Three weeks ago, Una stroked Louie’s soft, tired head in her lap for the last time and said her goodbyes.
A photo of the Labrador, his face lit up with candles, sits on a corner table next to a box with his ashes in her sitting room in Shannon, Co Clare.
Emotional mum-of-two Una Murphy said: “It’s so lovely to have my baby Louie home. I still say ‘Goodnight Louie’ every night.”
For almost 13 years, the 60kg dog – who carried his tiny Yogi Bear teddy around wherever he went – was factory worker Una’s “absolute baby, blonde and beautiful with brown eyes”.
She added: “The kids used to say, ‘Mam, you love that dog more than us’ – and I’d tell them, ‘I kind of do, Louie never gives me a headache’.”
Una, 44, always had dogs – but Louie was special.
She revealed: “Louie was my soul-dog, my best friend. We had a bond.
“I told Louie things I wouldn’t tell anyone. He knew me inside out. He’s been with me since he was a tiny pup. We got him from my brother in Dublin and named him after the Luas.”
Louie had thrived after having his spleen removed but arthritis increasingly made it a struggle to walk and Una’s vet suggested it was time to let him go.
She said: “The whole family – my dad, my sister, the kids, my brother – everyone came to say their goodbyes before Claire the vet came to the house.
“My son Caimin is 24 and Abby is 23. They were around 10 and 12 when Louie arrived – before he turned into a bear. He used to pull the kids along on skateboards.
“He died with his head on my lap on his own bed in the kitchen. He went to sleep and I spoke to him the whole way through it.”
Just as Louie was going downhill, Una spotted a story in the Clare Champion about a recently-opened pet crematorium in Ennis, called Peaceful Paws.
The first such facility in the Midwest, Peaceful Paws is now one of seven nationwide, with branches in Mayo, Kerry, Waterford, Wexford, Meath and Cavan.
Animal-lover Aimee Keller – who ran Ennis grooming parlour Barkingham Palace for 12 years – opened the crematorium with husband Danny. Aimee, who has a dog called Levi and eight cats, said: “In 2019, suddenly people started to tell me their distressing experiences of cremation, that it was so impersonal letting your dog go off somewhere but you didn’t know where.
“Dogs were going out of the county and distraught people were waiting for maybe two to three weeks for ashes to come back.
“That sowed the seed for me. It’s a business but for me it’s personal.
“This is such an important time in people’s lives where they need to be comforted and supported.”
Retired nurse and primary school teacher Geraldine Keating buried seven dogs and cats in her garden but turned to Aimee when her Yorkshire Terrier Ginger died, aged 16.
She said: “I know a lady who has been waiting for her dogs’ ashes since before Christmas. She didn’t know where the dog went to. Vets should give clients a choice.
“The vet told me they sent their dogs to Meath. Before, people had no option to stay local. I had Ginger home in 24 hours.
“When your dog goes out of county, you’re wondering are you getting your own ashes back.
“It’s unnecessarily stressful to wait for months for your dog.
“With Aimee, I’m 100% sure, even if she received 100 dogs a day. I’ve spoken Aimee’s praises to everyone I meet. She sounded so warm and welcoming from the first phone call.
“Ginger was such a big part of the house for so long – a special little dog.
“Talking to Aimee gave me peace of mind that Ginger would be looked after. She was professional, personable and warm, with so much empathy.
“Aimee really believes in what she’s doing and wants to do the best. Ginger got sick suddenly. It was a very
traumatic time. I was so grief-stricken.
“Aimee is such a fabulous listener. She stayed in touch afterwards.
“We talked and she sent me texts. I’d tell her, ‘I cried for two hours today but I’m OK’.
Aimee, who can also arrange counselling for pet owners, said: “I want my customers to come meet me, see us, and know we will care for their pet.
“We’ve always had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, fish, birds, hamsters – just never reptiles. I know what it’s like losing a pet and have seen my own children devastated after losing pets.
“We’ve been there. I encourage people to bring their children so their kids know their dog or cat is safe – they aren’t frightened and know we minded them. People can come in and see where the dogs go and be comfortable trusting me.”
Aimee’s customers choose from three “memory packs”, with prices starting at €350 for a small dog.
Families pick from a range of caskets and Aimee offers a tribute box with mementos such as paw prints, hair and ash samples and framed photos.
She also offers ornamental dog or rabbit-shaped urns – a Cockapoo urn is €160.
Aimee offers to collect pets or else families can drop their pet to Aimee – and she does her best to return the ashes within 24 hours. She is
available seven days a week thanks to help from her parents, John and Ger. Una added: “Aimee had the little room for Louie looking gorgeous, with candles and music and a table for him to lie on.
“Aimee rubbed his paw and I could tell she loved him. She gave me the most gorgeous paw print.”
As well as dogs and cats, Aimee has looked after a guinea pig called Skittles, who arrived in his favourite bed.
She said: “We spent an hour with Skittles. I did tiny paw prints of him – we sprayed his paw prints silver and put them in a silver tin with his name on it.
“No matter the animal, I treat them with dignity and respect.”
Una added: “Having Louie home, I’m so delighted. I miss him.
“Through lockdown, he was with me all the time. When I worked from home, he’d lay on my feet, keeping them warm. Just the two of us.
“Sometimes I can hear the tipping of his nails on the floor.”