Wendy and Bob Sutton's story is similar to that of many pet owners. Eager to expand their family, the couple welcomed four animals into their home, caring daily for their needs and planning for every eventuality like vet visits, boarding and so on. However, when Lulu, one of the family's dogs, died unexpectedly overnight at home in 2018, Wendy Sutton said they were blindsided and had no idea how to proceed.
"I just knew that I wanted her cremated and to have her back home, but we hadn't done any planning or preplanning," she said. "… We ended up sending her to a place over in Royal Oak, and we're in Livonia, and Bob got to thinking afterward, 'Jeez, we had to go 30, 40 miles to find a place that got good enough reviews and feedback that we felt comfortable with taking her there. So, maybe there's an opportunity here on the west side for our market.'"
That's when the couple familiarized themselves with Pet Passages, a pet end-of-life service company based out of Rochester, New York, that primarily offers pet cremations. The couple reached out to Mike Harris, the company's founder, to get a sense of the requirements for starting their own franchise. It was a perfect match, and a after a year of startup, in April of 2019 the Suttons opened their own Livonia location.
"We're the only one in Michigan as of right now, and the reason we really liked Mike's business plan and his operation is he spent his career in the human funeral side. And when he lost his dog, the lightbulb went off for him and he left the human side and put all of his time and effort for the pet side," Wendy Sutton said. "So, we're learning from somebody that has spent their life in funeral services for both humans and pets. It's been extremely beneficial for us. And we have found that since we opened, if you go onto Google and look at our reviews, we're doing exactly what we set out to do and that is offer a very personalized service that is fully transparent and just a little bit more than taking your pet somewhere and dropping them off to be cremated."
Pet Passages specializes in pet cremation services that vary in cost by the animal's weight and vary depending on the wants and needs of the pet's owner. At the higher end, for animals weighing between 110 and 220 pounds, cremation costs $270 and at the lowest it's $65. Beyond that, pet owners can decide whether they'd like to do a fully private cremation, to ensure that their pets' remains are the ones they will receive, or a communal cremation, if they choose not to keep their pet's ashes.
"With any of our packages, the semi-private and private, our customers all receive as part of the cremation service an ink paw print and an embedded paw print. We've even started doing nose prints, which pet owners have been really, really liking. And they all get an engraved cherrywood urn and the cremains go into a velvet pouch, which then goes into that urn," she said. "We have lots of other retail options available — they can upgrade urns, we have a whole retail section both in our shop and online. If somebody wants something special, we do necklaces and keychains and different types of brass urns."
Sutton went on to say that for those pet owners who are interested in alleviating end-of-life stress, Pet Passages also offers a preplanning online form that allows customers to create a comprehensive plan to prepare for the eventuality at any point in their pet's life. Owners are also encouraged to take part in Pet Tales, or Pet Passages' in-house obituary service to let friends and family know of a pet's passing.
Beyond offering a variety of post-life care options, the Suttons pride themselves on the inclusivity of their services, too. Wendy Sutton said that as a service provider, she's glad to be able to provide a non-judgmental service to anyone, and that includes the LGBTQ community.
"To us, you're a pet parent first," she said. "Our business model is to provide personalized services to pet parents and we also recognize that the LGBTQ community may not always be getting married, may not be having children — their fur babies are their children. So, we really want to go out of our way for people like that, and even if it's somebody who isn't in that community and says, 'I don't want kids, I just want to have animals.' Those are their babies and we want to offer services that say to them, 'We are inclusive.'"
To find out more about Pet Passages and the Livonia location visit petpassages.com.