LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - When we think about tough jobs, working in the funeral industry is probably pretty close to the top of the list. While working in death care can be emotionally and mentally draining, a Lake Charles man has found his calling: cremating pets inside the region's only retail pet crematory.
Bill Wilson loves animals. This crematory operator takes care of 10 cats that have decided to call Pet Angels Crematory in Lake Charles "home." "I'm just an animal person," said Wilson.
"Wild Bill" as he is known to many, shows his softer side when his cats are around, keeping him company at the pet crematory, part of Johnson Funeral Home. "I've always had jobs in the oilfield," said Wilson, "I've roughnecked on the rigs. I've never had a job where you respond to the public like this and I like it."
Since Pet Angels opened in the spring of 2010, Wilson has worked every day except two Christmases: that is seven days a week for more than 1,000 days. "I know that I'm helping people out when I do this," he said, "and that makes me feel a little bit better about it. I guess that's what allows me to get through each day."
In 2012, Wilson cremated over 600 family pets - from cats and dogs to ferrets, iguanas, goats and fish. Andy Hankins with Johnson Funeral Home says there is no better person for this tough job than Wild Bill. "Bill has a heart for people, he has a heart for animals," said Hankins, "Bill actually makes the removals, he will actually come to the home or the veterinary clinic, transfers the animal back here and then returns it to the vet."
While most of Wilson's work is done at the crematory, when he removes a pet from a home, his role shifts to comforter. "Usually you are having to comfort the people as you do this because they're upset," he said, "we've all lost animals or family members and we know how it feels...it's hard."
Once back at the crematory, it is just Wilson and the animal. "We have a nametag on the body bag, so right away I know the dog's name," said Wilson, "so I'm able to talk to it as I go through the process and I do it just like I would do my dog."
The entire cremation process takes about three hours and remains are typically returned to a family within one to two days - bringing what they view as a family member back home.
"Sammy" the cat is back in his favorite spot at Lauren and Phil de Albuquerque's office bar. They have had six pets cremated at Pet Angels Crematory. "I just feel that they are someplace else, but that they are still with us," said Lauren, "I feel it all the time and I know Phil does too.:
What Wilson feels is a connection to an animal that was loved and lost - and to its owners, some that have even taken the time to send him letters of gratitude. "I just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your help and kindness taking care of Cassidy," Wilson read from a faded card.
On the crematory wall, handwritten cards remind Wilson that his job is an important piece of the recovery process. "It's like a badge of honor to me, you know. It really is," said Wilson, "I feel like I've accomplished something, like I've done them right. If that's not a reward for what you've done, I don't know what is."