I had meant to come to this place for almost a year. I made excuses about being too busy but in truth, I was scared. I didn’t want to think about ever needing this place.
As I stood outside, my hand on the door handle, I remembered when I had randomly found this place. Co-owner, Kevin Woronchak, was outside and saw my Dogsafe Canine First Aid logo on my Honda as I saw his sign on the building behind.
“Please come for a tour sometime,” he said after we had chatted for ten minutes or so.
“Absolutely, our companies certainly have planning ahead in common, I’ll definitely schedule a tour soon,” I said. In 2001, I had made a regrettable rush decision for a communal cremation for my previous dog, Dallas – I didn’t want the same for my rottweiler, Monty.
The wheels of a nearby train snapped me from the past. I took in long, slow breaths and exhaled as I opened the door to Until We Meet Again Pet Memorial Centre.
Kyle, a young staff member dressed in casual pants and plaid shirt, greeted me in the front entrance with a smile and gentle handshake.
We walked left into a room the size of a standard bedroom. The sun came through big windows and lit up a round wooden table and four chairs. Dark wood shelving lined two walls and showcased pet remembrance items. Urns of cedar, mahogany and ceramic, priced from $30 to $400. Angel ornaments cradling puppies. Engravable garden stones. Spawts paw impressions. Pendants and rings. Books on grief for purchase and their complimentary booklets, Coping with Loss and Guide to Planning Ahead. A viewing table draped in velvet rested against the pillar in the middle of the room.
As I scanned the options to honour pets, Kyle told me the history. The Woronchak family had lost their cat, Patches, Bichon Poodle cross, Libby, and 11-year old German shepherd, Kayla, all in less than a week. Prior to that time, they had not thought about pet cremation and from those heart-wrenching events, their silver lining was the creation of Until We Meet Again. Now in 2013, Kevin Woronchak manages Until We Meet Again, is a Certified Pet Loss Professional, is a member of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance (PLPA) and is on the PLPA Standards and Ethics Committee, all while being a full-time North Vancouver fire fighter. Joanne Woronchak is also a Certified Pet Loss Professional, is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s peer counselling program and also co-wrote the company’s educational booklets.
“We show people as much as they want to see,” said Kyle, “there is a cremation occurring at this time, but, would you like to see the rest?”
“Yes, please, thank you,” I said.
My chest thumped louder as we walked towards a closed door to the right of the main door. I followed Kyle into a high-ceiling warehouse area. Polished cement floor. A warm-coloured painting on the wall. A small table with a logbook and metal tags. Chairs for resting. And two shiny chrome crematories bigger than pick-up trucks.
I stood still and listened to the deep hum of the crematory. My hand sailed to my chest and rode the waves as I breathed deep. I thought of my Monty. As a police officer, I’d seen death, I’d been to a morgue. But this? This was about my dog.
“Um, phew, this all just got really real,” I said to Kyle, “but, I am glad I’m here, I wanted to do this before I needed too, so I’d know what to expect.”
A few seconds later, my hand returned to my side. With a soft voice, Kyle explained the transportation services (done in caskets), identification of the pet (metal tags and logbook), types of cremations (individual, communal, witnessed) and the final ashes (consisting of bone and packaged with a certificate). He answered all my questions with the right balance of scientific detail and compassion.
I thanked Kyle for the tour and five-minutes later I was home hugging Monty. The peace of mind from doing this tour would be felt three years later.
On January 30, 2013, due to neurological complications related to osteosarcoma, I cradled my rottweiler Monty, on the floor of my veterinarian’s back room, as he peacefully slipped away. Because of pre-planning, I knew where Monty was going next. I knew that he’d be carried out in a casket, still wrapped in his handcrafted blanket. I knew the location of Until We Meet Again and what was behind the closed doors. I knew that a private viewing and witness cremation could be scheduled for the following morning. I didn’t have to discuss this with my veterinarian in a rush. I had already decided. I could simply sit with Monty on the floor, for another forty minutes and allow the grief process to begin.
The next morning, I called and spoke with Eve.
“Hi, um, I had a witness viewing booked for Monty and well, um, I’m not sure I need to do that now,” I said.
“Okay, well, it’s only 9:30 so you still have an hour to decide,” she said, “why don’t you sit with it and let me know later if you like.”
I sat for another half hour. Did I want to go see Monty?
Why was I hesitant?
I was scared again. I didn’t know what to expect. My last vision of him at the veterinarian’s office was good, what would he look like this morning?
“But Monty, I want to be beside you, right to the very end,” I said to his spirit.
I called Eve again and said I’d come as scheduled.
I arrived and without hesitation, I walked in and felt comfort in the familiar surroundings. Eve and Kevin greeted me, and after chatting a few minutes, they left to get Monty.
A few minutes later, the door at the end of the hallway opened and I could see Monty lying on the velvet-covered viewing table. A blanket was draped over his lower body, his abdomen slightly swollen due to gases.
He looked, beautiful.
“He’s a big, handsome boy!” said Eve as they wheeled Monty closer.
I stroked his floppy ears. I ran my hands over his mostly-closed eyes. I dug my hands into his soft neck fur. I squeezed his front paws, and twiddled them back and forth. I caressed that soft, underneath part right above his large metacarpal foot pad, the part I used to kiss and nuzzle. I kissed them now. I nuzzled them now. I couldn't stop squeezing his paws!
“Would you like some privacy with Monty?” asked Kevin.
“Actually, I’m okay, I said my good-byes to Monty yesterday, at 5 o’clock in the morning, before I got to the vet's,” I said. “I know his spirit is already gone, but it still feels really, really good to me to be here with him, right to the very end.”
Kevin and Eve listened as I told them Monty’s story, from adopting him from the Vancouver shelter to his role as Dogsafe’s Chief Demonstration Dog. For half an hour, we shared and laughed. Together.
“Eve, thank you so much for earlier, allowing me reflective time, I am so, so grateful that I came,” I said. “And Kevin, thank you to you and Joanne for creating this lovely space where Monty’s final time can be experienced with love and respect.”
I gave each a hug and kissed Monty’s paws. “Run in Peace, my Monty.”
Two days later, I picked up Monty’s ashes which will rest on my shelf until the right time to be let go.
Dedicated in loving memory to my Monty. July 1, 2002 - January 30, 2013. View his In Celebration of Monty video.
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Photo of Monty by Kate Morris Photography. Photo of Until We Meet Again by Michelle Sevigny
Copyright © 2013 Michelle Sevigny. Please share, permission granted with copyright intact.