Pet caskets help owners say goodbye
By John Bowman
By John Bowman
Six years ago, Hoyt Northcutt's sister needed a favor. She didn't want to bury her beloved cat, Snoopy, without a casket, so Northcutt went into his garage and fashioned a small wooden casket in the hopes that it might make his grieving sister feel just a little bit better.
It did, and that same garage now is the workshop where Northcutt makes and sells 30 to 50 pet caskets every month.
"You'd be amazed at what people go through when they lose a pet," Northcutt says while standing outside his Centertown, Tenn., home. "To be able to do something for people in such a state is just a joy."
Bereaved pet owners from 48 states have ordered handmade wooden caskets from Angel Sleeping Pet Caskets, the company Northcutt and his wife, Wanda, started in 2000. Their standard models range from 10 inches by 16 inches to 48 inches by 20 inches, but custom sizes also are available.
"Once I got a call from a guy who had lost his pet cricket. I thought it was a joke, but he was really broken up about it. He asked me if I could make something for him. I told him, 'If you order it, I'll build it,' " Northcutt says.
The original plan was to market and sell the caskets locally, but Northcutt soon realized the future of his company was on the Internet.
"I bet I spent $26,000 on leaflets and billboards," the grandfather of five said with a roll of his eyes. "That first year I think we sold 11 caskets. So I started designing the Web site. It took about two years of trial and error, but now I get more hits than Sylvester Stallone."
Northcutt takes orders exclusively on his Web site, angelsleeping.com, where prices for caskets range from $69.95 to $349.95 depending on size and amenities, such as the satin linings, overstuffed, floral embroidered, lace-trimmed satin pillows and pet covers that come with the deluxe models.
Both the standard and deluxe caskets are hand-sanded, come with solid brass hardware and are sealed with foam rubber gaskets to prevent water and air from getting in. The deluxe model comes with a wider choice of colors, but Northcutt tries not to let a few dollars stand in the way of a customer getting what they really want.
"When someone can't afford the deluxe, and you can tell, we'll line the darn thing and send it to them. It doesn't cost us that much, and when you do that for one person, they go out and tell 10 people."
Angel Sleeping also offers the Craft Person Series, which allows pet owners to decorate or paint the casket in any way they think is most appropriate. These caskets are unfinished, with no interior lining, and sell between $19.95 and $219.95. The Web site also offers a variety of memorial products, including solid oak cremation urns and silver lockets and pendants that can hold ashes.
Northcutt, who tries to send all orders out within 24 hours, has lost pets of his own and knows his clients are depending on him.
"It can be devastating when you lose a pet," he says. "So many people will call up, crying their eyes out. I hope that I'm able to help them."