Pet Memorial Sunday remembers pets that shared our lives

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While the loss of a family member or friend is difficult for the survivor, the death of a beloved pet can be very painful as well.

“Many people get very upset when they lose a favorite animal companion and may not have the emotional support they need to work through their grief,” said Deb Chabatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation in Bridgeville. “So in September 2005, I organized Pet Memorial Sunday, an annual ceremony in which we remember the special pets that shared our lives.”

When those in attendance said the information they received from the service was so important they didn’t want to wait an entire year for another one, Mrs. Chabatoris staged another event the following February.

Since then, “Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers” has become an annual event. The next one is scheduled from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at LaBella Bean Cafe, 609 Washington Ave. in Bridgeville. The event is free and open to everyone, but reservations are requested by calling 412-220-7800.

The event was planned before the death of Rocco, the Pittsburgh Police dog who was stabbed in the line of duty and died Jan. 30. His funeral Friday included full police honors. But Mrs. Chabatoris said she is sure the German shepherd will be remembered at Sunday’s Healing Hearts service.

“If everyone who lost a pet got the same outpouring of love and compassion the officers who worked with Rocco got, there would no need for my event,” Mrs. Chebatoris added.

At her services, participants are told “this is a safe place to cry,” Mrs. Chabatoris said. "I then invite them to listen to what Elizabeth Babcock, a licensed clinical social worker, has to say about grief. After her 30-minute talk, I offer a few other resources, such as help-line information, and tell them about Pet Memorial Sunday, the second Sunday in September.”

Hot beverages and cookies are served and, after the program, participants are welcome to talk. They may also bring in photos of their pet and display them on a table next to a vase of long-stemmed roses from which they may take a flower as a token of remembrance.

“Some people come back for the program multiple years, and many have told me how much the experience helped them work through their grief,” Mrs. Chabatoris said.

After a favorite pet died, Ms. Babcock, who maintains an office in Peters, came to the crematory to have it cremated.

During a discussion, Mrs. Chabatoris discovered she had a lot to offer to those grieving and asked her to speak at the Pet Memorial Service. Since then, she’s been the main speaker at both pet memorial events.

A former CPA, Mrs. Chabatoris did accounting work for more than 20 years when she began looking for alternatives. While attending a soccer game, she struck up a conversation with a fellow soccer mom who told her she was planning to euthanize her dog, then have it cremated. The owner of the service, she said, was trying to sell the business after 18 years and wanted to move on to something else.

“When I heard that, something clicked in my mind, and I investigated the possibility of taking over the pet cremation service,” she said.

Mrs. Chabatoris opened CCPC in January 2005 and has cremated hundreds of animals each year since. While dogs and cats are the most common pets cremated, she’s also worked with families who owned goldfish, koi, mice, rats, pigeons, canaries and other birds, iguanas and turtles.

“My cremation unit isn’t large enough for horses, but it will accommodate large dogs such as Great Danes and Pyrenees sheep dogs,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of pet loss association meetings and discovered I do something no one else in the business does. For each pet, I make a small fabric bag to hold the cremains for either pickup or delivery to the pet’s family. The bag serves as a dignified way to carry the cremains home or to the final resting place.”

Mrs. Chabatoris suffered the loss of her own beloved pet, Louis, a miniature schnauzer, in April 2005.

At the moment, the Chabatoris household includes two miniature schnauzers: an all silver dog called Mr. Wilson and a black and silver dog named Colby.

“The breed seems to work well with us temperament-wise and they’re the right size for us as well,” Mrs. Chabatoris said.

Mr. Wilson is a rescued dog brought to the family’s attention by Theresa Klemencic, a schnauzer rescuer who operates Furry Friends, a dog grooming salon in Bridgeville. At first, Mr. Chabatoris wasn’t fond of the idea of getting another dog after Louie passed, but Mrs. Chabatoris said he now loves him.

“In my business, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and am glad to be able to help them get through what often is a very rough time,” Mrs. Chabatoris said.

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