A Growing Category

Don’t underestimate the significance of memorial items.

When it comes to pet loss and memorializing beloved companion animals, many pet retailers seem to be in denial and don’t even stock sympathy cards.


When it comes to pet loss and memorializing beloved companion animals, many pet retailers seem to be in denial and don’t even stock sympathy cards.


Yet according to the just released 2007-2008 Pet Owner’s Survey published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers more than a third of dog and cat owners buy some item for their pets’ remains or a memorial object on the death of a furry family member. And a growing number also purchase grief books and memorializing kits for themselves as well as other family members and friends.


“Pet retailers who don’t take two square feet of store space and turn it into a place for memorials are sending business elsewhere specifically to local florists, garden centers and gift stores,” says Charles Wesson, CEO of Kay Berry Inc in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, makers of g arden accent stones with verse and other statuary memorials for pets.

“Go into any pet store and the focus is on health and nutrition and fun and games. Store owners are truly dedicated to pets and yet very few want to discuss, let alone stock merchandise that deals with death. Currently most of the sales belong to on-line retail stores.”


“I’ve never thought about it or had any requests from customers,” says Darlene Tipping of Darlene’s Dog Patch in Jacksonville , Florida .


“That’s a typical response,” says Wesson. “Retailers avoid the issue at all costs until they have a personal need or are looking to comfort a friend who has lost a pet. Then the penny drops. The progressive stores that do stock memorial items are serving their consumers by having this type of product and they are making money doing so.”


Terry Johnson of Howl at The Moon in Vancouver , Washington has a special pet loss section in her store with a variety of urns, sympathy cards.


“I also have special memorial candles called Furry Angel Memorial Candles that come with a card inviting grieving owners to take part in special candle-lighting ceremonies for departed pets that take place worldwide on Monday evenings,” explains Johnson. “It’s very much a word of mouth business. I get a lot of referrals from veterinarians. Very often pet owners are given their pet’s remains in a cardboard box and they come and buy an urn. I also stock samples of garden accent stones with a brochure of the various saying that customers can choose when customizing something for a special departed pet.”


When it comes to garden memorial stones, Wesson says that stones carved with a collar and leash and inscribed with sayings such as “In memory of a faithful friend and companion” are popular amongst dog owners.


“Cat owners will buy anything that has a cat on it. But dog owners are more breed specific. While wall plaques are popular items amongst horse owners and owners of birds and small animals.”


People who have larger properties are also creating memorial gardens for loved ones as well as family pets. Bird baths and garden benches with verses are common accessories and are very often customized with names and sayings requested by the purchaser.


Eternal Image, in Farmington Hills , MI manufacturers of licensed image caskets and urns, recently started producing American Kennel Club™ (AKC) pet urns. Licensed Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) urns will also be available towards the end of the year.


“Whether you owned an AKC registered pet or a mutt, there’s some caché in having a final link with the AKC in the same way as many baseball fans want their final remains in an urn that represents their favorite team,” explains Clint Mytych, founder of the company.


The urn is designed to resemble a trophy and is made from burnished copper and bronze die-cast aluminum. There’s a photo window on the top of the urn so that the owner can insert a favorite photo of the pet and the base has place for a customized metallic nameplate.

Currently the urns are being marketed by on-line retailers such as Dog.com and Cherrybrook.com.


“From the moment we announced on-line that pre-orders were available we have had a tremendous response,” says Claudia Loomis of Cherrybrook.com. “People seem to respect the AKC logo and are proud to display it.”


Generally it’s from on-line retailers that consumers shop for urns and other memorial products they may want to purchase for their pets because it’s these web-based stores and catalogs that focus of making a selection available to the public at large.


“I am looking to traditional store owners to stock this type of product too,” says Mytych “I believe that funerary items should be readily available to the public. A customer should be able to walk into a store and make an instant purchase.”


Another manufacturer who is also looking to extend her list of retail store suppliers to supplement on-line stores is Bette Lou Davis of The Pet’s Pocket Locket in North Huntington , Pennsylvania .


Davis designed this pet keepsake when she noticed that family and friends were storing pet tags and tufts of hair in plastic bags in their jewelry boxes.


I know a lot of pet owners who have a typical jewelry locket with their pet’s photograph in it but its too small to carry anything else and a lot of pet owners like to have a keepsake of their pet with them at all times,” says Davis.


The pocket locket is big enough to hold a tuft of hair, a collar tag and even paw print set in clay using Makin’s clay a quick and easy air-drying formula. They are


Air-drying clay and special kits such as the Makin’s Memory Kit to create paw prints are sold in craft stores and on-line stores and once again, there’s no reason why pet stores shouldn’t stock them too.


One pet boutique owner who has a selection of memorial items from sympathy cards to pet remembrance kits and a variety of grief books is Melisse LeWeck of Something to Chew On in Laguna Hills , California .


“The remembrance kit contains a sachet for a tag, a candle, a card and a photo frame,” says LeWeck. “People buy them for themselves as well as for friends. I also stock a variety of books such as Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven by Cynthia Ryland and published by Scholastic. Books generally sell very well. I received a book from a friend when my dog passed away and I’ve been stocking them ever since.”


Another innovative way to remember a special pet is to extract carbon from their ashes and convert it into a certified diamond.


“The process simply duplicates the formation of diamonds in nature and mined the traditional way,” explains Dean VandenBiesen of LifeGem based in Elk Grove Village , Illinois . “There is a variety of colors available but pet lovers seem to favor blue and yellow. The stones are GIA (Gemological Institute of America) certified by a gemologist. Price wise they are competitive to stones found in jewelry stores.”


The company offers retailers a brochure detailing the process and also a display box with yellow cubic zirconium to show customers the different carat sizes that can be acquired.

“It is essential to request a private cremation if you are going to consider using your pet’s ashes this way,” says VandenBiesen “We can extract the carbon and return the remainder of the ashes to the pet own to be placed in an urn.”


The process is labor intensive and it can take anything between six months and a year to create a certified diamond.


But then as they say, “diamonds are forever.”


Check local ordinances in your area to ascertain whether it’s legal to bury pets in private yards so that you can advise customers accordingly.


Placing a drinking fountain or a bench in a local dog park is a wonderful tribute to a pet. Have the relevant information at your finger tips to assist customers interested in this idea.

Even if you don’t display garden accent stones and urns, have the information and photographs available to customers.


Jewelers like Precious Pets Jewelry in Grants Pass , Oregon design special pet related jewelry items incorporating LifeGem stones. Talk to other jewelers in your area to work in conjunction with you.


Most veterinary schools have a pet grief counseling service. Have the information along with details of dedicated websites to pass on to customers.


Place a discreet sign in store that you are able to supply relevant merchandise regarding pet loss. Liaise with veterinarians in your area. The word will soon get around!


This article is from Pet Product News International

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