The certification came from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s Center for Loss & Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo. It’s now clear that even though Ellis sold the majority of her stake in Pet Angel Memorial Center, she has no intention of quietly retiring into the shadows.
But anyone who knows Ellis probably knew she wasn’t capable of keeping a low pro4le for long. So, it comes as no surprise that in addition to earning the pet loss certi4cation, she plans on co-teaching a course with Wolfelt beginning in February, which will offer pet loss training to others interested in developing expertise in the
4eld. She’s also launched her own consulting business, Two Hearts Pet Loss Center. The business focuses on helping people who want to start a pet memorialization business, and it also provides grief education services to veterinarian and funeral professionals as well as educational resources.
“I was ready for the next phase,” Ellis said, noting she wants to once again build something from the ground up. “I’ve always really liked the education component of the business, so it was really nice to jump back into the consulting side of things. I look at the folks out there consulting now, and they all learned from me.”
Pet Loss Education
While Ellis graduated from Wolfelt’s full-5edged grief studies program, which mandated she study for 150 hours, she 4ne-tuned her studies to earn the 4rst specialization in pet loss companioning that he ever awarded.
Her hard work will now allow others to follow in her footsteps. Wolfelt and Ellis will teach a scaleddown version of the grief program that focuses just on pets, which participants can choose to integrate into the same broader certification that Ellis earned. The first class will be held Feb. 1-4, 2010, at Wolfelt’s Center for Loss & Life Transition.
The benefts of partnering with Ellis were clear to Wolfelt from the beginning. “I could see there was a tremendous need,” he said. “I thought we needed to crystallize some issues and give people some credibility and help them provide support to families when pets die. When I came across Coleen, I witnessed her passion for this.”
Wolfelt noted that as many letters from people distraught over a lost pet come across his desk as notes from survivors of human family members. “There is an obvious need
that exists,” he said.
The class is sure to be a success because Ellis has such obvious passion for what she does, Wolfelt pointed out. “What I always say to people is, ‘Find your passion, not
your pension.’With Coleen, it doesn’t take you long to get to know that she has an unconditional love for pets in her personal life and a natural empathy for people who experience the death of a pet,” he said. “And I always look for genuine, sincere, passionate and a compassionate skill set from a teaching standpoint.”
Ellis’s Story Now a Legend
As far as Ellis’s foray into the pet memorialization business, it’s now almost legend. She had worked in the human side of the funeral business when in 1998, she took her beloved schnauzer mix, Mico, to the veterinary clinic in Overland Park, Kan., for a routine checkup. There, she met a woman in the parking lot rocking an American Eskimo dog. She wrote on her Web site, “I inquired with the girls in the clinic as to the situation. It turned out that her dog was very ill, and today was the day she was going to euthanize her. I immediately asked them why no one was out there supporting her. It was obvious that they were all terribly uncomfortable with this young woman’s grief, and knowing that I had a background in funeral service, they promptly asked me to help. Without hesitation, I went to her van, sat down beside her and began to ask her about her baby. It seemed like we were together hours, even though it was only a few minutes, before she gained the courage to walk into the clinic – the last walk that she would take with her special little friend.”
Ellis said that the encounter haunted her all day.“When I pickedMico up at the end of the day, I asked the veterinarian what type of grief information they had given to this woman,” she wrote. “The look that he gave me was my answer … they had nothing to give.” She added, “I immediately went home and pulled together some pieces from the human death-care industry that I thought would be helpful. The things that I put together seemed way too little, a very small gesture, for the very large emotional event that she had just endured. But I knew – it’s what I would’ve wanted someone to do for me.”
It was not until 2004, when her own dog died, that Ellis thought back to the woman she met in the parking lot six years earlier. Within months, she founded Pet Angel Memorial Center, located in the Hunters Run shopping center in Carmel, Ind. She operated it as someone would operate a human funeral home, retrieving the remains of pets at homes, wrapping them in blankets and placing the remains in small caskets for transport to her center.
Ellis also hosted a pet loss support group and sold a variety of merchandise to memorialize a pet. As a pet parent herself, she understood how traumatic a loss of a loved pet could be, and she helped people deal with that loss and launched a tremendously successful business in the process. Her venture helped expose an entire side of the business that traditional funeral directors were largely ignoring. She wasn’t the 5rst one to serve pets and recognize that their passing can be traumatic, but she did help spread the notion that it wasn’t just simple cemeteries that could pro5tably get involved in the business.
Others soon wanted in on the action, and Ellis eventually sold a portion of the business to a private equity business that expanded the Pet Angel brand. She stayed on with the
company for some time and maintains an ownership stake. “I still have a vested interest in making sure the company is successful with what they want to do, but they might be
taking the business in a bit of a different direction than my plan was,” she explained. “They are shifting it more in the business-tobusiness direction.”
At the moment, Ellis is operating her business out of her home of5ce, which gives her the 6exibility she needs to serve funeral service professionals, veterinary professionals and others involved in helping people deal with loss. She’ll be speaking at the National Funeral Directors Association Convention in Boston and elsewhere.
“My background is 15 years in the preneed industry, so I get to bring both sides of the business in,” she said. “I know there’s a way to touch families we haven’t touched before
and a way to serve them through the kitty cat 5rst. And I also get to come to the table with how to run your pet death-care operation and how to manage a successful preneed
program. When you mix all those together, that kind of process appeals to the death-care industry.”
Ellis also offers insights into how to partner with veterinarians and pet memorialization professionals who don’t deal with human remains. She suggests that pet funeral homes align themselves with human operators, and likewise, human funeral homes that also serve pet parents need to ally with veterinarians.
According to Ellis, there are no signs the pet side of the business is hurting even with the bad economy. “It’s growing, and I don’t think I’ve seen any parts that have backed down in any shape or form,” she said. “People are calling it almost a recession-proof business.”
It’s clear that pet parents are hungry for professionals to help them through the grief process, Ellis said. “As an industry, we have to make sure we handle touching those
families correctly through the funeral home,” she said. For instance, if someone takes their pet to a funeral home, they can’t be hounded by preneed people. “It must be handled in a professional and classy manner, so it’s your business serving the entire family, and you need to do it in a way that is bene5cial to your organization and not detrimental,” she explained.
Ellis is looking forward to helping pet memorialization professionals and others allied to the business to continue serving their families while making pro5ts. “I think a lot of
people look at the pet side and it’s still a mystery to them,” she said. “I hope I can come out and dispel some of those mysteries. Let me help you, guide you and show you how to do this.”