First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself personally and professionally.
Professionally, my work experience in the funeral industry started in 1987. Most of my career was spent with Forethought Financial Services. However, the real driver of my pet-oriented mission started with the adoption of a mutt-puppy in 1989. Mico was the love of my life! Being incredibly familiar with the funeral industry, as Mico began to age, I found myself looking around to find the same types of caring services that I’d be able to have for her when she died. Needless to say, when she died in April of 2003, I still had not found a pet death care service or value-offering that was what I felt she deserved. Therefore, in 2004, I founded Pet Angel Memorial Center, the United States first standalone pet funeral home, in the Indianapolis, IN area.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind. I’ve been honored to have been labeled, by many publications, the “United States’ most well-known pet funeral director” and “The Pet Loss Pioneer.” I’m even more honored to have earned the right to be viewed as a leader within the world of Pet Death Care through organizations such as the NFDA, the ICCFA and numerous veterinary and vet tech teaching hospitals and clinics across the country. A proud time for me is when the ICCFA whole-heartedly embraced my proposal to start the Pet Loss Professional Alliance (PLPA), an association that is really raising the bar for the standards, ethics and educational
opportunities within the pet loss profession.
So many others have become interested in the area of pet loss and grief as well as pet loss businesses. Due to this demand, in April 2009, I founded Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, a consulting business to guide people who also want to provide death care services to their communities as well as educating others in the grief area through teaching forums and resources dealing with Pet Death Care.
I grew up in Kansas, graduated from Fort Hays State University (Go Tigers!) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing with a minor in Business Administration.
I’m very proud of my family, my husband and business advisor, Chris Burke, my two two-legged children, Brian and Amy; and our three four-legged children: Ellie Mae, a black border mix who graces the cover of the book with me; Crisco, a yorkie-Chihuaha mix; and Rudy, a gray “one-ear’d” tabby cat. Right now my husband and I are proud to call two cities home, Chicago and Indianapolis.
The journey followed through the content of Pet Parents draws a lot from your own personal experiences. What experience(s) in particular inspired you to put all of these thoughts into their own book?
Interestingly enough, since the opening of the pet funeral home, my stepson Brian (who helped me start the business) and I always said, “We need to write a book! The stories are amazing!” Just as I was getting closer to knowing the time was right for the book, I got a friendly little nudge from a dear friend and colleague, Tom Parmalee, who was a huge help to me in finally getting the words on paper!
As I travel all over the country speaking and consulting on the topic of pet loss, the topic on a plane will invariably turn to “so, what do you do?” With 62 percent of people in the country having a pet, my chances are pretty darn good that I’m going to sit next to a pet lover! I’ve spent hours on a plane, hearing stories of pets, living and deceased. And, when the topic is about deceased pets, it’s many times not about those pets that have recently died. It very well could be pets that died years and years ago. That reality was continued evidence that, as pet lovers, we hold those relationships with our pets so dear, for years to come. But what’s even more amazing to me is the depth of the emotion that is shared when the topic is about the death of a special pet. So many times, I’ve sat with my plane seatmate as they faced the back of the chair in front of them, crying as they remembered, like it was yesterday, the chapter in their life that was shared with this pet.
I still have people come up to me, greeting me with a warm hug and sharing with me that they “would not have lived without me to help them through that horrible time in the death of their pet.” While I’m honored they feel this way, I know that it was really the fact that I provided for them a feeling of safety where they could fully and openly mourn their horrible loss. But, possibly, I was the only one giving them the permission they needed to explore these feelings and to go to a place within themselves that acknowledged
the vulnerability and nakedness of pure grief.
What was the need for this content across your audience and how does this book fulfill that need?
Every day, there are pet parents all over the country who want permission to mourn for the precious little pet they loved that has died. However, as much as we are a death avoidant society, in general, we are a “mourning avoidant society” for our pets not because as a pet parent we want to be “mourning avoidant” but there may be others around us that don’t understand a relationship with a pet, much less understanding the emotions of loss when a pet dies. Remember, 62 percent of our population has a pet so that would mean 38 percent doesn’t. If a person’s entire support system is of that 38 percent, a grieving pet parent may very quickly wonder if they are going crazy because of the depths of the emotions they are feeling with the death of their beloved pet. I wanted this book to show pet parents nationwide that they are not crazy. We will grieve for our beloved pets when they die but we also want to know that we can mourn and then do those important rituals that we need, and want, to do when the pet dies. If this book can
bring a bit of relief to someone, that’s part of my objective. But, there’s another part of this, too, and that’s giving people information on what they can do to honor the life that they shared with their pet. Whether it is with some sort of ritual or a unique and personalized memorial piece, I love it when people say, “I didn’t know I could do that! That’s exactly what I want to do!”
Since releasing Pet Parents, what kind of feedback have you received from those who have read it?
The feedback has been amazing! Here’s some thoughts from Judy Palin, one of the families I helped years ago who said, “Wow, all I can say is awesome! I loved every word on every page. You did a fantastic job in allowing readers to see the real you; although to me there is really no substitution to meeting you in person and being warmed by your smile, your hug and your sincere interest in each and every person (human or furry) that you meet. I could go on and on: I laughed, I cried and I was educated (even though I thought I knew so much already).”
And, of course, my dear friend and colleague Roberta Knauf of the Hillcrest- Flynn Pet Funeral Home in Hermitage, PA, who said “Pet Parents: A Journey Through Unconditional Love and Grief is a must read for anyone that is a pet lover and, anyone who has lost or is approaching the loss of their fur baby. Never has a book been written that can speak to and help you through the death of a pet as completely as this. As a pet loss professional, I would also recommend this as a wonderful resource guide. If you have a pet loss business or are thinking of getting into the pet loss profession, please get this book. Not only are the stories heartwarming but the information about the entire pet loss industry is priceless.”
I’m also honored to hear these words from one of my colleagues in the veterinary and pet hospice industry, Robyn Kesnow: “This book is an invaluable resource for the unmentionable time that comes much too early for every pet parent. The stories and information shared in this book will change the way we honor and memorialize our pets and bring a new level of dignity to a previously neglected part of loving and living with pets. If I could impress one thing, get it now. Don’t wait for your pet’s senior years; don’t
wait until you think you need it. Get it now, read it, share it and keep it on the shelf for when you’re ready to take action.”
Do you have any plans for a followup to Pet Parents based on the feedback you have received?
My next book is going to be in hearing from pet parents themselves on the lives they shared with their pets, the lessons that were learned during that time together, and how these beloved pets were honored in their death. I can’t wait to share these stories with others, continuing on that objective of letting pet parents know that there are others that feel like they do about their pets! Stepping away from Pet Parents, where do you hope to see the pet care profession advance toward in the near future? What are your hopes for this industry? Our pets are incredible little beings. They do deserve dignity and respect not only in life but also in death. Much like the human death care industry where, when a death happens a family is sent to the next professional instead of the doctor helping with the final arrangements, I, too, want our profession to advance to the point of answering to the pet parent’s needs, not the needs of the veterinarian. I want our industry and profession to be open to the needs of the families and to be the resource that pet parents will seek out to create those experiences that are healing and meaningful…those experiences that are everything that a pet parent wants in honoring the life that was shared with a special fur being.