Bringing peace of mind to bereaved pet owners on Whidbey

Martha and Gary Wallin operate the only pet cremation business on the island behind their funeral home near Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor.

Tucked behind the regal Wallin Funeral Home and Cremation is another business for the bereaved — but this one is for pets, not people.

Gary and Martha Wallin opened their funeral home five years ago in Oak Harbor near Maple Leaf Cemetery. At the same time, they opened a cremation business, Evergreen Pet Cremation, just for animals.

It’s the only funeral home offering pet cremations on the island.

PEOPLE COME from as far away as Seattle and the San Juan Islands to have dogs, cats, birds and, in one case, a gerbil cremated.

“There’s a huge need for it,” Gary Wallin said. “People treat their animals like family.”

Caring for both people and animals is a sensitive matter.

The Wallins make it clear that animals are handled separately. There’s a cottage-like building at the back of the funeral home with an office. In a clean, sparse room is a crematorium exactly like the one used for people in the main funeral home, except smaller.

The building is set near a rain garden and a bench for reflection.

WALLIN ESTIMATES animal cremations make up about a fifth of total business, and they handle about 250 animals a year. They have contracts with local veterinarians. They also deal directly with pet owners, who sometimes deliver animals. The Wallins will pick up deceased pets too.

The cremated remains can be scattered or placed in a vessel. People can have pet remains placed inside glass or incorporated into jewelry. Cost is based on the weight of the animal.

If pet owners would prefer to bury animals, they can. State law calls for dead animals to be disposed of within 72 hours of death by “burial, landfilling, incineration, composting, rendering or another method approved by the local health officer.”

You may bury a dead pet, but the animals must be covered by at least three feet of soil and at least 100 feet away from water sources or any location that might contaminate ground water, according to state law.

THOUGH THE Wallins want it to be clear pets are handled separately from people, they treat pet owners the same as if they’ve lost a human family member.

“Often the emotions are so strong,” Gary Wallin said. “People get attached to animals; sometimes it’s like a child.”

“It can be a person’s only companionship.”

The crematorium can handle animals up to about 250 pounds. The largest animal they handled was a 252-pound Newfoundland-mastiff mix.

“It looked like a black bear,” Gary Wallin said.

Only a few places in the state handle large animals. These businesses have a large crematorium and cranes to lift animals as big as horses, elephants and rhinos.

THE WALLINS can’t handle large animals, but they connect people with other businesses in the state that do.

Lynette Kessler was so moved by how compassionately the Wallins treated her that she wrote a letter to the editor of the Whidbey News-Times.

Earlier this summer she lost her horse, Garth. The horse got caught between a water trough and a fence at the farm where he was boarded. In the attempt to free him, his intestines were twisted.

A veterinarian put him down.

The horse had been a companion of Kessler’s for two decades. The Oak Harbor woman would take him for rides through the woods and down to the beach.

“He was mischievous but well-behaved under the saddle,” she said. “He was a good horse. But he knew how to open gates and escape. He was always a character.”

She didn’t want to send him to a rendering plant.

“A close friend lost her horse in California and had to send him to the renderer,” she said. “It was a horrible experience for her.”

KESSLER SAID she walked into the funeral home expecting to receive contact information.

“Instead they brought me into a grief room, sat me down, placed phone calls to their contacts and treated me as if I had lost a close ‘human’ family member,” she said.

“I felt very relieved and grateful for their excellent attention.”

The Wallins made not a dime from that interaction.

“They were being good people,” she said.

For the Wallins, that’s just what they do.

“When families have a loss, whether a family member or an animal, that’s a part of the family,” said Martha Wallin.

“Sometimes the loss is poignant. It can be very devastating for folks to lose an animal … I’m glad we could assist.”