Pet crematorium in town closer to fruition

— A group of animal lovers' dream of adding a pet crematorium to the local animal shelter is close to becoming a reality.

The Rainbow Bridge group has raised $25,185 in private donations and government funding over the past year.

Ideally, the group would like to raise $37,395 to cover the costs of the crematorium itself, installation, supplies and training of a staff member at the Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter on Critter Court. However, with a minimum of $28,500, the cost of the crematorium unit alone, the group could take the first step, Rainbow Bridge organizer Sue Oakley said.

Oakley and her husband, Dave, realized the need for a pet crematorium in Steamboat after a trip to the veterinarian with their dog, Shasta.

"He was 12 years old and he was starting to slow down," Oakley said. "At the time, we assumed there was a crematorium at the animal shelter."

A crematorium was originally planned for the animal shelter when it was built five years ago but was cut when the budget got tight.

At the time, the closest pet crematoriums were located in Frisco and Grand Junction, forcing grieving owners to either drive or arrange shipping. Since then, a facility has opened in Craig. Crematoriums charge per pound for their services; shipping costs are extra.

While cremation can be expensive, it is the only option that some pet owners feel comfortable with. City-dwelling pet owners are not allowed to bury animals on their property. People living in the county can bury pets on their property, but that is not an option when the ground is frozen.

"If you don't make other arrangements, your pet goes to the landfill," Oakley said. "To me, that's so sad."

The Oakleys first organized a meeting to explore the idea of a local crematorium in December 2001. Representatives from the animal shelter, animal control and several veterinarians attended the meeting, Sue Oakley said.

"We decided it was a viable thing that the community needed and it evolved from that," she said.

The Steamboat Springs City Council approved the Rainbow Bridge business plan last summer. The plan provides for a part-time city employee supervised by the Public Safety department, Oakley said.

The proceeds collected for cremation services will be used to pay the staff member, Oakley said. The remaining money will fund programs at the animal shelter.

The city agreed to pay utility bills and cover maintenance costs of the machinery, she said.

The Rainbow Bridge group is unsure how it will raise the remaining money.

"We do have a gentleman in our group who is adept at writing grants," Oakley said. "With the economy the way it is, I think the group feels that it is hard to keep asking the community for money."

The initial money was raised through a donation brochure the group distributed at local businesses and in the monthly mailings of one local veterinarian.

"Mostly, it was by word of mouth," Oakley said.

The Routt County Humane Society donated $2,000. The Animal Assistance League donated $2,000 and the Routt County Commissioners donated $10,000.

Sadly, Shasta, the Oakleys' inspiration for the project, passed away last year, and her owners had to drive to Frisco to have her cremated.

"This project did not come together in time for her," Oakley said.

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