MOORHEAD, Minn. — Bob Glassmann remembers well the day his beloved German shorthaired pointer, Abby, died at nearly 14 years old.
He had raised her from a pup and trained her to hunt with him for upland game birds such as pheasants, ruffed grouse and woodcocks.
“Old age had crept in,” he said. “She’d been having some heart issues.”
But “last fall, she was alert. I thought, maybe she’ll make it through the winter.”
In February, “I could tell by her labored breathing, I knew something was up,” the retired Roseau, Minn., teacher said.
Abby was lying in her kennel at home, he said.
“I went to check on her. She put her head on my arm and took one big breath and let it out. She went to sleep, just died.”
Glassmann was relieved, he said. “I was not going to let her suffer.”
“I didn’t have to take her on that one-way drive to the vet,” a trip he had made in the past with another family pet. “I dreaded that.”
Frozen ground prevented him from burying Abby in the yard at his home, and “I didn’t want her going to the landfill.”
He decided to have her cremated, he said. “It was the best option at the time.”
He took the dog to Pet Services, a business owned and operated by Kathi Bruggeman in Moorhead, Minn., that offers cremation services to individuals and veterinary clinics.
Abby was “a replacement for our oldest daughter when she went to college,” he said. “Our daughter left, and I got Abby.”
Glassmann hunted with her all the time, he said. “She was my ‘constant companion.’?”
Abby had also joined him on fishing trips and sat on the passenger side of his vehicle.
“She was always ready to go when I wanted to go. She was always ready for adventure,” he said.
This kind of close attachment causes pet owners to opt for cremation over other options upon their pets’ death, said Bruggeman, who has been providing cremation services since 1992.
During more than 30 years working for a veterinary clinic in Fargo, N.D., she got to know a lot of families who still turn to her when their pet dies or must be euthanized.
“We’re very careful; there’s identification on every one” of the animals she’s entrusted with, she said. “We’re very caring.”
While “kids grow up and go away, pets become part of you.”
Of the four Afghan hounds who live with her, she said, “They are my family. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t come home to a houseful of dogs.”
The loss of a pet “is just as hard” as the loss of a loved one, she said. “For some, it’s even harder.”
Dealing with the question of how to handle a pet’s death can be an emotionally sensitive experience, she said. “You don’t think about it until you have to. Then you go, ‘Now what do I do?’
“Losing that first pet is very traumatic. Once you’ve lost a pet, then you know.”
Longtime clients who use her services “are happy they do know me,” she said. “It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. You still love (the pets), even though they’ve passed away.”
She encourages veterinary clinics she works with to have their clients call her, “so they get to know me a little bit, even though they may never meet me in person,” she said.
“I spend a lot of time talking” to pet owners.
The benefit of cremation is “just the fact that you’re getting your own pet back, and you have them forever,” she said. “It’s good for closure.”
The majority of customers who choose cremation, whether directly with Pet Services or through a vet clinic, want the ashes back. And most of those request a tin container with the intent of burying or spreading the ashes, she said.
Glassmann paid $100 for the cremation service, which included a tin container of Abby’s ashes, he said.
Bruggeman’s business offers a selection of containers the pet owner can choose from, such as a personalized wood urn with a photo and the pet’s engraved name and birth and death dates.
Other options include brass and ceramic urns, tubular key chain urns and heart-shaped urns. A cube-shaped box can be used to display four or five pictures of the pet.
“Brass urns are becoming more popular,” she said. “The ones with paw prints (on the side) are very popular.”
She estimates that slightly more dogs than cats are cremated through Pet Services. She has also facilitated cremation of other animals such as gerbils, hamsters, rabbits and lizards, she said.
She uses three pieces of equipment for her cremation service near Abercrombie, N.D. One is used to cremate large animals, such as horses, up to 1,600 pounds.
“I have a horse, and when his time comes, I want a way to accommodate him,” she said.
That trend is likely to add more pressure to already crowded pet cemeteries.
“City ordinances may not allow” burying a pet in the yard, she said.
She has had clients who, when they are about to relocate, dig up a pet they buried in the backyard and bring it to her to cremate and return the ashes, she said.
“One of the good things about going through a vet to put the pet to sleep is that you leave it right there.”
The vet may make arrangements for cremation on behalf of the pet owner.
Bruggeman advises pet parents “to do whatever feels right. I want them to feel comfortable and feel good about whatever decision they make.”
“It is what it is, as far as timing.”
His fondest memories of Abby revolve around their hunting trips, he said.
“She had a good personality. She was a family dog, a family pet, but she was my dog, yes … yes, definitely.”
He received Abby’s ashes in a tin container by mail a few weeks after taking her to be cremated, he said. He plans to scatter her ashes in their favorite hunting spot, “probably in the spring.”