We are celebrating 25 years of helping grieving animal lovers – despite vets saying the idea would never catch on.
In 1992, Barry Spurgeon and his wife Carole made a life changing decision to follow their gut feeling and start Dignity Pet Crematorium.
“They did so after watching a documentary that showed how, following their death, family pets were bagged and frozen for up to a week at veterinary practices before being piled into vans like rubbish alongside clinical waste,” said their son Kevin, who is now a partner in the business.
“Both my parents had grown up alongside family pets and were very much animal lovers.
“They felt there would be other people like them who would want a more respectful send-off than the simple weekly man in a van service and so decided to start Dignity in the grounds of our family home in Winchfield.”
Kevin said at first there were plenty of doubters, including the vets: “Just the other week I spoke to a lady who came to us with her much-loved cat,” he said.
“She recounted how, as a Saturday girl at a local vets 25 years ago, some of the staff would make fun of the fact that my father would walk into the practice and carefully lay out the pet he was collecting in a bed before quietly carrying them to his Volvo estate that he had converted into a pet hearse.
“That lady is now a qualified vet who always remembered the respect that was showed by Barry and now follows his example when having to put clients pets to sleep.”
Kevin, who is now the director of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria, added: “Through passion, self belief and often sheer bloody mindedness, Barry and Carole ignored the doubters and continued on.
“At the time vets wanted them to also carry out disposal work but they stuck to their principals and Dignity became one of the first specialist pet crematoriums dedicated to looking after each pet on their own.
“They did their research and visited human crematoria – looking at the things that worked well and bringing in ideas of their own to create a personal pet funeral service.”
A pet crematory was installed in a Victorian brick kiln in the grounds early in 1992, after it had been restored with the help of Hampshire County Council.
At first Barry juggled his other profession as a ladies fashion agent with being a pet undertaker leaving wife Carole to run the fledgling service by herself.
“I remember him returning home once to find that she had taken in and cremated both a Great Dane and an Irish wolfhound by herself,” recalls Kevin. “No mean feat when you think they weigh the same as most people.”
Gradually the word spread and more people started asking for Dignity: “As they got busier my sister and my niece began helping them,” said Kevin.
“I left my job as a housing manager to help steer things in the right direction and we replaced their garage with a purpose-built pet crematorium. Ten years on from that we opened our new extension that included a memorial walkway linking the main building with the brick kiln.
“At the same time we became the first pet crematorium to get planning permission to lay to rest human ashes alongside those of their pets and today both my parents remains rest in the gardens of the place they called home.”
Dignity now serves Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire and the surrounding areas and is one of the only independent pet crematoriums left in the south.
Over the years it has won many titles, including Best Pet Crematorium at the Cemetery of the Year awards, while Kevin has received an honorary fellowship from the University of Winchester for his work.
“We have looked after pets of all shapes and sizes – from dogs and cats to pet swans, chickens, fish, snails, tortoises and even a regimental goat,” said Kevin.
“We are indebted to the loyal veterinary staff and clients who we have helped over the years. It is why we are still going strong today.
“I am immensely grateful for the support of the amazing team that I believe help make Dignity the best pet crematorium in the country.”
Original article can be found at www.getsurrey.co.uk.