By Bonnie J. McCann • Photos By Danielle Debley
No matter how an animal companion enters your life – young or old, healthy or hurting – new pet parents rarely contemplate the time when that same bundle of fur, feathers, or fins will depart. As with our human companions, there’s typically an illness, accident, or advanced age that catches us off guard, unprepared to deal with the end-of-life choices that we humans accept when we elect to share our lives and our love with a pet.
Many of us have made frantic calls to our veterinarian’s office, or to a 24-hour emergency clinic, when a furry family member’s health takes a turn for the worse. If we’ve planned ahead – or if we’re just plain lucky – the vet’s staff may be able arrange a time to euthanize the pet in their office, then arrange for cremation or other disposition of the pet’s remains.
But what if the vet’s office is booked solid? Or everyone else is ringing in the new year? Or the trip to the vet has been a lifelong source of panic for pet and human alike?
Peaceful Pet Passage, based in Mechanicsburg, offers an alternative to traditional death-care options for our companion animals. Like several of the other enterprises that have joined the 25-acre Golden Lake campus, founder and owner Rob Lauver has added a variety of services to address pet and human needs since the pet camp’s opening in 1987. In fact, the original boarding service was phased out during 2012-17, as he added Peaceful Pet Passage to his animal care portfolio to provide in-home euthanasia, pet cremation, and pet burial services.
“There comes a time, for most of us, when we need to say goodbye to our loyal companions. They have lived a long life, and now it’s our responsibility to let them pass peacefully and pain-free,” Lauver explained. “We understand that it’s difficult to let go, and we’ll do our very best to make the transition easier. We can help with pet euthanasia, either in-home or at our facility, when the time is right. Our cremation services are done locally, right here on our property, and we also offer both traditional and green burials.”
Peaceful Pet Passage has three veterinarians on staff to provide end-of-life pet services, plus three drivers who transport pet remains for cremation and/or burial services.
“We can handle a maximum of 2,200 pets per year, but there are about 40,000 animals cremated in the Harrisburg-York region annually,” Lauver said. “We never want a single pet to be forgotten, so there is room in the market for additional providers to offer cremation services locally.”
An entrepreneur from a young age, he built his first house when he was 17 years old. Lauver worked at Appleton Papers and drove a truck for his father, who was in the recycling business.
“My father couldn’t drive past a trash can without wondering whether there was something in there that could be recycled for another useful purpose,” Lauver noted. “Although my dad had always planned to be cremated, he saw what care we took with deceased pets and asked me to arrange a natural burial near the pet cemetery. At his request, I built his casket from simple poplar plywood. Many people are surprised to learn that as long as you have a signed death certificate, natural burial is legal by rite in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
“When the time came for his funeral, we handed each guest a Sharpie marker to write notes or messages on the lid of my father’s casket, then we laid him to rest on our property, just as he had requested,” Lauver added. “This is a passion for me. If I couldn’t do this, I’m not sure what I’d be doing.”
Connected only by the loss of an animal companion, Lauver’s clients are very loyal.
“Daisy, our schnauzer-chihuahua mix, was 18 and one-half years old. I worked from my home office for her entire life, so I could see that her time was coming. She was restless and couldn’t get comfortable, and we had planned to call Peaceful Pet Passage when the time came,” explained Kari Hultman of Lemoyne. “We had not been able to work out the timing with two of our other pets, Emmie and Rosie, so I called to see how soon one of the vets might be available to make a house call.”
“Often pet parents don’t know when it’s their pet’s time until it’s too late. Thankfully, Dr. Carney was available,” she added. Hultman and her wife Nancy Sheets were able to sit with Daisy, their long-lived first puppy, in the comfort of their own home, until Dr. Elizabeth Carney arrived to help Daisy across the Rainbow Bridge.
“She and Tom Krepps were very caring throughout the whole process,” Sheets added. “They did not rush us while we said our goodbyes, and we are grateful for their patience.”
Hultman’s own parents, Ardie and Swede Hultman of New Cumberland, passed away in March 2017, less than two days apart.
“My parents were sick for a long time, and we had actually been mourning with them for two years. It may sound awful to someone who hasn’t been through this, but they could no longer do what they wanted to do. Their personalities had changed, and we found ourselves praying that they might pass in their sleep,” she remembered. “They were both under hospice care. At least dad was able to get up occasionally with his breathing machine. Mom passed first. Dad was able to get out of bed with his breathing machine to say goodbye to her, but during the next day, he was living with one foot in each world. It wasn’t fair to him. We had to let him go.”
Despite the trauma of losing both parents in less than 48 hours, Hultman knew that her parents had both suffered as their conditions worsened over the years. Even after 18 years and an initial diagnosis of kidney failure, Daisy’s passage was more of a shock.
For Harrisburg residents Kristen Zellner and Kelly Wiant, the decision to ask for help from Peaceful Pet Passage was a given when Sam, Kristen’s first rescue, began to experience health problems.
“I started to work at Abrams and Weakley General Store for Animals in 2006. Sammy became the store mascot shortly after I adopted him from Castaway Critters. His likeness is still in the middle of our company logo,” she explained. “He was a pistol – and a fear biter – like the kid in school who misbehaved,” she added. “Sammy enjoyed a rags-to-riches life and gave us the gift of many good laughs. But none of that made it any easier when his health began to fail.”
With the onset of seizures, Kristen took him to the vet for extensive testing but did not find a cause. Later, additional bloodwork confirmed cancer, which had metastasized, near his pancreas. Unfortunately, surgery was not an option.
“I already knew about the cremation services offered by Peaceful Pet Passage. We knew we wanted them to help ease his discomfort when the time was right,” Zellner noted, “and we knew that we wanted to celebrate Sammy’s life with some of his favorite people and treats.”
Now the owner of Abrams and Weakley, Zellner planned a special day for Sammy the following Saturday, inviting friends and family members to join them at home. The “going away” celebration included Haagen-Dazs ice cream, a bit of cabernet, a tea cake, and a blessing by her wife, the Rev. Kelly Wiant, of Market Square Presbyterian Church in downtown Harrisburg.
“Everything they do at Peaceful Pet Passage allows you to believe that your pet is the only one in the world,” Wiant noted. “We respect them and recognize the care they show for these pets and their human families.”
“After days of lying on a chair, Sammy got down to meet Dr. Carney and sniffed through her bag,” Zellner concluded. “I can never say enough about the gift that Peaceful Pet Passage gave us. We were allowed to spend our time with him. After so many anxious trips to vets’ offices, he was calm in his own home with the people who loved him.”
Their daughter Cora was born a month after Sammy’s passing. The arrival of a healthy infant did not allow the couple much time to grieve. Two years later, they remember both the sadness of death and the birth of new life.
Peaceful Pet Passage is located at 210 Andersontown Rd., Mechanicsburg, PA. (717) 691-9214. For more information go to www.peacefulpetpassage.com.
Recommendations for Good Grief
The death of a pet can be a devastating loss for surviving members of the human and animal family. Each of the pet parents from the accompnying article offers some suggestions to help others during their time of mourning.
With any sort of loss, allow yourself time to feel and to grieve. Don’t rush because he/she was “just a dog.”
Be gentle with yourself and patient with your feelings.
Be aware that grief may cause the pain of previous losses to resurface, even if there’s no apparent connection to your pet.
Consider some sort of memorial service, or other ritual, to mark the occasion.
Feel free to share news of the pet’s passing with friends and family. Many pets have significant fan clubs with photos to post.
Encourage others to share stories of your special fur baby.
Surround yourself with others who understand the size of the “hole” that a pet loss may cause.
Take care to shower other family members – including other pets – who may grieve in their own unique way.
Plan to attend the annual Pet Blessing in October. This event is hosted by Abrams and Weakley and sponsored by Market Square Presbyterian Church. This free Alternative Worship Event is open to the public.
Support a pet-centered non-profit organization with your time, talents, and other resources. Consider volunteering at the state or local Humane Society, Castaway Critters, Molly’s Place, Speranza Animal Rescue, PAWS, Furry Friends Rescue, and others in the area.