It's never easy to say goodbye to an old friend
Two years ago, Peggy Li's 11-year old Golden Retriever Coco started to show signs of ageing. 'It was a gradual decline but for the last six to nine months it got worse and worse. Coco couldn't control his muscles in his feet and couldn't walk,' Li says. 'He started crying and screaming in pain all the time, and eventually he didn't recognise who we were.'
During Coco's physical decline Li started preparing for the inevitable. She visited numerous pet funeral and cremation parlours to find out the services they offered. In the end, she didn't choose any of the companies she visited, and instead decided to open her own pet funeral business, Hong Kong Pet Memorial (HKPM), in Cheung Sha Wan.
Established last December, HKPM caters to a whole range of pets: from birds, turtles, dogs and cats, to hamsters and even chameleons.
As with many specialist funeral companies in Hong Kong, HKPM will pick up the pet's remains from your home or veterinary clinic, then sterilise and freeze the body until it's time for the funeral. Then there is a private cremation that you can witness. Finally, the ashes are placed in an urn and given to the owner.
'For many people it's their companion, friend or relative,' says Li, who also owns six dogs, including a Schnauzer, Poodle and a Chihuahua.
'After it has gone, [the owner] may have regrets about not being as good to it as possible during its life, so having a funeral helps the grieving process. I think it's very important for the owner; hopefully they will let the pet go [emotionally] and feel at peace.'
At HKPM, owners can choose between two viewing rooms to say their last goodbyes. Director Iris Chan says depending on the family size, sometimes there are two people in attendance, while at other times there are nine to 10 people paying their respects during the half-hour memorial service.
After the cremation, owners can take the ashes home or store them in the memorial hall.
The cost of the funeral and private cremation service, says Chan, starts from HK$600 for a hamster, while a large dog can cost around HK$3,000 to HK$4,000. Storage for the urn at HKPM is an additional cost, ranging from approximately HK$600 to HK$2,000.
For an everlasting memento of your beloved pet, many funeral companies offer DNA necklaces. Chan says ash and hair are placed inside the necklace so 'you are always around your pet'.
Pet funerals have become increasingly common over the past decade, says Paul Shum of Professional Pets Funeral Service (PPFS) in Fanling. He says: 'It's a way to show respect, for both the pet and the owner. It's also a way to heal a wounded heart. To be practical, we provide a service to handle the pet's body, so the owner doesn't have to be bothered in such a difficult situation.'
For those who are unable to attend, owners can download a video of the funeral process through the company's website or request a VCD.
PPFS also offers a Pet Biography section on its website where owners can share memories.
As for Coco, he passed away in August at the age of 13. 'I'm okay really,' Li says. 'As soon as the cremation was done, I could almost see him running freely on some beautiful grass. I know that he's in heaven now. I miss him and no other pet can replace him, but at least he's no longer in pain.'