When a person dies, the bereaved are greeted with cards and condolences, food and flowers. But what happens when someone loses a beloved pet?
“Some people say, ‘Oh, it was just a dog. It was just a cat. You can get another one,” says Susan Bandy, owner and caretaker of Sienna Sky Pet Cremation Services in Ghent, New York.
They don’t necessarily realize that each pet is unique, as is each pet-parent relationship.
For the end of a pet’s life, Bandy provides what she calls an equally unique service that allows you to follow your pet’s final earthly journey in a variety of ways.
You can have your pet cremated, with the ashes returned in an urn of your choice, along with a certificate and a memorial bookmark, within 24 to 48 hours. Or you can opt for a service before the cremation and receive the ashes within one to three hours. A third option allows for a group pet cremation, with the ashes scattered in a woodland area of the premises.
“Most people are used to their vets handling the cremations with big crematoria out of state,” Bandy says. “Garbage bags of dogs are cremated together. You’re not getting back your pet’s ashes.”
In some cases — one infamous one in particular — you’re not getting back animal remains at all. Karen Walker founded Buddy’s Place in Hudson, New York, in 2005 after her adored Basset Hound, Buddy— euthanized at home in the presence of family and wrapped in his special blanket — was, unbeknown to the family and their veterinarian, dumped unceremoniously with the remains of other animals in a farm ditch. Walker was given an urn that was actually filled with wood ashes. Her Buddy never came home.
Out of her grief and the desire to spare others similar heartache, Buddy’s Place was born.
“What Karen did was start a pet cremation service that was run with ethics and compassion,” says Bandy, who, when the time came, took her own pets to Walker. In the course of talking, Bandy realized that Walker was looking for someone to take over the business. Bandy apprenticed with Walker for a year, getting all the necessary certification, licenses and zoning for constructing and operating a crematorium on her property. When Bandy purchased the business in 2018, the retiring Walker asked her to change the name. Buddy was, after all, her pet.
“I named it Sienna Sky after the pink, gold, orange sunset, a time of closure,” Bandy says. “So new owner, new name, new location but the same service” — one that drew Walker’s large clientele that extended beyond New York state.
But Sienna Sky is only half the story. A portion of its proceeds go to Bandy’s other enterprise, The Lily Pond, an 80-acre nonprofit animal sanctuary that provides a lifetime home for 39 special needs horses, dogs, cats and parrots that cannot be adopted. These include blind dogs, diabetic cats and horses that can no longer be ridden, victims of cruelty and hospice cases. Bandy is working to become an equine assisted learning coach to facilitate nonriding interactions between horse and student.
“A lot of the horses here have so much to offer,” Bandy says. “They’re wonderful.”
Bandy is also studying to be a certified grief coach and offers loss of pet workshops.
Grief is an intense, individual experience that takes time. But one thing that can help the journey is the knowledge that we honor the dead by serving the living. Those who have experienced loss and come to Sienna Sky are helping to support the animals of The Lily Pond — Bandy’s 39 pets, as she calls them — “and that makes this place unique.”
For more, visit siennaskypetaftercare.com and lilypondsanctuary.org.