A final resting place for animal friends

SUN PHOTOS BY TOM CHANG Don Linder, superintendent of Gulf Pines Memorial Park, places the cremains of owner Mike Uselton’s dog, Hunter Beau, in the columbarium at the park’s companion meadows.

ENGLEWOOD — Mike Uselton, owner of Kays-Ponger and Uselton Funeral Homes and Cremation Services, can rest easy knowing he can visit his late dog, Hunter Beau, in Gulf Pines Memorial Park’s Companion Meadows, where owners can give their pet’s cremains a final resting place.

Uselton had the dog’s cremains placed inside the columbarium of the meadows Tuesday.

“We’ve operated companion meadows for a year and a half,” Uselton said. “This is unique since it’s not your typical pet cemetery.”

Companion Meadows is a half-acre plot within Gulf Pines Memorial Cemetery where not only can owners lay their pet’s cremains, but they can personally share the space for their own cremains when the owner dies.

“In each niche, you’re allowed three placements — any combination of one person and up to two pets or three pets,” Uselton said. “It’s a unique garden. Don’t know if there’s anything else like it.”

Uselton said despite law changes in the last 10 years, most cemeteries still won’t allow animal cremains to be placed with their human counterparts.

The sister of the late Stella Williamson, who died 2011, discovered the cremains of Stella’s seven Shih Tzus in urns when she started clearing her sister’s possessions. The cremains now reside at Gulf Pines Memorial Park companian meadows with the marker “Stella’s Snoopy and Friends.”

“We have about 13 pets interred here,” said Dee Roberts, director of Pet Passings at the cemetery. “It’s mostly dogs and cats. Most take remains with them.”

Pet Passings serviced over 3,000 pet families.

Roberts said Pet Passings offers customers an economic-friendly preneeds program option where they can pay for services in advance based on the current market price. The price is fixed at the time of order.

Urns typically are smaller for pets.

“A lot of places cremate by the pound and the size,” Roberts said. “We don’t. We cremate by packages. We go anywhere with a dog from $150 to $275, a cat $85 to $250. Exotics are going to be less if it’s a lizard. We’ve even done goldfish before. Funny thing about it is that when we do the dogs and the cats, we do a footprint of the people before they’re cremated. We spread the fish’s tail out to a fan.”

Roberts said the rainbow bridge room at the Punta Gorda chapel allows owners to have memorial services for their pets.

“We’ve done snakes, hamsters, birds, goats, bearded dragon, turtles and other animals in addition to dogs and cats,” Uselton said. “The general public doesn’t understand the value of the pet as a member of the family and what something like this means to them. The pet in many cases is the last connection to a (departed) spouse. It’s especially hard on senior citizens.”

Gulf Pines Memorial Park is located on 2401 Englewood Road in Englewood. For more information, go to kays-ponger.com/passages.html or call 941-474-2413.

Robert Leahy, who died from cancer in 2012, was the first to volunteer to have his cremains put with his dogs, Brandy and Jessie, for Gulf Pines Memorial Park’s companion meadows. The park is located on 2401 Englewood Road in Englewood.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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