What happens when Fluffy dies?
David Bielski knows where the bodies are buried. “Samantha.” “Bubbles.” “Fluffy.” In fact, the owner-president of Petland Cemetery, Inc. lives on the grounds of the adjoining Fern Hill Cemetery, which has been in the family for three generations. The two cemeteries are situated above the Wishkah River on the north side of Aberdeen.
Bielski’s grandfather, Paul, started working at Fern Hill about 1924 after immigrating from Germany, and eventually acquired ownership. When he died in 1947, his son, Hans, purchased Fern Hill. Seeing a need, he and a monument builder founded Petland in 1973. In the beginning most of Petland’s services were burials-more than 200 in all. But after adding a crematorium, Petland has performed more than 55,000 cremations.
“I dug a lot of those graves and set a lot of those headstones,” Bielski says of Petland and Fern Hill, which consist of one-and-a-half and 125 developed acres, respectively. The work helped pay his way through Washington State University (’70 Comm./Radio-TV). Today he keeps three drivers on the road most of the time covering western Washington and Oregon from Port Angeles to Portland and east to Enumclaw.
Think of companion pets-cats, dogs, snakes, turtles, ferrets, mice, birds. Nine chances out of 10, Bielski has done a cremation or a burial. Three years ago he added horses and calls on equine clinics in western Washington and Oregon. In the spring he travels to Pullman to visit WSU veterinary students, provides pizza, and counsels them on how he deals with clients who may be grieving about a beloved pet that has died or is dying.
“Every one of these kids has compassion,” he says, “but there’s little time in their busy curriculum for them to learn how to advise Mrs. Jones about the aftercare of her cat.” What happens when “Fluffy” dies? What are the owners’ options? How do veterinarians deal with an owner’s emotions?
“They [the students] need to be exposed to that,” Bielski says. “Eighty percent of clients will return to or judge a veterinarian on how well that particular doctor handles the aftercare of their pet.”
There’s a lighter side to Bielski’s work, too.
Eight or nine years ago, he received a phone call on a warm June evening.
“Do you take cats?” the lady asked.
Right then, he says, he knew the conversation was going somewhere.
“I have a 600 pound tiger?”
The call turned out to be “legit.” A Siberian tiger with one of the touring Shrine Circuses had died in Los Angeles. Enroute to a performance in Seattle, the owners spent four days trying to locate a veterinarian to examine the tiger, assure it hadn’t been abused, and provide a death certificate.
Bielski hung up the phone, called a driver, and the two of them made a hasty trip to Seattle.
In February, he received a call from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, another one of his clients. The deceased was a 14-foot, 1,400-pound giraffe.
Bielski took the opportunity to inquire about other residents of the zoo that might someday need his services.
“We’ve got a really old hippo cow. She’s got to be about 6,000 pounds,” the attendant said. “She’s doing fine . . . probably has another four to five years.”
Bielski breathed a sigh of relief.
Aside from such calls, he says, “A lot of the work is the same every day, but different, too. I never really know from day to day what may be coming, and I really enjoy it.”
He’s excited about a new service Petland has introduced. He asks owners for a favorite photograph of their pets, which he has laser engraved on the urn, along with a verse. “It’s a keepsake for clients who want to remember their companion pets in a special way.”