When I enter the main office of Thistledown Pet Memorial, I am welcomed by the canine ambassadors, Sam and Gideon. Once they have finished their sniffing and tail-wagging, I am greeted by owners Nancy and Colin Graham and Raven Murphy, a client turned consultant. In 1996, the Grahams lost Beau, their eight-year-old Great Pyrenees, to bone cancer. “We walked out of the clinic leaving him there and it just didn’t feel right. I felt like I abandoned him, I felt like I didn’t honour him, I felt like … there was a lot missing,” says Nancy. “Our mind was more focused on just losing him and not on what are we going to do with his remains,” says Colin. Like many pet owners they were not prepared for the loss, the grief or the final arrangements.
Beau’s loss would send the Grahams on a two year fact-finding mission in Canada and the United States to see if there was something out there for bereaved pet owners. “There was nothing for the physical loss, the dignity of the pet’s body, but also for the grieving,” says Nancy. This knowledge led to the creation of Thistledown Pet Memorial in 1998. “It’s a place to honour our pets when they pass. It’s a place to help people prepare for and cope with the loss of a beloved pet. It’s a place where the actual pet owners can be honoured as well,” says Nancy.
The Grahams also learned that their other pets grieved Beau’s loss, too. Their other dog, Rebel, was present when Beau was euthanized and it seemed as if a part of Rebel died along with Beau. But their cat, Phoebe, wasn’t there and she spent the next six months looking for Beau. “When people euthanize their pets either here or at home, we invite them to bring their other pets,” says Murphy.
In 2006, they added a small crematorium to the Thistledown property, allowing the Grahams to offer full services. “We really needed to take the client through every step of the process, from pre-planning and finding out about services right to the end. And we knew that if we had our own crematorium, this would allow the clients to be as involved as they wanted,” says Nancy. Thistledown offers a variety of options for people once their pets pass away. “Most people take the ashes home, some people like to scatter them, but we’ve got indoor walls, outdoor walls, woodland burials and a formal urn burial,” says Colin. They cremate pets of all sizes. The smallest was three hermit crabs. “We took them out of the shells because the children wanted the coloured shells back,” says Nancy. The largest pet was a 235-pound English Bull Mastiff. They have cremated dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, ferrets, lizards, snakes and chinchillas. “They all know how to get into our hearts,” says Colin.
“Often when a pet passes in a young family particularly, it’s the children’s first exposure to death, and how that is handled can have an impact on them for the rest of their lives. And this is something that we really try to help the parents with,” says Colin.
Thistledown is also home to the ashes of two very special patrons, Toronto Police Service Mounted Unit horses Brigadier and Royal Sun. The Grahams hosted a private service for Royal Sun’s funeral in 2012. “We are dedicating the whole quadrant there to service animals,” says Nancy, pointing to the indoor niche-wall.
Learning about the different cultures, religions and beliefs has been a big part of helping their clients. Everyone is different, and Thistledown does what it can to accommodate all types of services. Nancy says, “It’s a case of looking after both the family and the pet and treating both with dignity and respect.”
for more information, visit thistledown.info
or call (905) 852-5648