Heavenly Acres: Honoring the Memories of Our Beloved Pets

In Jaci DeArmond, Louisiana Ladies, Soul Rebels Photography by Lola Magazine

My crazy idea to become a funeral director started when I was about 10 years old. My great grandfather passed away and after being at the funeral home in Gladewater, Texas, for his viewing and service, I knew exactly this is what I wanted to do! No one in my family was in the funeral industry. I found a mortuary college in Dallas and when I told my parents my intensions, they asked that I get a job first to make sure it was something I could handle. I called the owner of the funeral home shortly thereafter, and expressed my interest in the business. He said he’d call me to shadow him so I could see what it was like; however, he never called. I chose another option and visited the funeral home attached to the cemetery where his body was laid to rest, and I gave them the same story. The wonderful gentleman I had the privilege of working under for several years told me to come back after school the next day in a dress ready to work. I was so excited and learned so much from Mr. Johnny Strong, Manager of Lakeview Funeral Home, Longview, Texas. I worked the next year completing my funeral director/embalmer apprenticeship, then attended Dallas Institute of Funeral Service. I graduated in 1995, and returned to work at the same funeral home until I moved to Louisiana in 1999. I first worked at Hill Crest Funeral Home, and I managed Boone Funeral Homes and Crematory until 2008. It was during this time period in 2003 that we thought our growing family of four needed a dog. We found Ellie, a black lab, and fell in love with her! Her first round of puppy shots was given by Dr. Daniel Core, Airline Animal Health and Surgery Center in Bossier City. I learned he had a crematory behind his building and used it as a service for families who left their dogs with him instead of burying at their homes. The condition of the crematory needed a major overhaul, and he decided he didn’t want to offer that service anymore. I researched other places in the area that offered the same service and found none. The idea of starting a business that I had a passion for, helping people through one of the most difficult times in their lives, and fulfilling a need in the community was both exciting and scary. I’ll credit my ex-husband with making me jump at this opportunity, and I’ve never looked back. In 2003 we bought three acres of land in Elm Grove and started Heavenly Acres for Pets, a full service pet cemetery and crematory. We bought the veterinarian’s crematory, and had it completely refurbished. I managed two jobs for the next five years and then made the decision to resign from the human industry and go full time into the pet business. I patterned the pet business after the human business because that’s all I knew. Our phones are answered 365 days a year, pets are picked up from homes when they pass away there, we offer both a cemetery and a crematory for families to choose from, as well as many personalized mementos and keepsakes.

Most families we serve choose cremation mainly because they want them back home. Each pet is cremated and processed separately then placed in the urn the chosen by the family. There are many different urns to choose from such as wood, metal, marble, glass, and brass. Most come with a place for engraving so the family can personalize something special for their baby. The pet is then delivered back to their home or the veterinarian’s office.

Burial is an option some families prefer. Every pet is placed inside a polypropylene pet casket that is non-porous and non-biodegradable. Families are given options such as selecting the burial plot or having me handle this, whether to view the pet before burial, having a service, and deciding on the inscription of the marker. I’ve found people have very different feelings about all of this. I’ve learned to listen and try to make recommendations that will be best for them because everyone grieves in their own way at their own time. The cemetery is open for families to come back and visit anytime.

There are many keepsakes and memorials families can choose from as well. The most popular is the clay paw print. The pet’s paw print is cast in clay with its name beside it and then baked to perfection. This is so special because it’s their actual imprint, kept as natural as possible and sometimes a few pieces of hair is even left in the cast. It can be displayed on a wooden stand, a shadowbox to hang on the wall, or as an ornament. I also offer the pet’s paw or nose image from Meadow Hill cast in precious metal or bonze so that the finished product replicates the original print. I wear Ellie’s nose print on a necklace every day and love the closeness and joy it brings to me. Memory Glass is another option where cremated remains are suspended in solid glass sculptures or keepsake jewelry. Each hand-blown piece is unique and there are different colors, sizes, and shapes of glass from which to choose. Keepsake urns are also popular. They are small and hold a portion of the cremated remains in a piece of jewelry or a tiny urn. They also come in various finishes, shapes, and colors. Lastly, creating a one-of-a-kind high quality diamond from the carbon of the cremated remains is also an option through LifeGem.

The second Sunday in September is National Pet Memorial Day and a service honoring all the pets gone before us as well as the ones we have now is offered at 6:00 p.m. annually. We have been doing this over a decade now. Burial families will come and check on their grave, and cremation families also come. Pets, children, and friends are always encouraged. A memorial table is also set up for items like pictures, toys, collars, etc. During this short memorial service, a minister will come and say a few words of encouragement then families are allowed to share their heartfelt stories if they choose. I’ve learned this is such a valuable tool in healing, and all seem to enjoy this time of sharing. It’s a great time to come together and remember all the joy and unconditional love that pets give us.

This year we started making some drastic improvements to the cemetery that should be completed by year end. I’ve envisioned this for many years now and am so excited it’s coming to fruition. Some of the improvements include enclosing the crematory within a building, opening an office building complete with a show room, walkways throughout the cemetery, an arbor, a fountain, benches, fencing, and landscape. There is also a pergola where families can sit under with a brick memorial wall. In the middle of the memorial wall is a Rainbow Bridge mosaic picture my mom, daughter and I made. The bricks are sold as a memorial for a family to inscribe a personalized message in honor of their pet or family member.

God has blessed me in so many areas, and for that I’m grateful. He has allowed me to start and operate a business that I have a passion for and one the community needs. I have plans to build a home at the back of the cemetery grounds within a few years and continue my work as long as I possibly can. Thank you to all the pet parents in the past that have entrusted me with their beloved babies. I promise to always use the highest level of dignity and respect with every pet brought to me. It’s truly amazing the amount of unconditional love they give us during good times and especially through the bad. In all my years of funeral service, I never thought one could grieve more over a pet than a family member, but it’s true. It’s tremendously heart breaking when we have to make the decision for them to cross the Rainbow Bridge…. but just know they are running and playing with no ailments until we cross that bridge ourselves and are reunited.

Written by: Jaci DeArmond