Add Event My Events Log In

Upcoming Events

    The Shift

    Print this page

    Yesterday’s work rests in eight cedar boxes, each one topped with a white label that shows a name sandwiched between two paw prints — Wally, Chopper, Bella Boo, Roscoe, Izzie, Joe, Red and Sammie. Today, the first will be Vivi, the much-beloved, nine-pound poodle who died a few days ago. Her 17-year-old body is concealed in black plastic that Aaron Scott tenderly cuts open with scissors. One snip reveals a puff of white, curly fur.

    Scott is the funeral director at Scott Funeral Home in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a business his great-grandfather started in 1930. In 2003, the company added Faithful Companions, a pet-cremation service. As the contact for many veterinarians in Louisville and southern Indiana, it performs up to 10 cremations per day. The crematory is housed in a warehouse-looking building just past a parking lot and up a small, grassy slope from the funeral home. Scott has two employees in charge of cremations, but this morning he’s the one who fires up the furnace. It’s a 10-foot-long, boxy, metal contraption with a cylindrical flue that stretches through the ceiling, and a black door. The room shares the temperature of a breezeless July day in deep Alabama. It smells like charred pizza.

    The black door rises with a low grinding sound. The machine’s belly looks familiar, like a brick oven in any upscale pizzeria. Through an opening in the back, a purple-orange flame roars down, as if a dragon is suspended from the rafters. The flame doesn’t touch the animals; instead, it heats the cremator to 1,650 degrees.

    Scott gently lifts Vivi, putting one hand beneath her head and neck as the other cups her hind legs. He carries her limp body, like how a nurse hands a mother her newborn — not intimate and cradling, but more like a careful courier respecting the passage. The 37-year-old stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and maintains the bulk of his days as a collegiate offensive lineman. His size miniaturizes Vivi to toy-like proportions. He lays her on her side and touches a black button to lower the door. A magnet holds Vivi’s paperwork on the cremator, as to avoid a guessing game about who’s inside.

    Some pet owners like to watch. “Not everyone is so trusting,” Scott says. They want to ensure it is their loved one they’ll receive when all is said and done. Pet owners sit in a room that smells citrus-y, with four salmon-hued chairs, a box of tissues and a small table draped in white linen, for holding prayer services before cremation. (The secretary at Scott Funeral Home doubles as a minister.) There are two windows with blinds; tug the string on one to witness the raw, industrial side of saying goodbye to your pet. (The other window allows viewing of human cremations. Yes, some like to see that too.)

    Many pet owners struggle with letting go. Such companionship feels eternal. It’s all joy and loyalty and love, and then one day it’s over, the cruelest of cliff drops. “I’ve seen people more upset about their dogs than their family members,” Scott says.

    In about an hour, Vivi’s cremation will be complete, her ashes swept into a stainless-steel container and then packaged into a box or urn of her owner’s choosing. She may be on the other side now, but she’ll also soon head back home.

    This originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Memorial Maker." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Share On: