Heavenly Days Animal Crematory offers a personalized touch to pet cremation

By its very nature, the job of running a pet crematory can be a tough, sad endeavor. But it also has its perks, with opportunities to provide hope and happiness. One such perk for Linda Buel, owner of Heavenly Days Animal Crematory outside Frederick, Md., is getting to play pet matchmaker.

Angel dog By Javier Brosch

Angel dog
By Javier Brosch

“There are lots and lots and lots of clients that, let’s say, they have a Russian blue cat,” Buel explains. “Well, I happen to belong to Cat Fanciers of Washington, and I know people who raise Russian blues. So I’ll say, ‘When you’re ready for another one, you call me and I’ll help you find one.’ I can’t tell you how many people call.”

Matching a kitten with an owner is one way Buel helps a client move on from the grief of recently losing a feline, who was no doubt a beloved member of the family. But it’s also a way for Buel to establish a special kind of rapport with her clients, who are essentially an elite breed of pet owner. Clients of Heavenly Days have taken an extra step — and yes, spent extra money — to ensure that the ashes of Fido or Tabby are only the ashes of Fido or Tabby. “We specialize in individual cremations — meaning that the pet is cremated by itself,” Buel says. Your local animal shelter or veterinary hospital might not be able to make the same guarantee. Such an organization might fire up its incinerator to do both individual and group cremations — and the latter is exactly what it sounds like, a group of recently deceased pets cremated together. Any slack in keeping track and keeping separate all those ashes might result in your urn having ashes from both Fido and a few other dogs.

If clients of Heavenly Days are part of an elite breed of pet owners, Buel herself is an elite breed of pet care professional. It’s hard to imagine there are many others out there quite as well versed in so many different facets of the pet care industry as Buel. The Bethesda native was literally raised learning the ins-and-outs of a shelter. Her mother was president of the Humane Society, and she first learned how to operate a crematory working at the Humane Society’s shelter in Waterford, Va. In the years since, Buel has been actively involved with various animal rescue organizations, including the SPCA. And a complementary part of her work at Heavenly Days is regularly providing comfort and counseling to grieving pet owners.

Buel started Heavenly Days in 1979 at the same time she was running the Rockville Pet Hotel, a boarding kennel. After a few years she closed the kennel to focus full time on the cremation business. A few years ago, she moved from Rockville to Urbana, Md., so she could have more space and also install a third incinerator. There aren’t many other animal crematories around. “There’s one now in West Virginia, there’s one in Pennsylvania and I think there’s one over in Beltsville,” she says. Buel works with many of the region’s animal shelters and veterinary hospitals, meaning you won’t even have to go out to the facility if you don’t want or don’t have a car. “We can pick your pet up, for instance, from Friendship Hospital,” she explains. “And then we can make arrangements to get it back” — whether to the hospital, home delivery or even priority mail. They average 60 cremations a week, and every kind of pet imaginable, from the standard dogs and cats to “pocket pets” like hamsters to parrots to even horses. The cost ranges from $40, including a decorative wood urn made in Poland, for a small pet like a bird, to $175 with box for all cats. Dogs start at $175 with box, but the price goes up by weight.

“I treat my clients’ animals the way I would want my animals to be treated,” Buel says. In addition to available urn upgrades, you can have little clips of your pet’s hair saved, or have paw prints made. You can also watch the actual cremation. If you don’t want all of your pet’s ashes, Buel is happy to sprinkle the remainder in the property’s Memorial Garden.

“Unfortunately it’s one of the things you have to think about when your pet starts to get old — what’s going to happen to it,” Buel says. She recommends talking about your options with your veterinarian and find out what company they use. “Or they can call me.”

Heavenly Days Animal Crematory is located at 3051-B Thurston Rd. in Urbana, Md. Call 240-699-0034 or visit heavenlydays.com.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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