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Vickroy: Planning can alleviate pain of pet loss

Mary Ann Minick holds Dublwhile Ivan Mitzy check things out Hinsdale Animal Cemetery Crematory.  |  DonnVickroy~Sun-Times Media

Mary Ann Minick holds Dublin, while Ivan and Mitzy check things out at Hinsdale Animal Cemetery and Crematory. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media

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Some things you should know about the end-of-life process:

Euthanasia is not painful, it’s simply an overdose of drugs, Mary Ann Minick said. Hold the animal in your arms. The vet should enter the room quietly and administer the drug. After it has passed, you either can take the animal with you to a chosen handler or leave it with your vet. If you choose, you can have your pet euthanized at home.

A reputable crematory will have equipment designed specifically for pets, Bill Remkus said. Do your research. Check websites, visit facilities and ask questions. You also should be able to watch your pet go into the crematory and come out of it, Remkus said.

There are two kinds of cremation — private, which costs between $150 and $300 at Hinsdale Pet Cemetery, depending on the size of the animal; and communal cremation, in which the animal is cremated at the same time as other animals, costing between $30 and $70.

After you retrieve the ashes, you can place them in an urn, scatter them in a designated area of the pet cemetery or scatter them elsewhere.

Ask if the company belongs to any of the various trade organizations that set standards, including the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association and the Cremation Association of North America.

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Updated: February 27, 2014 6:21AM



It’s hard enough when your pet dies, but having it occur without any planning or foresight can be especially traumatizing.

“Of course, no one likes to think about it,” Mary Ann Minick said. “But death is a part of life.”

Minick and her husband, Jim, have been rescuing senior shelter dogs, many of them with special needs, for the past 14 years. They deal with end-of-life issues on a regular basis.

Time was, a bereaving family would bury Fido in the back yard. But increasingly, people want the same end-of-life care for their animals as they would for human family members. And if you are particular about how you want Fido’s remains handled, you definitely need to think ahead.

Mary Ann Minick is the executive director of All Pets Wellness Foundation, a Westmont-based nonprofit group that focuses on educating pet owners about goods, services and how the pet industry works. The organization also makes compassionate veterinary care available to those who need it. She has a TV show in the works.

Princess was the first dog in the Minicks’ care to die. She passed away at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.

“I remember thinking, ‘What do we do? Who do we call?’ ” Mary Ann said.

Fortunately, she said, they called Hinsdale Animal Cemetery in Willowbrook, which is owned by Bill Remkus and his family. It contracts with many local veterinarians — including Bremen Animal Hospital in Tinley Park, Mill Creek Animal Clinic in Palos Park and Premier Veterinary Group in Crestwood — to handle pet arrangements.

Remkus said his business caters to people who want to be guaranteed that their pet’s remains will be handled in an ethical manner. In addition to dogs, the facility has cremated cats, lizards, even fish, Remkus said.

Today, cremation overwhelmingly is preferred to burial, he said, but few people really know how the process works.

“A lot of people assume the vet does the cremation,” said David Remkus, Bill’s son.

In reality, Bill said, most cremation companies are disposal companies that cremate animals in batch loads.

“In many cases, people are not getting their pet’s remains back; they are just getting a scoop of ashes from a communal cremation,” he said.

Because there is little oversight in the industry, he said, “you really need to be your own advocate.”

The best way to not be taken advantage of when you’re already in an emotional state, Remkus said, is to have a plan of action.

That is exactly what the Minicks do, right down to having urns engraved. As sad as some of their stories are, Mary Ann said, there is an inverse joy in each of them.

“Companion animals teach us that it is the quality of life, not the quantity, that matters most,” she said.

Many older animals, she said, are brought to shelters or euthanized because their owners don’t want to deal with their end-of-life issues. The Minicks said that with a little love and understanding, an older pet can be a great companion animal and likely will survive much longer than if left to live out its days in a shelter.

“They just want love, and they deserve to spend their last days in a loving home,” Mary Ann said. “Though most are only with you for a short time, they bring enough love to last a lifetime.”

The Minicks came to their avocation by accident. They welcomed their first dogs, two rescue Westie puppies, in 2000. With Snickers and Calum, the couple thought their life was complete. Two years later, someone from a Westie rescue group called to ask if they knew of anyone who would take in a 13-year-old homeless dog.

“I knew no one would,” Mary Ann said. “So we did.”

Annabelle ended up living another three years.

The Minicks said serendipity or fate has put them on paths to subsequent rescues that seemed to enter the picture at just the right time. Princess became a family member after Jim learned about her plight at a pet training class.

“I walked in and the workers there were crying,” he said. “They had a German shepherd, a former police dog, being boarded on the premises because its owner had died. She was so depressed she’d lost 25 pounds.”

He called Mary Ann.

“How could we not take her? She was dying of a broken heart,” she said.

Princess came to the Minicks’ home June 16, 2005. That December, cancer was discovered, and the dog died Jan. 16, 2006.

“In those seven months, we watched her go from being depressed to being happy and very self-assured,” Jim said. “She died knowing she was loved.”

“That’s when we pretty much knew that we were going to do this all the time,” his wife said. “We didn’t have any kids, and this was going to be our way of giving back.”

Since then, they have welcomed and said goodbye to Samson, Kenney, Lady and many others. Some were strays, some owner surrenders, some simply abandoned on doorsteps.

To be able to better attend to their health issues, Mary Ann, who has a background in video and television production as well as photography, enrolled in the vet tech program at Joliet Junior College. Once she receives certification, she plans to work toward certification in animal rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, elderly animals in need of love and care keep finding their way into the Minick home. Some stay for a few months, some for years.

“All of them have left an indelible mark on my heart,” Mary Ann said.

The couple encourage others to consider adopting older animals.

“Animals age very much the way people age,” she said. “They start to slow down, they develop arthritis and other ailments. But in all these years, I’ve never found any of these things to be unmanageable.”

Even death has become manageable. Though it is painful to say goodbye, Mary Ann said she takes comfort in knowing she gave that pet a loving home at a time when most people would turn away.

By far, the easiest way to get through the death of a beloved companion animal is to have another pet at home, Jim said, adding that “it forces you focus on something besides your grief. Plus, there are so many animals out there that need a home.”

So often, death prompts first-time animal owners to give up on pet ownership, Mary Ann said, “but I tell them not to be so selfish. It’s not just about you. It’s about all these animals in need of a home.”

For more information on All Pets Wellness Foundation, visit http://
allpetswellnessfoundation.org/

For more about Mary Ann and Jim Minick, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCJKSrPgFSw

For more information on the Hinsdale Animal Cemetery, visit http://www.petcemetery.org/



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