columbarium at St. Francis.”

 St. Francis-in-the-Valley has a pet ossuary next to a labyrinth south of the church parking lot’s solar panel. Constructed primarily with donations from the congregation and dedicated in 2007, the ossuary is open to the public and is overseen by a statue of St. Francis.

Congregation members Louise Hursh, her husband, Neal, and their son John Voelker were among contributors to help build the ossuary. Louise keeps the records and photos of the animals in a scrapbook whose cremains are placed there.

“Two of our family dogs are at peace in the ossuary — our Holly Ann, who died one month before my son Steve died, and the other is his dog, Lucy Belle,” Louise says. “My son died in 2008, and he rests in the church columbarium so he is not far from Lucy Belle.”

Special place

There are 28 animals in the St. Francis pet ossuary including the cremains of two huskies owned by St. Francis parish administrator and music director Gerald Near, who calls the resting spot “unique and special.”

Valley Presbyterian Church pastor Larry DeLong is a believer in cremation for pets and most recently had his 8-year-old Yorkie, Belle, cremated. DeLong and his wife, Valerie, also had their 16-year-old red poodle, Simeon, cremated and have his ashes in an urn.

“We have a plaster cast of Belle’s two front paws as well,” DeLong said. ”There is a comfort in these animal companions and having these memorials just preserve the bond we had with them when they were living.”

All in the family

There are about 70 million dogs and 74 million cats in the country, according to the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. In 2011, 63.2 percent of owners considered them to be family members.

So trendy is pet cremation that the Cremation Association of North America, an international organization of cremationists, funeral directors and cemetery owners, monitors animal cremation statistics as well.

According to CANA, pet memorialization is one of the fastest growing death care markets in the United States and Canada. Many CANA members have or are considering expanding into pet cremation, and the group is working to establish the Pet Cremation Council with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories to draft guidelines for pet cremation.

Sharon King Booker, who writes and volunteers with Paws Patrol, a group whose mission is to reduce the feral cat overpopulation through a trap, neuter and return program, has had five cats cremated.

“They were elderly and I believe that was the right thing to do,” Booker says. “People can choose to not get the ashes back or they can have them returned to be scattered or placed in an urn of some kind.”

Part of the land

Ann Wyland, a board member with The Animal League of Green Valley, has had two cats and seven dogs cremated.

Wyland and her husband, Mark, who live on acreage in Sahuarita, have scattered the animals’ ashes on their property and they’ve constructed a grave site with personalized markers with the pet’s name and the dates of their birth and death.

“We didn’t want any special urns. We just took back the ashes that were in a simple box returned to us by the vet who made the arrangements for the cremation,” Ann says. “Then we both walked around the perimeter of the property sprinkling them as we walked and I have to admit, we were crying like babies all the time we did it. It’s so emotional.”

“It’s like they’re home now, the place they knew,” Mark adds. “It’s where they roamed so we felt they could be in peace there and we know where they are.”

The Wylands have three dogs they call “their kids,” ages 13, 12 and 11.

“It’s going to be tough again, because these dogs are aging, but we just love our animals and give them the best life possible,” Ann says. “But in the end, cremation is closure and we know where they’ll be and take comfort that they are just out our back door.”

Regina Ford | 547-9740