Helen Hobbs is not surprised when a woman bursts through the door 15 minutes early for her appointment. It is a warm spring morning, and the woman is holding a dead beagle, its grizzled nose peeking out from a white blanket. Within seconds, she begins to sob-“My baby, my baby”-and Hobbs takes her by the shoulder. After 11 years in this business, she is used to seeing people come untethered by the death of an animal. She has helped arrange elaborate funeral services; she has witnessed leather-skinned men cry as they tell their dogs not to worry, they’ll be together again soon.
Hobbs runs Pets at Peace, a memorial and funeral service in Toronto. Like her clients, she believes animals deserve respect and dignity in their afterlife care. That means no mass cremation or burial. For fees ranging from $215 to $400, depending on the size of the animal, Hobbs ensures your pet is individually cremated and promptly returns the remains to you in an oak, cedar or ceramic vessel. For around $500, you can attend the cremation, formally say goodbye and go home with the ashes.
If you wish, Hobbs can “restore” a pet that has been hit by a car or help you arrange a viewing in your home. No matter what service you choose, she will also provide something else: validation for your grief. Poised and austere, right down to her chic silk scarf, brunette bob and silver lapel pin, she is so professional, so reassuring that she immediately erases any doubt a person may feel about planning a funeral for a hamster. “This is not a fly-by-night operation,” says Hobbs. “The same care and respect that I would give your mother or father, I will give to your pet.”
Hobbs is no stranger to death. As a licensed funeral director (for humans), she started thinking about pet services after a veterinary clinic lost the ashes of a close friend’s cat-and then mysteriously found them six weeks later. “I thought, Oh, my goodness, that can’t be how it’s done,” she says. “There has to be a better way.” Vets are experts in the business of keeping animals healthy and alive, but they are also stuck with the responsibility of making cremation arrangements when one dies. To Hobbs, this is like letting a hospital plan your mother’s funeral. Sensing she could fill the gap, she entered the world of pet funerals.