FORT WAYNE – Because Julie Mack's golden retriever was her best friend, roommate, playmate and travel partner, the euthanized passing of the nearly 12-year-old Clancy was excruciatingly painful. As Clancy's head rested in her lap, Mack said a tearful goodbye in the privacy of a Fort Wayne veterinarian's emergency room.
Shortly after Clancy's cremation, Mack's friends gathered for a brief memorial service.
"I even had a guy come with bagpipes," Mack says, nearly five years later. "We had a funeral service here at my (Atwood Lake) cottage. And so I started helping people with (their grief)."
When a friend had given her a hand-painted wooden box in which to place Clancy's remains, the gift touched Mack to the point of paying the gesture forward. And recently, she had just completed painting and varnishing her 30th memorial box – this one for a friend in New York.
"I do it just to help people get over that loss," Mack says. "I feel like there's not much for people when they lose a pet."
All that could be changing.
Public pet bereavement, a subject once questioned with the gesture of raised eyebrow, is not only accepted, but has become commonplace. Newspapers, including The Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel, publish pet obituaries that include a photograph. Private services, such as Mack's, are given. Even established funeral homes are offering their services.
"People today are certainly more attached to and into their pets than they have been in the past," says Dave McComb of D.O. McComb & Sons. "I think it's a lot because our society is changing in regard to our family structure. In the past, we had family members who were close to each other – lived in the same communities and so forth, and now we have people going away to college, and their first thought isn't to go back home anymore. Now their thoughts are about moving on to New York or California or someplace like that. There isn't that interaction with your family; sometimes pets can serve at least a part of that role as a companion. I think some of the relationships with pets today are deeper than they were in the past. People, when they lose their pet, it's a significant deal in their life."
McComb says his company will remove the pet from its home as well as offer the cremation and a specific setting for a private service.
"We did have a person in the last year or so, the pet that they had was a company mascot," McComb says. "The pet went from desk to desk and got patted on the head by the various staff members. Everybody was very attached to the dog. So what he did was he had a reception, and they passed out cookies that looked like dog treats. It wasn't a funeral; it was a reception and kind of recognition for the people in the office that lost an office companion."
While Clancy's remains are in a painted box that sits on one of Mack's end tables, Julie has another companion in Sam, a romping golden retriever who has filled the void in her cottage, if not her heart.
"There are no rules to follow, no guidelines to go by, when you lose your pet," Mack wrote in a short essay. "A pet becomes more like your family member. Their loss is deeply felt. The only thing that you can do is to take each step towards all of your feelings. Don't try to run or block them. Honor all of your feelings of grief. It is OK to cry. It is OK to feel the void and very deep loss of your pet. Always remember it is OK to miss them.
"And remember that down the road you may open your heart to another heart that just wants to be loved."