July 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Families dealing with the loss of a pet now have a helping hand—or paw or two—to turn to, in the form of Paws To Angels, the only full-service pet loss center in Nebraska.

Owner Cherie Fry started Paws to Angels after the death of her dog, Chadz. Fry considered herself a “pet parent,” to Chadz, and was shocked to hear what traditional pet death care consisted of—deceased pets are put into garbage bags and kept in a freezer until a garbage truck comes around.

“Two weeks later, [after Chadz’s death] I began my business plan. I made a vow to change the way things are for pet parents—to provide them a more respectful, dignified aftercare with a personalized touch,” Fry says.

Fry turned to other pet owners in the community, and found a coalition of pet lovers who were as eager as her to see a change in animal death care. With no centers in Nebraska that dealt with pet loss, Fry found herself on the forefront of a new movement in pet care.

“They [pet owners] want pets treated more like family. And we’re here to do that,” Fry says.

Keeping this community of pet lovers at the core of her business, Fry’s goal is to guide a family through the loss of their pet at their own pace, and make them aware of what options are available in animal death care.

While Paws to Angels specializes in organizing the final arrangements for their customers’ pets, they also offer a variety of services that are free to the public. Fry is on call 24 hours a day, and leads grief support groups for both adults and children.

It’s this personalized care that has gained Fry a loyal following. Sondra Akrin approached Fry around Thanksgiving when her 12-year-old cat, Louie, was diagnosed with renal failure.

Within days of her cat’s diagnosis, Akrin heard about Paws to Angels, and knew she wanted Fry to take care of Louie when he passed. Akrin was in and out of contact with Fry in the weeks leading up to Louie’s death in January, pre-planning for his euthanasia and final arrangements. While Akrin had lost human members of her family, it was her first time losing a close feline member.

“What I wanted to do was to honor the 11 years I had him [Louie]. He was like my kid, and so what was nice about the process was that Cherie was very flexible about, ‘whatever you need, I’m here for you,’” Akrin says.

Linda Hester had a similar experience to Akrin. Hester previously owned three other pets, and she buried them at Tully’s Kennel after they died. But when she put down her 14-year-old cat Cosmo in February, her veterinarian informed her Tully’s no longer did burials.

Grief-stricken, Hester received Fry’s phone number from a veterinary technician. Fry immediately picked Cosmo up from the vet’s office, and met with Hester and her husband. They opted to have a single chapel ceremony with Paws to Angels, before cremating Cosmo. They were able to incorporate some personal mementos into their ceremony, such as Cosmo’s favorite blanket.

In return, Hester has become a firm advocate for Paws to Angels. She even wrote a letter to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, notifying her of Fry’s work. Hester believes that the help she received from Fry after Cosmo’s death helped prepare her for her mother’s death a month later.

“I’d been trying to help do a little bit of stuff for Cherie, paperwork or whatever, and I told her about it [my mother’s death], and she texted me every day to see if I was ok,” says Hester.

For Fry, that’s just another part of her job.  As the sole employee of Paws to Angels (with the exception of her two cats, Garfield and Cleya, who serve as the general manager and  grief counselor respectively), Fry has a lot on her plate, but she just wants to give pet owners the options that she never had.

“I have walked my grave journey, and it is really an honor for me to be here for families,” Fry says.

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