Meet the Owners Spending Big on Their Pets—Even After Their Deaths
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Meet the Owners Spending Big on Their Pets—Even After Their Deaths

Pet memorialisation is having a post pandemic bump, as owners turn to bone preservation, life-like taxidermy and personalised urns to ease their grief

By SARAH PAYNTER
Sat, Jun 1, 2024 7:00amGrey Clock 7 min

In San Jose, Calif., a preserved Chihuahua skeleton stands on a bed of fur atop an antique library card catalog. A photo of the dog, Shirley, peers down on the living-room display.

Mari Moore, a 45-year-old paralegal, paid around $6,500 to preserve her dog’s bones, a process called bone articulation, after the rescue dog, who was at least 10 years old, died in 2020.

With a new appreciation for the brevity of life, she and her husband, Kirk Moore, 45, started therapy to improve their relationship after Shirley died.

Mari and Kirk Moore remember their dog, Shirley, with a large photo and a display of her preserved bones. PHOTO: HELYNN OSPINA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“When Shirley passed, our whole lives changed. We really realised that we want to appreciate each other,” she said. Now, they visit the shrine almost daily, especially during fights and difficult days. “It reminds me of real, pure, unconditional love, and it makes me want to be better.”

Mourning owners are memorialising their beloved cats and dogs at a rate not seen in over a century, when Victorian-era pet owners frequently taxidermied deceased companions, said the Moores’ taxidermist, Lauren Kane of Precious Creature Taxidermy in Redlands, Calif.

Lifelike taxidermy and bone articulation can cost thousands of dollars. But urns, some made of bronze or inlaid with ornate mother-of-pearl designs, are a more common and accessible choice for people who want to honour their pets and integrate a memorial into the design of their home, said Tim Murphy, executive director and chief executive of the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America. The trade organisation supports professionals in funeral services for humans and, increasingly, for pets, he said.

Artist commissions

In 2023, about 33% of funeral homes offered pet-care services, up from 26% in 2021, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, a professional organisation for funeral-services professionals in Brookfield, Wis.

Demand has heightened since the pandemic, when bonds grew stronger as people spent more time at home with their pets, said Donna Shugart-Bethune, executive director of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories.

While pet urns usually cost $50 to several hundred dollars, customisation can push the expense into the thousands, said Murphy. Sentimental pet owners frequently commission artists to make custom sculptures of bronze, papier-mâché, wood or pottery as vessels for pet ashes, said Coleen Ellis, the executive director of the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care.

“There is not too much of a limit on what people are willing to spend on their pets. I actually find that people are willing to spend more money on their pets than on their human loved ones,” said Nikki Nordeen of Terrybear, a St. Paul, Minn.-based supplier of memorial items to the funeral industry and pet-loss professionals.

While pet urns are usually smaller and less expensive than those designed for humans, Nordeen said some people are choosing personalised, high-end urns that rival or even exceed the cost of traditional human urns, she said. Without customisation, Terrybear’s pet urns retail for about $50 to $400 compared with an average $120 to $800 for traditional urns, said Nordeen.

Bucket and Mr. Pickles

In Manhattan, Ill., a $250 square wooden urn is disguised as a shadow box, showcasing three photos of a cocker spaniel mix named Bucket, her collar and a tag that identified her as blind.

Kate Becker, a 36-year-old critical care nurse practitioner, and her husband, veterinarian Scott Becker, adopted two dogs—Bucket and Mr. Pickles—in 2014. Four years later, she said they built a house with a light-filled guest bedroom where Scott played guitar to decompress after difficult days.

Kate Becker sits with Bucket’s surviving companion Mr. Pickles (right) and her new rescue dog Sola (left). PHOTO: KEVIN SERNA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

But Kate’s life changed when her husband died of cardiac arrest at age 40 in 2020, and Bucket went into kidney failure and had to be put down a year later.

“Scott and I did not have any children, so my dogs 100% got me through,” she said. “Losing Bucket—that was really hard, especially so soon after Scott passed.”

Kate placed Scott’s urn, a box with a sea-like glass exterior, with Bucket’s urn on a dresser in the guest bedroom, with candles and her late husband’s ball cap.

“I’m grateful that Bucket is still part of my home,” said Kate, who said she limits the special items displayed to maintain an uplifting space for meditations, with Mr. Pickles by her side.

Often, mourning pet owners drape a collar over the urn’s neck and arrange the pet’s favourite toys around it. Designers recommend creating photo walls and using shadow boxes to display fur, whiskers, toys and collars. Plants can be placed near urns to represent the continuation of life in a home after a pet’s death, said interior designer Jeannelly Hartsfield of Ivyleaf Interior in Powder Springs, Ga., who has helped clients create memorial displays in their homes.

Scott had a special relationship with Bucket, Kate said. PHOTO: KEVIN SERNA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ruby-Rue

The cedar wood urn of Ruby, an Australian shepherd-labrador, sits on a table next to Lisa Daoust’s living room fireplace, surrounded by a favourite toy squirrel and dried flowers.

In the corner where Ruby liked to nap, Daoust, a 59-year-old retired teacher in Murietta, Calif., hung a roughly $270 photo designed by EverAfter. The Florida-based company says it shines light through crystals created with a pet’s ashes to generate unique images.

The urn, with a “Ruby-Rue” nickname nameplate by Furever Loved in Lake Elsinore, Calif., was included with the cremation, which cost about $200, she said. Depending on a pet’s size and services included, owners usually pay several hundred dollars for cremation, a fraction of the cost of human cremation.

Daoust rescued Ruby in 2002, two years before she married her husband, retired Department of Defense firefighter Jason Daoust, 51. Ruby saw Daoust through the death of her brother in January 2022 before dying in March 2022, several months before Daoust’s mother-in-law passed away. The combined grief was devastating. But finding ways to honour loved ones has helped her process her loss, she said, adding that she also has memorials for her mother-in-law and brother in her home.

“Our relationships with family and friends are so much deeper now. We don’t criticise, and we don’t judge so easily. Because in a snap, life could be gone,” said Daoust.

People frequently place pet urns in living rooms on shelves or fireplace mantels, where owners can process their pet’s passing by talking about their companion with visitors. Or, owners sometimes place them in the pet’s favourite place to spend time, whether that be in a garden or in a sun puddle in a home office, said Ellis.

The Moores prominently feature mementos in their living room. PHOTO: HELYNN OSPINA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Though interior designers and Feng Shui practitioners generally advise that people keep bedrooms a place to focus on rest, some keep ashes in their bedrooms when their loss is fresh, said Laura Cerrano, founder of Feng Shui Manhattan, a New York City-based consulting firm.

Vivianne Villanueva Dhupa, the former owner of a pet crematory and a pet hospice facility in the San Diego area, says she encourages people to place a memento where they would expect to see their pet.

Mari Moore keeps sentimental objects, like this food bowl, to remind her of her dogs. PHOTO: HELYNN OSPINA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“It helps with the grieving to have something to focus on, because it leaves such a void, physically and emotionally,” she said.

Dhupa has three urns in her own living room. The shelves hold a roughly $125 black ceramic urn for her black cat who died several years ago and a $395 poodle-shaped ceramic urn figurine for a poodle-mix dog who died in September. On a coffee table is a $260 white heart-shaped urn with a decorative gold heart for a Brussels griffon who died in December. She also has several stones etched with her pets’ names in the garden where her dogs liked to play, she said.

Lifelike sculptures

One highly customised urn sits on top of a piano in a Houston living room. The ceramic, 3D-printed sculpture of a dog in a claw-footed tub peers up with timid eyes amid family photos and snapshots of the collie named Darby.

Lauren Shafer, a 40-year-old marketing manager at Lone Star College-Houston North, and her husband James Shafer, a 48-year-old bass player, rescued Darby around 2010. Darby, a quiet dog that tended toward anxiety, jumped into the empty bathtub for safety whenever uncertainty came his way. When Darby died in 2015, they spent about $1,200 for the custom 3D-printed urn by Foreverence, a custom urn design and manufacturing business in the Minneapolis area.

“Splurging on a custom-designed urn is, I’m sure, not something that everybody can do, but it sure helped me to get through it a little bit easier,” said Lauren.

Urn makers add pets’ names, dates, nicknames, poems and other sentiments, which usually costs about $25 depending on the design, said Chris Christian, co-owner of Christian-Sells Funeral Home in Rogersville, Tenn. Unique custom artwork, such as pet-shaped sculptures created by hand or 3D-printed, can cost several thousand dollars.

“People want an urn or memorial item that is representative of how they viewed their pet,” said Nordeen. For her two fluffy, white Samoyeds, she chose urns with a white shimmery finish and paw prints around the sides. It’s a design that typically costs around $180 apiece, plus an additional $120 to be etched with their names, nicknames and the years they were born and died, she said.

Saying goodbye

For Mari Moore, the process is beginning all over again: In January 2024, her other Chihuahua, Laverne, died. But Mari said that this time she is hopeful about her future as an “empty-nester” as she takes on new challenges and carves out new parts of her identity beyond being a “pet mom.” She celebrated Laverne’s life with about 100 friends by hosting a fundraiser with taco and churro trucks for the City of San José Animal Care & Services centre.

The skeleton tribute seemed an appropriate way to remember Shirley because the rescue dog with numerous health issues lost much of her hair by the end of her life, said Mari. But Laverne will be fully taxidermied, positioned as if she is sleeping on a bed. The process will take about two years and will cost over $10,000, but Mari said that for her, it’s worth it to honour her pets.

“Everybody who comes over says, ‘Wow. This is beautiful,’” she said. “I really feel like we did a good job honouring them.”



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A cash prize from Kanebridge Quarterly magazine, offered for the first time this year, drew a record number of entries for the design competition

By KANEBRIDGE NEWS
Mon, Jun 17, 2024 2 min

A versatile stool with a sense of fun took out the top prize at the Australia’s Next Top Designers awards at Design Show Australia last week.

The ‘Cheeky’ stool designed by Maryam Moghadam was the unanimous winner among the judging panel, which included Kanebridge Quarterly magazine Editor in Chief, Robyn Willis, Workshopped Creative Director Olaf Sialkowski, Design Show event organiser, Andrew Vaughan and Creative Director at Flexmirror Australia, Matt Angus.

Designed as an occasional stool or side table, the Cheeky stool comes in a range of skin tones. The judges applauded its commercial applications, its flexibility to work in a range of environments, and its sense of play.

In accepting the $10,000 prize, designer Maryam Moghadam quipped she was pleased to see ‘other people find bums as funny as I do’. A finalist at last year’s awards, Moghadam will put the prize money towards bringing her product to market.

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Two finalists were also awarded ‘highly commended’ by the judges — Mass lamp by Dirk Du Toit and the Coralescence lights from Suzy Syme and Andrew Costa at Tide Pool Designs. The judges agreed both products were beautifully resolved from a design perspective, as well as having strong commercial applications in residential and hospitality design. 

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