Standing in a garage, Jane Heckrotte feels the heat escaping through the rolled up door. Her focus on the task at hand.
A deafening grinding comes from the commercial sized blender in the corner of the white room. When it stops, you see the sharp contrast of the cold machine and the woman who picks up the lid and gently, using a paint brush, ushers the ashes back into the can. Then she transferred the contents into a small, slender white box, the size of a cup.
Heckrotte meticulously sweeps every particle into the tiny box, "every time you turn the blade you get more and more and I'd like the family to get all of them back."
This time it was a cat, whose name Heckrotte didn't think fair to share, concerned for the family.
She's an animal lover who didn't think 14 years ago, she'd be in the pet cremation business. That was when her own two dogs, Sunshine and Stoneybear, passed away at the same time.
Heckrotte was grief-stricken and when she went to the vet, they told her, "most of the vets in Maryland use a company in Pennsylvania, they pick up the mass cremations, the private cremations all at one time."
She trusted her vet, like most pet owners, but found out she just missed the company's pick up and her two babies would have to sit in a freezer for a couple weeks.
She was horrified, as she recounted the experience, tears sprung into her eyes, repeating as she wiped them away, "it's hard... it's hard."
Heckrotte had a friend of the family in the cremation business who connected her with a local pet crematorium and she got her pups back that day in urns.
Still, she couldn't shake the uneasy feeling about the business in Pennsylvania.
"You're not witnessing it, you're not saying hey why is it taking two or three weeks? I personally needed to know where my pet was," Heckrotte said, "it bothered me for two years."
in 2005, she opened Best Friend Pet Cremation, to help other pet lovers facing the same loss.
One of her customers, Maria Jackson, came to Heckrotte when she lost her hound dog, Maggie, "I couldn't imagine sending a loved one to a general cremation or a mass cremation."
Jackson knew before Maggie passed, she was nearing the end, and started researching, and through friends found Heckrotte.
Vets use cheaper mass cremation services for owners who don't want their pets' remains back. It's a cheaper service for owners as well as the vet.
Owners can pay extra to have a private cremation, but Heckrotte and Jackson were concerned about what happens at a company they weren't able to tour, or see if their pet was truly cremated privately.
Heckrotte's business specializes in private cremations, and urges other pet owners to be vigilant.
"I think it's important because we're so attached, it's that unconditional love that we get from our pets," Heckrotte said.
The only oversight required for pet crematoriums is under the Environmental Protection Agency. Those regulations focus mainly on cleanliness and how waste is dealt with.
There are accreditation organizations, like the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories.
They started back in 1971, making it the oldest business of it's kind. They ensure pet crematories hold up to their standards, such as tagging your pet through the process to ensure the pet is cremated separately and put in the correct urn.
"You do everything for a pet that you would do for a child, or a parent or a spouse, so it just makes perfect sense that you would want their end to be as beautiful and peaceful and loving, and it's just respectful, it's out of respect," Jackson said.
Both the IAOPC and Heckrotte warn pet owners, ask these questions:
- Can I tour the facility?
- How long will the process take?
- Can I wait in a waiting area for my pet?
- Do you tag the pets?
Heckrotte will continue personally working to help pet owners through their grieving process, and ensure their furry friend is taken care of.