Keeping lost companions: Shawnee funeral home a popular choice for pet cremation
In a Kansas City, Kan., home that has been filled with dogs and cats through the years, Alexander had the most stories, the Wings figure.
He was a black cat allergic to grass, so the hair on his backside would fall off, and Jayne Wing would sing “I’m too sexy for my hair, that’s why my butt is bare” when Alexander walked by with his tail straight up.
He also became the first pet the Wings chose to have cremated, and now Alexander — and the cremains of 13 other cats and dogs —still has a place in their home.
Seven white cardboard boxes are courtesy of The Amos Family Pet Companion Crematory, 10913 Johnson Drive, which opened in 2009. With the remains, sealed and wrapped in a velvet bag, are black ink-stamped paw prints or clay moldings of prints. A handwritten sympathy card from Anne Smith, the Amos Family Chapel funeral home’s pet cremation consultant, also is included.
Smith handles the crematory’s day-to-day operations out of an office next to the funeral home.
She said the crematory’s small size allows for a quick turnaround in delivering remains to pet owners, returning them the same day the animal arrives.
And both she and her husband — Mark Smith is the funeral home’s director — see the business as a chance to get to know future clientele.
“It’s a tremendous way to build relationship with families,” Anne Smith said. “Families lose up to half a dozen pets before humans.”
Mark Smith said Amos had cremated more than 1,500 pets since it began offering the service. He said most pet owners and veterinarians bring in dogs and cats, but others have also brought in rats, a parakeet, a rabbit and a duck for cremation.
The only funeral home that offers pet cremation services in Johnson County, Amos has seen business from as far away as Ottawa and Louisburg in Kansas and Oak Grove and Warrensburg in Missouri, Mark Smith said.
For pets less than 150 pounds, the crematory charges $130 for a private cremation, meaning the pet is cremated exclusively rather than communally and its remains are returned to its family.
For pets heavier than 150 pounds — Anne Smith said Amos has cremated dogs north of 200 pounds — the cost is $175.
Communal cremation — $45 for 150 pounds or less and $80 for pets up to 250 pounds — ensures that pets’ remains will be spread across a Smith family property about 85 miles south of Shawnee.
Jayne Wing said she and her husband, Dan, have gotten used to the family thinking they’re nuts. Their daughters’ only concern is what happens when they die, Jayne Wing said.
“My husband and I plan to be cremated, so we’re like ‘just throw them in with us,’” Jayne Wing said.
When her time comes, Edie Ommerman said she’d like her pet’s remains scattered atop her grave.
Ommerman, a retired schoolteacher, fosters dogs at her Overland Park home, though she admitted that she has flunked the fostering part on more than one occasion, instead taking a dog in as her own.
Kong, Ommerman’s 10-year-old malamute-shepherd mix, died in June.
The funeral home laid Kong on the table in a viewing room that precedes the cremation area. Under dim lighting while a stereo played a CD of soothing music, Ommerman brought in Lakota, the malamute she still has, so they both could say goodbye. Lakota worshipped Kong, Ommerman said.
Anne Smith told Ommerman to take her time. Ommerman told Kong she loved him, kissed him, crossed him and cried. Lakota sniffed him and gave him a kiss, too.
“We two were miserable together,” Ommerman said.
Before Kong, Czar — a 15-year-old doberman-lab mix — died the day before Thanksgiving. Czar now rests in an urn with his buddy Koda, who died when he was 13 years old. Before those dogs were Misty, a German shepherd, and Copper, a border collie mix, who, as an inseparable pair in life, also share an urn, Ommerman said.
Ommerman said she wanted to clear some space on her shelves on her home’s main floor, so that all her pets could rest in proximity. For now, Czar and Koda are upstairs in her son’s old room.
“I’m a little crazy when it comes to my dogs,” Ommerman said. “But it’s my responsibility in taking them on. Through no fault of their own, they ended up in shelters.”
Last week, Lexie, a medium-size mutt, became the seventh pet the Wings have had cremated at Amos since March 2010.
Dan and Jayne take in animals from around the neighborhood, either those let loose in the woods behind their home or abused and abandoned nearby.
As it has for Ommerman, cremation has been an opportunity for the Wings to honor pets that began their lives in troubling circumstances with a distinction long thought to be the norm for only humans.
“Our feeling is that these poor animals were abandoned and abused or had something horrible happen to them, and we just want them to know that we love them,” Jayne Wing said.
And yes, the Wings and Ommerman still talk to their departed pets. Ommerman said she even says hello to her “boys” when she calls her answering machine to leave herself a message while she’s away.
“They’ve never left me,” Ommerman said.
Tom Ohmes handles nearly all of Amos’ pet cremations — at times picking up a pet from someone’s home. He said he’s gotten used to the cremation area’s baking heat, or as accustomed as is possible to being within arm’s reach of a device that routinely reaches 1,675 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ohmes is in his sixth year with the funeral home after spending 25 years as facilities director for St. Joseph School. As if he needed to point it out, Ohmes said going from being around kids to cremating pets was a shift in environment.
“But I enjoy it,” he said.
Ohmes is gentle and concise with his words, but he speaks up when he talks about pets.
“That is their family,” he said of pets’ relationship to their owners. “They’re always there for you, they never talk back. They’re there greeting you when you come home and they’re there sitting right next to you on the couch.”
Before long, Ohmes is talking about his own 6-year-old shih tzu, Sherman, whom Ohmes said the family would now also consider for cremation to remember him by.
“After seeing it now, I would,” Ohmes said.
Ohmes said about half of Amos’ pet cremations are communal, often from veterinarian offices. Anne Smith talks to four main offices each week from Overland Park, Blue Valley, Kansas City, Kan., and Shawnee’s Mill Creek Animal Hospital.
“Everybody always wondered what happened after the vet’s office,” Ohmes said. “Now they know where they’re at. Now there’s some closure. At least they know where their final resting place is.”