Pet parents can find a bit of good in goodbye

By: Tiffany Esshaki, | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 11, 2017

METRO DETROIT — Our pets fill our days with silly expressions, belly rubs and furry snuggles.

And it can be hard to think that one day, inevitably, all of that joy will come to an end.

Losing a pet is never easy, but over the years as our furry friends have become more like members of the family, veterinarians and pet experts have been working on ways to make saying goodbye a little easier.

Dr. Andrea Smirnes, of Woodward Veterinary Home Care, based in Royal Oak, knows that when it comes to getting through the loss of a pet, healing starts at home. That’s why Smirnes offers, among other house-call veterinary services, in-home euthanasia. 

“I think people aren’t as aware of this service,” Smirnes said, noting that more clinics are offering in-home euthanasia so pets can stay relaxed as they pass.

But putting a pet to sleep at home is just as emotionally beneficial to owners as it is to animals. Smirnes said the injection process, which she described as “very peaceful, and not long,” is just part of the experience. The rest is about the family remembering better times with their beloved pal in the comfort of the home they shared.

“Generally, when I go to people’s house, I ask a little about their pet. People like to share a significant memory or something like that. One time, a client had a whole picture book, and we kind of flipped through that and they relived some of those memories,” she explained. “Those are the kinds of things that are a comfort to people, to have someone listen and let them tell you about who the pet was and what the pet meant to them.”

Talking through the loss is a big part of grieving, said Smirnes, who noted that Michigan State University’s Veterinary Medical Center offers a pet loss support group and a pet loss support hotline staffed by veterinary students trained by a professional grief counselor.

Along with in-home euthanasia services, many veterinarians offer private cremations, returning the ashes to the family, or memorial paw print casts. 

For families who opt against cremation, now there’s a better option than a shoebox. Paw Pods, a biodegradable pet casket company based in Lake Orion, was created when Bloomfield Village resident Ben Riggan wanted to bury his deceased pets in his backyard and was surprised at what that entailed.

“When they were gone, (the veterinarian) gave the bodies to me in blue cadaver bags, which is basically a glorified trash bag. I wasn’t prepared for the situation at all, which is already sad and emotional, and I didn’t have a container with me. Those bags you carry them out in …”

Riggan made some calls and found out that most vet offices around the country seem to return pets to their owners in those same bags after they pass. He thought there was a better way to pay respect to our animals, without costing as much as the existing options for pet caskets, which can cost between $800 and $5,000.

The Pet Pods were created as a solution to backyard burials, with biodegradable containers in a range of sizes, from large canines all the way down to hamsters and goldfish.

“We’ve got a goldfish pod that’s the shape of one of those Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers,” Riggan said. “In the fifth year of our company, parents started chatting with me about the smaller sizes for smaller pets.”

The pods come with a seeded sympathy card that can be buried as a living memorial for the pet, and Riggan said the exterior of the caskets can be decorated by kids who need a little help dealing with their loss.

“A lot of parents have said it’s a teaching tool for them to talk about grieving,” he said. “Kids grieve really well through art, and this is a way they can find closure.”