Meet the Owners Spending Big on Their Pets—Even After Their Deaths - Kanebridge News
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Meet the Owners Spending Big on Their Pets—Even After Their Deaths

Pet memorialisation is having a post pandemic bump, as owners turn to bone preservation, life-like taxidermy and personalised urns to ease their grief

By SARAH PAYNTER
Sat, Jun 1, 2024 7:00amGrey Clock 7 min

In San Jose, Calif., a preserved Chihuahua skeleton stands on a bed of fur atop an antique library card catalog. A photo of the dog, Shirley, peers down on the living-room display.

Mari Moore, a 45-year-old paralegal, paid around $6,500 to preserve her dog’s bones, a process called bone articulation, after the rescue dog, who was at least 10 years old, died in 2020.

With a new appreciation for the brevity of life, she and her husband, Kirk Moore, 45, started therapy to improve their relationship after Shirley died.

Mari and Kirk Moore remember their dog, Shirley, with a large photo and a display of her preserved bones. PHOTO: HELYNN OSPINA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“When Shirley passed, our whole lives changed. We really realised that we want to appreciate each other,” she said. Now, they visit the shrine almost daily, especially during fights and difficult days. “It reminds me of real, pure, unconditional love, and it makes me want to be better.”

Mourning owners are memorialising their beloved cats and dogs at a rate not seen in over a century, when Victorian-era pet owners frequently taxidermied deceased companions, said the Moores’ taxidermist, Lauren Kane of Precious Creature Taxidermy in Redlands, Calif.

Lifelike taxidermy and bone articulation can cost thousands of dollars. But urns, some made of bronze or inlaid with ornate mother-of-pearl designs, are a more common and accessible choice for people who want to honour their pets and integrate a memorial into the design of their home, said Tim Murphy, executive director and chief executive of the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America. The trade organisation supports professionals in funeral services for humans and, increasingly, for pets, he said.

Artist commissions

In 2023, about 33% of funeral homes offered pet-care services, up from 26% in 2021, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, a professional organisation for funeral-services professionals in Brookfield, Wis.

Demand has heightened since the pandemic, when bonds grew stronger as people spent more time at home with their pets, said Donna Shugart-Bethune, executive director of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories.

While pet urns usually cost $50 to several hundred dollars, customisation can push the expense into the thousands, said Murphy. Sentimental pet owners frequently commission artists to make custom sculptures of bronze, papier-mâché, wood or pottery as vessels for pet ashes, said Coleen Ellis, the executive director of the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care.

“There is not too much of a limit on what people are willing to spend on their pets. I actually find that people are willing to spend more money on their pets than on their human loved ones,” said Nikki Nordeen of Terrybear, a St. Paul, Minn.-based supplier of memorial items to the funeral industry and pet-loss professionals.

While pet urns are usually smaller and less expensive than those designed for humans, Nordeen said some people are choosing personalised, high-end urns that rival or even exceed the cost of traditional human urns, she said. Without customisation, Terrybear’s pet urns retail for about $50 to $400 compared with an average $120 to $800 for traditional urns, said Nordeen.

Bucket and Mr. Pickles

In Manhattan, Ill., a $250 square wooden urn is disguised as a shadow box, showcasing three photos of a cocker spaniel mix named Bucket, her collar and a tag that identified her as blind.

Kate Becker, a 36-year-old critical care nurse practitioner, and her husband, veterinarian Scott Becker, adopted two dogs—Bucket and Mr. Pickles—in 2014. Four years later, she said they built a house with a light-filled guest bedroom where Scott played guitar to decompress after difficult days.

Kate Becker sits with Bucket’s surviving companion Mr. Pickles (right) and her new rescue dog Sola (left). PHOTO: KEVIN SERNA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

But Kate’s life changed when her husband died of cardiac arrest at age 40 in 2020, and Bucket went into kidney failure and had to be put down a year later.

“Scott and I did not have any children, so my dogs 100% got me through,” she said. “Losing Bucket—that was really hard, especially so soon after Scott passed.”

Kate placed Scott’s urn, a box with a sea-like glass exterior, with Bucket’s urn on a dresser in the guest bedroom, with candles and her late husband’s ball cap.

“I’m grateful that Bucket is still part of my home,” said Kate, who said she limits the special items displayed to maintain an uplifting space for meditations, with Mr. Pickles by her side.

Often, mourning pet owners drape a collar over the urn’s neck and arrange the pet’s favourite toys around it. Designers recommend creating photo walls and using shadow boxes to display fur, whiskers, toys and collars. Plants can be placed near urns to represent the continuation of life in a home after a pet’s death, said interior designer Jeannelly Hartsfield of Ivyleaf Interior in Powder Springs, Ga., who has helped clients create memorial displays in their homes.

Scott had a special relationship with Bucket, Kate said. PHOTO: KEVIN SERNA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ruby-Rue

The cedar wood urn of Ruby, an Australian shepherd-labrador, sits on a table next to Lisa Daoust’s living room fireplace, surrounded by a favourite toy squirrel and dried flowers.

In the corner where Ruby liked to nap, Daoust, a 59-year-old retired teacher in Murietta, Calif., hung a roughly $270 photo designed by EverAfter. The Florida-based company says it shines light through crystals created with a pet’s ashes to generate unique images.

The urn, with a “Ruby-Rue” nickname nameplate by Furever Loved in Lake Elsinore, Calif., was included with the cremation, which cost about $200, she said. Depending on a pet’s size and services included, owners usually pay several hundred dollars for cremation, a fraction of the cost of human cremation.

Daoust rescued Ruby in 2002, two years before she married her husband, retired Department of Defense firefighter Jason Daoust, 51. Ruby saw Daoust through the death of her brother in January 2022 before dying in March 2022, several months before Daoust’s mother-in-law passed away. The combined grief was devastating. But finding ways to honour loved ones has helped her process her loss, she said, adding that she also has memorials for her mother-in-law and brother in her home.

“Our relationships with family and friends are so much deeper now. We don’t criticise, and we don’t judge so easily. Because in a snap, life could be gone,” said Daoust.

People frequently place pet urns in living rooms on shelves or fireplace mantels, where owners can process their pet’s passing by talking about their companion with visitors. Or, owners sometimes place them in the pet’s favourite place to spend time, whether that be in a garden or in a sun puddle in a home office, said Ellis.

The Moores prominently feature mementos in their living room. PHOTO: HELYNN OSPINA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Though interior designers and Feng Shui practitioners generally advise that people keep bedrooms a place to focus on rest, some keep ashes in their bedrooms when their loss is fresh, said Laura Cerrano, founder of Feng Shui Manhattan, a New York City-based consulting firm.

Vivianne Villanueva Dhupa, the former owner of a pet crematory and a pet hospice facility in the San Diego area, says she encourages people to place a memento where they would expect to see their pet.

Mari Moore keeps sentimental objects, like this food bowl, to remind her of her dogs. PHOTO: HELYNN OSPINA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“It helps with the grieving to have something to focus on, because it leaves such a void, physically and emotionally,” she said.

Dhupa has three urns in her own living room. The shelves hold a roughly $125 black ceramic urn for her black cat who died several years ago and a $395 poodle-shaped ceramic urn figurine for a poodle-mix dog who died in September. On a coffee table is a $260 white heart-shaped urn with a decorative gold heart for a Brussels griffon who died in December. She also has several stones etched with her pets’ names in the garden where her dogs liked to play, she said.

Lifelike sculptures

One highly customised urn sits on top of a piano in a Houston living room. The ceramic, 3D-printed sculpture of a dog in a claw-footed tub peers up with timid eyes amid family photos and snapshots of the collie named Darby.

Lauren Shafer, a 40-year-old marketing manager at Lone Star College-Houston North, and her husband James Shafer, a 48-year-old bass player, rescued Darby around 2010. Darby, a quiet dog that tended toward anxiety, jumped into the empty bathtub for safety whenever uncertainty came his way. When Darby died in 2015, they spent about $1,200 for the custom 3D-printed urn by Foreverence, a custom urn design and manufacturing business in the Minneapolis area.

“Splurging on a custom-designed urn is, I’m sure, not something that everybody can do, but it sure helped me to get through it a little bit easier,” said Lauren.

Urn makers add pets’ names, dates, nicknames, poems and other sentiments, which usually costs about $25 depending on the design, said Chris Christian, co-owner of Christian-Sells Funeral Home in Rogersville, Tenn. Unique custom artwork, such as pet-shaped sculptures created by hand or 3D-printed, can cost several thousand dollars.

“People want an urn or memorial item that is representative of how they viewed their pet,” said Nordeen. For her two fluffy, white Samoyeds, she chose urns with a white shimmery finish and paw prints around the sides. It’s a design that typically costs around $180 apiece, plus an additional $120 to be etched with their names, nicknames and the years they were born and died, she said.

Saying goodbye

For Mari Moore, the process is beginning all over again: In January 2024, her other Chihuahua, Laverne, died. But Mari said that this time she is hopeful about her future as an “empty-nester” as she takes on new challenges and carves out new parts of her identity beyond being a “pet mom.” She celebrated Laverne’s life with about 100 friends by hosting a fundraiser with taco and churro trucks for the City of San José Animal Care & Services centre.

The skeleton tribute seemed an appropriate way to remember Shirley because the rescue dog with numerous health issues lost much of her hair by the end of her life, said Mari. But Laverne will be fully taxidermied, positioned as if she is sleeping on a bed. The process will take about two years and will cost over $10,000, but Mari said that for her, it’s worth it to honour her pets.

“Everybody who comes over says, ‘Wow. This is beautiful,’” she said. “I really feel like we did a good job honouring them.”



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”