POMEROY (AP) — For Scott and Aimee Devereaux, owners of Ashes to Ashes Pet Cremation, the inspiration to open the business and offer their services came from a tragic event in his law enforcement career when he was a deputy with the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department.
He’s now a trooper with the Iowa State Patrol.
“I had a canine unit and my canine got killed,” he said. “I wanted to have him cremated — that’s time sensitive — and we couldn’t find a place.”
After some searching, they were able to locate a hog farmer with an incinerator for Bear’s cremation and while it was certainly practical, it completely lacked the sort of dignity Devereaux wanted for his partner.
The idea grew further when he met Tom Colvin, executive director of the Iowa Animal Rescue League, during an operation where the department had seized a group of horses.
“They had a crematorium inside their building,” he said. “After that I set out to learn about the business.”
Their banker originally didn’t think it was such a good business model.
“We went to talk to the bank about a loan for our startup costs,” he said. “He said ‘absolutely not.’ I asked if I could borrow the same amount of money to buy live cattle and he said ‘absolutely.’”
They financed the startup without the bank.
“We ended up putting it on a credit card,” Aimee Devereaux said. “The interest was actually lower than the bank.”
They began accepting animals in April 2004 after purchasing their first incinerator and securing the needed permits from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The reaction from friends was at first one of, well, mild skepticism.
“They all told us we were nuts,” he said.
“We’ve been late to things because we have to go pick up a deceased horse,” she said. “People go, ‘Really? A dead horse over a wedding?’”
The couple’s business is much more than simply cremation. They, like funeral directors, often end up serving as the steady rock in a sea of chaos for a pet owner who’s just lost an animal. They both recognize losing a pet is a traumatic grief experience.
“We help them decide what their options are,” she said. “A lot of times they’ll call and the phone is silent, but you can hear someone crying. We’re very patient.”
They encourage pet owners, whether it’s a gerbil or a horse, to consider its end of life options before the time actually comes.
“People are not prepared for the loss of their pet,” she said. “It’s not too early to think about end of life plans.”
Depending on the size of the animal and species, there are several options. In addition to cremation, a pet owner also can choose to bury their pet and large animals — though it may not sound very dignified — or they can be rendered or placed in a landfill.
The option that works best will vary with the circumstances of each individual pet owner. Availability of land, costs and personal preference all play a part in those choices.
When a pet owner chooses cremation, the Devereauxs offer a full selection of urns and boxes with a wide selection of engraving and photo options for them.
They have also taken great care to ensure one of their customers’ greatest concerns, getting the right remains back, is taken care of.
“They ask,” she said. “Is my pet the only one in there? Absolutely it is.”
“We label everything,” he said. “That label stays with the pet through the entire process. They’re tagged beginning to end.”
They also have built up an excellent working relationship with local veterinarians.
“We work with every vet’s office in Fort Dodge,” she said.
They also work with vets in Gowrie, Sac City, Spencer, Mallard, Pocahontas and Rolfe. In the case of a vet referred animal, they pick them up and return the remains to the vet or the owner.
For individuals, they also will pick up the deceased pet.
Since opening the business, they have expanded from their first single cremation incinerator to three. The largest can handle up to 3,000 pounds.
While they most commonly handle dogs, cats and horses, they’ve also seen a few exotic animals over the years.
“We’ve had a snake and an iguana,” he said.
“We’ve not done a fish though,” she said. “We’ve had ferrets, guinea pigs and birds though.”
They’ve also enlisted the help of their three children, Sarah, 26, Allison, 16, and Morgan, 14.
Bear, the Devereaux’s canine, is still there, too. He’s resting in a gold urn with his badge and bronzed tooth, both on a chain with a miniature urn that Devereaux would wear on duty.