Special Report: Inside the region's only retail pet crematory

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - End of life decisions are incredibly tough to make, yet every day, family members make arrangements for the death of a loved one. But what about for a beloved pet? I take you inside the region's only retail pet crematory to find out the end of life options for animals and talk with one family that knows the pain of losing pets.

Lauren and Phil de Albuquerque, of Lake Charles, have several "kids" of the four-legged variety. "We sit out in the morning with a cup of tea and talk to them and they talk to us," said Lauren, "it's just wonderful."

With a big love for the pets that have come into their lives - comes a deep hurt when one dies. "When I lost my buddy Bear," said Phil, "I just hugged him and loved him and kissed and said goodbye. It was really tough, still is as I think about it."

In the midst of their pain, the de Albuquerques found peace - bringing their pets Toastie, Rhiannon, Sammy and Ghostie to a final resting place. "We have done both with our pets," said Lauren, "we have buried and we have cremated."

Six hundred family pets were cremated last year in the region's only retail pet crematory, Pet Angels Crematory in Lake Charles, part of Johnson Funeral Home. "We were getting repeated questions from families asking us if we could handle their pets, do pet burials and cremations," said Johnson Funeral Home CFO, Andy Hankins.

Hankins said the requests were so frequent that the funeral home decided to expand its services to include pet cremations. "They will call our facility," said Hankins, "and we will go that day, transfer the pet to our facility, perform the cremation and then the next day we will return the pet to the family or the vet, whichever they request."

"Wild Bill" Wilson is the crematory operator who has handled more than dogs and cats at death. "I've done a small newborn horse, fish, hamsters, goats, ferrets, iguanas," he said.

All creatures are treated with care, compassion and processed the same way. "Once we cremate the animal and we get it out of the cremation machine, we bring it over to the processor where it is processed into almost like a powder and then we use this loading device to put it into a temporary urn," said Wilson.

The retail end of funeral arrangements typically involves purchasing caskets, headstones and urns. But there was such a demand at Johnson Funeral Home for pet items that there is now an entire section dedicated just for pets for gravemarkers and pet urns. "We were getting such a response for pet urns, pet jewelry, pet markers, all of the retail products that go along with that," said Hankins, "we then had to make a place for it."

The de Albuquerque's cat, Sammy, loved sitting in the couple's office bar. When his cremains were returned, back to the bar he went. "This was his chair," said Lauren, "so we now have his ashes sitting in it."

"It meant a lot to me to have Sammy and to have Bear and some of the other pets that we've cremated," said Phil. "It means a lot, I think it's for us."

It was the choice for Hankins, as well, who had his 12-year-old Boston Terrier "Tibby" cremated last year. "She sits on our mantle in a little urn and she's with us," he said, "if we move, then Tibby gets to go with us.  It's definitely the option that my family would choose."

Lauren says she treasures the memory of each pet, whether buried or cremated. "When a little creature means so much to you and has given you so much joy in life and you want to keep that, why not?" she said.

Cremation prices range from about $90-150. You will receive a certificate of authentication that the cremains are your pet's, as well as a Pet Angels tote and a brochure on grieving the loss.

*Wednesday night at 10 on 7News Nightcast, you will see part two of this special report featuring "Wild Bill" Wilson, the crematory operator. Find out what he loves about his job and why he chooses to work seven days a week.

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