A place for pet owners to grieve: Bridgeville crematorium helps soften the loss
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A CD of soothing acoustic guitar music plays in the background. The wall-sized photo of a serene forest landscape provides a calming backdrop. Comfortable couches in tasteful, conservative tones, embrace the mourning. A box of tissues is at the ready.
It is almost a perfect place to grieve.
It's also the way Fido would have wanted it. Or Muffy. Or Scraps. Or even Tweety, because the grieving done at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation in Bridgeville is for the furry and feathered friends that have gone on to that great big "farm" in the sky. And Deb Chebatoris helps their companion owners deal with that difficult process.
"People come in here and they're very upset," Mrs. Chebatoris said. "Generally speaking, people want to tell you about their pets and how special they were to them. So many people will say, that dog was a terror, but I loved him. Or, that cat was the meanest cat around, but it helped save their life, because they needed that emotional connection."
A former certified public accountant for one of the 'big four' accounting firms, after 20 years of crunching numbers and developing financial plans, she found herself unsatisfied with her work.
"I wasn't happy being an accountant, so I started praying for some direction," she said. The possibly divine sign came almost three years ago when Mrs. Chebatoris was talking to "another soccer mom" who told her about a woman who ran a business that would pick up people's deceased pets, take them to a crematorium and then return the ashes. The woman's business was for sale.
"I thought, this can't be what I'm praying for -- I'm allergic to dogs and cats," she said with a laugh, adding that she always had bad reactions to family members' pets.
"I thought I'll never be able to do this, but I never had a reaction when I went into people's homes to get their animals, not anything. That's when I realized that this is what I had been praying for."
So she bought a cremation unit, which she would only say was "expensive" and a building to put the nine-ton machine into. That she does the actual cremations of the animals that people bring to her, and can guarantee that they are receiving the remains of their beloved animals, defines the integrity of her business.
"Pet owners may stay at the facility while their pet is cremated, a process which can take a few hours, depending on the size of the animal, or owners may pick their pets up at a later date.
The ashes are returned in a sealed plastic bag, which is then placed into a bag that is wrapped in a fabric bag with a flower and a ribbon. Wrapped in with the ribbon is a few strands of the dogs fur, or cats whiskers. Mrs. Chebatoris gives each owner a copy of a self-written poem called "Without Words" to commemorate the passing of their animal. She stocks hundreds of various urns, vases, vessels and even coffins for those that would like to keep their pet in a special place in their home or in their back yard.
In January, Robin Cruz, and her husband Mario recently said goodbye to their companion of 17 years, Lola.
"A mutt in the truest sense of the word," Mrs. Cruz said of Lola, adding that the dog was truly family -- it had been with the Cruzes for the entire length of their marriage and had made several moves with the family, including one from Arizona to Pittsburgh three years ago.
As Lola's time came near, they learned about Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation through their veterinarian.
The Cruzes were distraught, but stayed throughout the four-hour cremation process, and were comforted additionally by one of Mrs. Chebatoris' pets, who plopped on their laps while they waited.
"We got home and my husband asked, 'Did we just hallucinate that place?' " Mrs. Cruz said. "It just helped us process the loss so well.''
Being a conduit for helping pet owners express their grief and love for their pets is the true reward for Mrs. Chebatoris.
"I feel really directed, like God put me here. We're here to help other people," she said. "We give comfort.''
Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation is located at 442 Washington Ave., Bridgeville. Call 412-220-7800.
First Published February 23, 2006 12:00 am