Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bridging the gap: How to connect with pet lovers in your community

This article originally appeared in the March issue of American Cemetery magazine.

By Linda Darby, Chief Executive Officer of Trigard

As members of the funeral industry, we understand the importance of memorializing our loved ones. This includes our family members, our friends and even our furry and feathered friends. For many of us, our pet is a dinner date, a snuggle buddy, a “wing man,” a friend to exercise and play with and so much more. They love us and depend on us. I believe they deserve the same respect as anyone who has touched our lives.

Do you feel like you’re connected to the pet lovers in your community? You might be thinking to yourself, we have a pet section and brochures talking about our services. What else can we do to reach pet lovers? Just like you’re involved with churches, civic groups and other organizations in your community, you can get involved with the pet community in your area. Doing this gives you the opportunity to build partnerships, host seminars or community events and demonstrate your value and expertise.

Build partnerships
When you think about the pet community, who comes to mind? Pet owners? Veterinarians? Trainers? Animal shelters? Building a relationship with key people in the pet world is your first step in becoming an active member of that community.

Veterinarians are very passionate people, and they care about the animals they serve. But they may not be comfortable talking about the end of an animal’s life. Much like doctors focus on healing, veterinarians focus on ways to help animal’s live healthy lives. So, how do you connect with a vet? The same way you connect with a family. You help veterinarians focus on creating a healthy healing process for the family that is left behind when a beloved pet dies. 

But veterinarians aren’t the only professionals who might be uncomfortable talking about the end of an animal’s life. Reach out to trainers, animal shelter staff and even pet supply store owners. You can start the conversation just as you would if you were talking about memorializing a person’s life. You can connect through stories of happy memories together, and then explain the importance of having a special place to visit and to share those memories.

As you build partnerships in your community, you will begin to position yourself as an expert. Just like a veterinarian might seek the expert opinion of a trainer for tips for a dog’s behavioral issues, you can position yourself as the expert in grief and healthy healing.

Host professional seminars
One way to establish your expertise is to host professional seminars for other pet experts, and offer continuing education credits for veterinarians. As a funeral professional, you know the value of CEUs, especially when seminars are close to home. As long as the presentation is approved by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AASVB) (http://www.aavsb.org/race/), you can offer valuable CEU credits along with your valuable information.

Hold community events
A great way to meet families with pets is to hold special events. When you host events, you can meet and greet community members in a relaxed setting, rather than only when a beloved pet has died.

Dog owners will flock to your cemetery if you host an event like a “mutt strut.” Consider partnering with your local animal shelter. You could have contests, photos, food and pet vendors. You can have animals available for adoption right on site. It would be a great opportunity for you to get to know the pet owners and shelter staff in your community while showcasing your beautiful cemetery grounds.

But, what about the cherished cat lovers? You can host a pretty kitty photo contest on your Facebook page. You can give away cat toys with your logo on them at an adoption shelter. You can make a charitable gift to a no-kill cat shelter. Remember, not all cats like to travel away from their home, so you’ll need to be a little more creative.

Walk the dog
If you are a dog owner, you probably have a set walking route. Wouldn’t it be nice to change your path? Consider encouraging your community to utilize your cemetery grounds for their daily walks. Your cemetery is a beautiful, safe place to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as well as a place of remembrance.

With already established paths and roadways, your cemetery is the perfect place for people to get exercise and walk their dogs. When talking with your local pet community, let them know about your pet-friendly policies. Be sure to establish rules to help your visitors be respectful of your grounds – and clearly post them for all visitors to see. 

Reserve a pet section
With small back yards and apartment living becoming more of a reality, burying pets in the back yard under the oak tree is becoming less and less common. Consider establishing a pet section in your cemetery for the burial of our furry and feathered friends if you don’t already have one. By creating a distinctly marked section, you will give pet families a special place to visit and share memories for years to come.

By building relationships, hosting seminars and community events, establishing exercise routes and creating well-marked sections in your cemetery, your connection with pet lovers in your community will continue to grow.

Linda Darby is Chief Executive Officer for Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona.  Her family has been in the funeral industry for four generations, helping families remember, celebrate and heal. Learn more at www.trigard.com.

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