Rolling Acres Memorial Gardens begins its 40th year in the Northland with a new Pet Memorial Center.
Replacing long-standing office space fashioned from an old dairy barn is a modern 11,000-square-foot facility.
The barn was torn down in December 2011 and in its place is “a calming sanctuary for pet owners to find support for their loss,’” Chuck Stewart of Westwood said about the center built on the grounds of the 13-acre cemetery in rural Platte County.
Stewart is one of the first pet owners to use the new center. In June, he commemorated the life of his fourth cat with a funeral service in the chapel before burial.
“Rolling Acres has created a setting that allows me to provide the final honor and gives me the peace of mind that their remains will be perpetually honored,” Stewart said.
Some 5,000 pets are buried on the grounds, including parakeets, rabbits, hamsters, horses, pot-bellied pigs and a pet steer. The cemetery was established in 1973 and Nancy Piper bought the property in 1978.
In addition to a new chapel, the center also houses offices for Piper and her husband and the dogs and cats that accompany them to work every day. There are also five work stations for employees, a computer room, a warehouse and a bathing area where bodies are prepared for burial.
The cosmetic preparation of pets bodies for visitation is “one of the most rewarding parts of my job,” Piper said. “It gives a family the best final memory of their pet.”
A bigger building allowed the Pipers to accommodate pet owners more comfortably in a witnessing room featuring a window with a view of a crematory, three arrangements rooms, showrooms with caskets, urns and markers and space for other services.
Rolling Acres employs five crematory operators who are certified to use the four pet crematories. New this year is a horse crematory capable of handling animals up to 1,800 pounds in “a dignified and respectful manner,’” Piper said.
Piper is ordained by Universal Ministries and officiates at pet burials and memorial services. She is also a grief recovery specialist and facilitates regular monthly meetings of a Pet Grief Recovery Group. Pet owners meet in a room adjoining the chapel.
Meeting room windows look out onto the pastoral hillside, and during a recent meeting, Karen Stoner of Kansas City, North, recalled watching the sun set over the Prairie View Garden on the west side of the grounds and feeling a sense of serenity.
“The new facility adds more beauty and peace to the entire cemetery,” Stoner said.
Stoner has buried two dogs at Rolling Acres and has participated in the grief recovery program since March 2012.
Brigette Nicholson of Kansas City also attends the grief recovery meetings. She has used cremation services for her dogs since 2003.
“The beautiful building is a setting worthy of your pet,” Nicholson said.
But the one thing that hasn’t changed with the move to a better facility is the care and compassion of the staff.
“It’s not the facility that makes the difference,” Nicholson said. “It’s the people there — they share in your sorrow and appreciate the bond between companions animals and owners.”