KIMBERLY • Some animals come into people’s lives as pets but leave as family members.
For Stephanie Van Diest of Kimberly, her dog Bruno wasn’t just a family member, he was her soul pet.
“It was his job to always be next to me,” Van Diest said.
Whenever Van Diest was sick in bed, Bruno was at the foot of the bed. If she was in her sewing room, Bruno was under the table.
So when Bruno suddenly died Jan. 7, 2007, after eating tainted dog food that killed dogs across the U.S., Van Diest was devastated and grieved for a long time.
“He was just so wonderful, he was special. I miss him,” Van Diest said.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recently released its U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, which showed that Idaho ranks ninth for pet ownership with 62 percent of households owning a pet.
Van Diest always jokes that her family didn’t adopt Bruno, he adopted them.
Fifteen years ago, Van Diest was waiting for her daughter’s bus to arrive and saw boys kicking at a springer spaniel puppy.
“I yelled at them, ‘Don’t kick him,’” Van Diest said.
The boys told her it wasn’t their dog and they were trying to shoo it away. When the bus arrived and Van Diest’s daughter got into the car, the puppy jumped into her lap. Bruno has been a member of the family since.
Bruno still joins Van Diest when she works at her sewing machine. Memorialized in a quilt, he sits in a blue chair.
The quilt of Bruno won Curator’s Choice and was a part of the 2010 Hoffman Challenge, a traveling quilt show that tours the
Bruno’s ashes are kept in a wooden box. When Van Diest dies, she said, she’ll be cremated too, and she and Bruno will be scattered together in the South Hills.
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So what does one do to remember a dog, cat, bird or fish after it dies?
Ruth Pierce of Twin Falls said her son was a little boy when his goldfish died more than 15 years ago. Her son is now in graduate school, but it’s an event that Pierce remembers, and smiles.
“It was really cute. He had a funeral over the toilet,” Pierce said. “I never prayed over a toilet before. It was a first.”
Pierce said her son told the goldfish that if it came back to life, to please come back to him.
“People’s pets are really family members. There is a strong human-animal bond, especially for baby boomers, people who are my age and their kids are out of the house,” said David Clark, veterinarian and owner of Kimberly Veterinary Hospital.
Clark often gets to know his four-legged patients very well. When they die it’s hard.
“We see dogs start as little puppies and see them through their life span,” Clark said. “The worst part of our job is euthanizing animals, but it’s part of the job; it reduces suffering so they can go with dignity.”
He often sends a letter of sympathy or flowers to families after a pet has died.
Sheri Wills of Twin Falls said that when her dogs Katie and Tiger died she had them cremated, a service she didn’t know existed until her veterinarian told her about it. Wills spread their ashes in the yard where every year a row of lilacs blooms.
Clark’s best bud was a little wiener/dachshund named Mitzi who is buried, with other pets his family has had over the years, in a pet cemetery on his property.
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People who don’t have land to bury their pets have the option of burying them at the Magic Valley Pet Memorial Cemetery run by Bill and Jan Peters.
The cemetery was started in 1996 after Bill’s dog became sick and had to be euthanized. Jan said the veterinarian told the couple he would take the dog’s body but didn’t divulge more. After some prying, Jan said, he finally admitted he would take it to the dump.
Jan said Bill told the veterinarian his dog was worth more and took him home to bury him.
“I can’t be the only one who feels this way for my dog,” Jan recalled her husband saying.
Today the couple allows people to bury their pets on 2 1/2 acres of their property in south Twin Falls. Jan said there are around 100 dogs, cats, horses and even a gecko buried at the cemetery.
The burial charge is based on the animal’s size: $35 for a small dog or a cat; $45 to $55 for a medium dog; $65 to $85 for a large dog; $100 for an extra large dog; and $250 for a horse.
On Jan. 14, Jan took a walk out to the cemetery surrounded by a white fence. People can come anytime to visit their animals’ graves. Jan has four horses — Classy, Blush, Kizzy and Rocky — buried here, too.
“We treat the animals as though they were our own,” Jan said as she pulled a few weeds near a headstone covered partially in snow.
Some graves are decorated with plastic flowers, faded by the elements, while others are covered in old dog houses. One blue doghouse has the name “Rocky” stenciled on the front with white paint. Rocky’s owners left him messages written in white: “I’ll never forget you, Rocky. Miss you lots.”
Jan said she and her husband keep the cemetery open as a service to Magic Valley pet owners.
“I look at them as somebody else’s family, and we feel obligated to keep it going,” Jan said.
The Peterses aren’t the only ones who feel a sense of duty.
Their dog, Dakota, lies on the ground in the cemetery for hours after someone’s pet is buried.