Into the Hereafter: Mountain View Pet crematory fills niche in Flathead Valley
January 05, 2013
By DAVE REESE
Tiny wooden boxes and handcrafted pottery urns sit in glass cases at a tiny office on the south side of Kalispell.
For many people, these tiny repositories will become the final resting place for their loved ones. Not relatives, mind you, but pets.
Mountain View Pet Crematory sits in a small blue building behind Ashley Creek Animal Clinic. On one side of the business is a warm, cozy reception area, with urns and cedar boxes on shelves. Walk through an adjoining door and you find the crematory oven — large and imposing, built of brick and steel.
People are often crying or upset when they come to the crematory, but they often leave happy. "This gives people a tremendous sense of closure," co-owner Cindy Owens says.
Owens and Michelle Binstock opened the business in 1995, and it's the only pet crematory in northwest Montana. Binstock was a veterinary technician who for 13 years watched as clients had to take their deceased pets to the landfill, or dug a hole in their back yard to bury little Fido. To her, that was a rather callous way to pay respect to an animal that has been someone's companion for years.
People from all walks of life now choose them as a way to take care of their pets. "We've learned there are a lot of people out there who love their pets ... a lot," Owens said.
Until they started their business in 1995, the county landfill was the only place to dispose of a dead pet, other than burial on private property. Cremation gives people the opportunity to take their pets home, and some people even get buried with the small urns alongside them, they say.
Dealing with the loss of a pet is especially difficult for the elderly, for whom a pet is often their last companion, Binstock added. Many people actually get buried with their pets' urns next to them.
Before starting the business, Owens and Binstock interviewed a local mortician to see what kind of emotional responses they'd be encountering from their customers. "It's been mostly positives," Owens said.
The service is popular among local veterinarians, whose clients may prefer cremation over the landfill. The crematory stays especially busy in winter, when frozen ground makes it difficult for pet burial.
The company has cremated all sorts of pets, from a small pony to birds, pot-bellied pigs and snakes. Customers have the choice of doing a private cremation, in which the ashes are given to the owner, or a communal cremation in which several pets might be done at once and the ashes disposed of en masse on private property. It takes about 3 1/2 hours in the 1,600-degree heat to reduce the animal to ashes. Mountain View charges by the pound for its services, and it costs anywhere from $25 to $125 for a pet cremation.
Most larger urban areas like Spokane and Missoula have at least two pet crematories, and it takes a community of 100,000 to 150,000 people to support one pet such business. With only about 75,000 people in flathead County eight years ago, undertaking this kind of business was a bit of a gamble when they started out. They took out a Small Business Administration loan through Norwest Bank and with a business plan in hand, they were off. Both women maintained their fulltime jobs when they were starting the business, and they still work flexible outside careers, Binstock as a massage therapist and Cindy as a mortgage broker.
"We were just glad to be able to provide the service," Cindy said.
Although people are often upset when they come in to the crematory, when they leave, the healing process of dealing with a deceased pet can begin. "Emotionally this is a very rewarding business," Binstock said.
When people call to have their pets picked up or drop them off to be cremated, Binstock and Owens encounter all kinds of emotions, from the young child who lost their pet kitten to an elderly couple whose Pekingese died.
"We hear a lot of pet stories, look at a lot of peoples' photos, and share a lot of hugs," Binstock said.