“All of a sudden, Christopher was standing there and said, ‘Fiona’s in heaven and she has all new fur and all new skin,’ ” said Elaine. “I said, ‘Does she have some wings like a little angel?’ He said, ‘No, but she’s got a little guardian angel watching over her.’ This kid, he just touched me and I’ll never forget that.”
Elaine said that was the best story she has about her business, which celebrates its first anniversary this month. She and her husband, Steve Woods, were on the verge of retirement more than a year ago when they became interested in starting their own business. They got the idea from an article about good businesses to start for people over age 50 in the magazine of the American Association of Retired Persons.
But the business is more than dollars and cents for the Woods; it’s a service in which they transform grief over the loss of a pet to peace of mind about a special animal that’s like a member of the family.
Losing a pet for some pet owners is often more difficult than losing a human member of their family, said Steve, who was a deputy coroner in Colorado and eventually Washoe County for more than 31 years. While Woods investigated cases, he also enjoyed other aspects of the job, such as working with the deceased person’s family members and helping to protect the deceased’s property. He said the families who come to him now as a pet cremator are much more upset than in the death of a human family member.
“You don’t know the griefs that come through the door here,” he said. “It’s been incredible. Those people are really having trouble losing their animal. It goes back to an unconditional love thing. They’re just there for you.”
At A Beloved Friends, owners who bring in their pets are greeted by the couple who take the animal to be weighed and before bringing them into a viewing room, which provides a table, decorative candles and a window from which they can watch their pets go into the chamber. The opportunity to view their pets is sometimes an important part of the grieving process for families, Elaine said.
“We’ve had some families have lunch in that room and they invite their neighbors to say goodbye to a pet or we say a prayer,” she said. “I have a goodbye poem and sometimes they want me to read that. It’s like a little funeral home here and people are comforted by that. … There’s also plenty of Kleenex around.”
A Beloved Friends will cremate just about any species up to 450 pounds — the size of a mini horse. Iguanas, snakes, birds, goats, pigs and rats are as familiar to the Woods as dogs and cats. As they prepare the animal, the Woods have to be meticulous in identifying a pet with tags to ensure families receive their pet’s remains, whether the family stays during the cremation or returns to pick up the ashes later.
Families also have three options for cremation. They can have their pet cremated privately as the only animal in the chamber, individually in which pets are cremated with one or two other pets but separated by stainless steel to ensure the ashes remain separate or communally for those owners who don’t want the ashes returned to them. In the last case, remains are scattered in certain areas in Fernley or Yerington, Elaine said.
Cost depends on the type of cremation chosen and the weight of the animal.
Cremation often takes a couple of hours and the furnace typically sustains temperatures of nearly 1,500 degrees, Steve said.
Families may also help place their pet in the chamber or watch one of the crematory staff do it from a viewing room window. That also provides solace, said Elaine, who retired after 43 years as a nurse.
“You had people always receiving bad news in the hospital or people passing away,” she said. “I dealt with it every day. … It’s not easy to do. I get a lot of satisfaction helping people this way and I think Steve has, too. It’s so nice to have someone to talk to and knowing you made it easier.”
The Woods offer a 24-hour answering service and they do get calls in the middle of the night from distressed owners, Elaine said. They also have several affiliations with local pet hospitals and are certified members of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, for which Steve is a member of the board of ethics. He is responsible for reviewing complaints from the western region of the United States, but he said so far, he’s only received one complaint.
Steve said everyone who leaves A Beloved Friends may come in with tears but leave with smiles.
“That’s unique (about this business),” he said. For more information about A Beloved Friends Pet Crematory, call 825-9900 or visit www.abelovedfriendspetcrematory.com.