As a veterinarian and pet lover, Rachel Dziuba prizes what she calls "the human-animal bond."
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Starting in May, she will be offering a new service for people whose devotion continues after their animals' deaths. She will open Juneau's first pet crematory.
The 15,000-pound unit will be shipped here from Florida, where it is being built. It will allow for the preservation or disposal of animals' ashes.
Until the crematory opens, grieving Juneau residents have only three options when a pet dies. They can ship the body to Anchorage for cremation, bury it in a backyard, or drop it off at the landfill.
"I didn't care to tell people their pets were going into the landfill," Dziuba said. "The looks on their faces. They were shocked."
Dziuba, 30, runs Bridge Veterinary Services with her husband, Mike Dziuba. A graduate of Ohio State University's veterinary school, she worked with a vet in Fairbanks in 2002 and moved to Juneau a year later after meeting her husband. She specializes in treating horses but is also the clinical director for the Gastineau Humane Society. Much of her work involves driving her portable X-ray to patients.
"I go to them," she said. "We make barn calls."
In her time at the Gastineau Humane Society, Dziuba has proved "user-friendly," Executive Director Chava Lee said. Dziuba "doesn't sugar-coat things" and is able to help pet owners understand what she is talking about, Lee said.
A pet crematory will be useful in Juneau because of the cost of shipping a pet to Anchorage, Lee said. Also, a grieving pet owner has a hard time preparing the body to be shipped. Frozen soil can complicate a backyard burial, and the dump falls short of some people's standards.
"The idea of sending Fluffy to the landfill is really heartbreaking for people," Lee said.
Dziuba expects to locate the unit in Mendenhall Valley. When it opens, she wants to have a ceremony to celebrate the human-animal bond, so people can swap stories about their four-legged children.
The Dziubas have some stories of their own. Their dogs, Quinn and Deik, served as ring-bearers in their wedding six months ago. They were "junior groomsmen," Mike Dziuba said.
Ken Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.