I’ve started a new feature for Final Embrace, with which I ask our “Be Our Guest” writers to share their thoughts about specific topics. 

This is the first response from Don Shell:

Caring for the WHOLE Family
Pets are becoming a big part of the funeral profession

Let me introduce you to someone.  Her name is Hollie, and she’s the beautiful blonde turning heads here at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home®, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Everybody loves her, and they have to admit, she just has a way with people.It’s not what you think, though.  You see, Hollie is a golden retriever, as well as a trained therapy dog.

Hollie spends her days at the funeral home, where she helps console grieving families with her warm heart and cold nose.  She gingerly works her way around the room at a visitation or funeral, letting people pet her, hold her paws, or just lay at their feet.  She has been trained to understand verbal and non-verbal cues from people, so she knows who to help and who needs space.

But almost universally, Hollie is a welcome sight.  In fact, her presence is often specifically requested by families, who have heard how much she’s helped other people during their tough times.

It shouldn’t be that surprising, really.  Our own pets do the same for us every day, don’t they?  They listen when no one else will, they’re always there for us when we come home, and they’re excited to see us, too.  Our pets are an important part of our lives, and a part of our families.  If you still don’t believe it, consider these statistics:

• Americans now spend $41 billion a year on their pets — more than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world.

• That’s double what they spent a decade ago, and the total is expected to hit $52 billion in the next two years.

• That’s more than what Americans spend at the movies ($10.8 billion), playing video games ($11.6 billion), or buying music ($10.6 billion) combined.Given those shocking statistics, should it be so shocking that we want to give our pets an appropriate send-off when they head to the hereafter?

The funeral industry is changing, changing rapidly, and not always in ways that benefit our bottom lines.  One of the few areas with growth potential is pet memorial and cremation.  At Life Story Funeral Homes®, which are comprised of 15 independently-owned locations throughout west Michigan, pets are a growing part of their business.


While the human members of families are enriched by the sharing of a Life Story®, their pets can be memorialized with Life Tails™, pet memorial services, as well as cremation.  The website for the funeral homes, http://www.lifestorynet.com/, also includes Memory Pages for pets, with an online guestbook, pictures and a place to share memories and stories, too.

Believe it or not, plenty of people do.  There’s more than 120 Life Tails™ Memory Pages created on the site, filled with heartwarming stories of people’s love for their dearly departed dogs, cats, and even turtles.  Lest you think the public outcry would be deafening, think again.  They’ve yet to receive a single complaint, and they include questions about the Life Tails™ portion of the business on every survey they send home with families.

Life Story Funeral Homes® aren’t alone, of course.  Funeral providers all across the country are beginning to embrace pets as a viable avenue for their business.  It’s become such a growing segment of the industry, it’s even got its own publication devoted to it! (As we all know, a trend isn’t really a trend until it has its own niche publication.)

Kates-Boylston, publishers of the American Funeral Director, recently unveiled the Pet Loss Insider monthly newsletter, which according to their website, “provides business tips on how to start a pet funeral home or pet cemetery, articles that focus on best practices, how veterinarians can foster beneficial working relationships with those in the pet remembrance industry and much more.”  More and more, people are beginning to understand that pets do indeed have a place in funeral homes, just as they do in their own homes.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Just ask Hollie.


 Don Shell is a staff writer for Life Story Network®, a Portage, Michigan-based multimedia company serving 15 independently-owned funeral homes in the Midwest. For more information, visit http://www.lifestorynet.com/, or email Don at donshell@lifestorynet.com.