Longtime local funeral directors have branched out into a new but related field: pet cremation.

Bob and Karen Atkins of Atkins-Northland Funeral Home and Crematory in Cloquet have more than 30 years experience each as funeral directors. As the business grew over the years, the Atkins decided it was time to expand. The couple said they believe it is important to serve the needs of the entire family, including the four-legged variety.

"We wanted to retain custody of the bodies that had been entrusted to us," Karen said. "We wanted to put in a human crematory. It was becoming cost-effective for us with the number of cremations and rise in cremations."

They perform an average of 160 funerals a year and had to send more bodies out for the cremation service each year.

The Cloquet City Council was not excited about the expansion idea in Cloquet.

Scanlon, however, welcomed them.

"They were wonderful," Karen said. "We never had an issue with them. They were happy to have us."

After purchasing an empty building at 1011 Scanlon Way, the Atkins gutted part of the building and remodeled. They added two large crematory retorts (chambers), one for humans and another for animals.

They named the business Fur-Ever Loved Pet Cremation Services.

Pet lovers responded. Bob estimates they have already served 150 pet families since they opened in May.

The animal unit holds up to 300 pounds, so no livestock like horses or llamas. Dogs make up the largest part of their customer base, but the Atkins have also had cats and a pet rabbit.

Heartbroken pet owners are willing to travel to have their pets cremated. They have come from northern Minnesota, Superior and the Lake Nebagamon area in Wisconsin as well.

The Atkins are also huge pet lovers and have chosen to have their own pets cremated after they cross the rainbow bridge.

Several years ago they unsuccessfully searched for a pet crematory service in the area before making the several hour drive to the Twin Cities area.

They always waited for the cremation process to get their pets ashes back each time before leaving.

The Atkins understand the importance of the bond between people and their pets. They offer a quiet area for owners to spend a few final minutes saying goodbye to their pets.

"We wanted to make this very welcoming. People bring their pets and put them on the couch and hold it, then they tell us when they are ready," Bob said. "We had one family who waited the entire time, which is why we have the living room. We had another person who came from Grand Rapids. They drove around town until they could pick it up."

Bob stressed that humans and animals can't be cremated in the same cremation unit.

"We can cremate them at the same time in different units," Bob clarified. "I have offered that I would cremate the human in one and the pet in the other at the same time if that's what they want. With the family's permission, we can commingle the remains after the cremation. I just cannot cremate them together."

The Atkins know what it is like to want to have the beloved pet remains back as soon as possible.

"Our goal is to get the pet back to the owner as soon as possible and avoid the freezer situation," Bob said.

He explained it is common practice for veterinary clinics to place animals in a large freezer at the clinic until a cremation service arrives to take the pets back to their crematory.

The pets are cremated individually and each one is documented. If a family does not want the remains back, the animals are cremated with others whose families do not want the remains back. That process is called a communal cremation.

"If they pay for a private cremation, they get a private cremation," Bob said.

The couple has contacted local veterinary clinics to notify them of the new service available.

Cloquet Animal Hospital has begun calling Atkins when a pet has died.

"They call us and we go right away, just like a human," Bob said. "For the Duluth vets, we go Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Our goal is to go every day. We are getting the cremations done the same night or the next day."

The Atkins do not contract to have a vet euthanize pets at the crematory; they want that service to stay at the clinics.

"I do not want any part of that," Karen said emphatically.

The Atkins have added two employees to help keep up with the fast-growing pet cremation business.

Besides picking up bodies from veterinary clinics, they also pick them up from pet owners' homes.

They offer a selection of urns for sale and are working on offering pet caskets in the future. They noted there is not a pet cemetery in the area at this time.

Prices range from $125-$150, depending on the size of the animal.

For more information about Fur-Ever Loved Pet Cremation Services, call 218-879-0133 or visit fureverlovedpetcremation.com.