A program to memorialize pets like Riley

A close-up photo of Riley's face set over a background of Hosta leaves.

A beautiful green hosta plant, full with bright and fragrant summer blooms, accentuates nine neatly placed stones in a corner of Jack Crossen’s backyard.

The stones, Crossen says, represent the nine lives of cats and mark the final resting spot of his beloved ragdoll cat, Riley.

“For weeks after he died, I would go out there and talk to him. I would just tell him stories about what was going on that day,” Crossen said. “It’s a nice place that I know I can go and see his little gravesite in the winter, and in the spring and summer, I can see the plant growing there and flowering.

“Before we had him, I never really understood fully how people would say their pet was family. I understand that completely now. He just captivated us and changed our lives in so many ways.”

Unknown to Crossen at the time, the veterinary team at the Feline Medical Clinic in Vancouver, Washington, created a second memorial for Riley with a donation in his name to the Washington State University’s Pet Memorial Program in the days that followed his death. The program was created more than two decades ago to provide a way for pet owners, families, friends or veterinarians to make a gift in the name of a beloved pet. After a donation is made, a pet owner can submit a story and photo to memorialize their pet. The proceeds help to fund different needs at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, student scholarships and research, ultimately improving the care offered to patients and clients.

The donation prompted Crossen and his wife, Kathryn Heatherly, to make a recent contribution of more than $4,000 to the program.

“We were just stunned when we received that letter from WSU telling us about the clinic’s donation – it was so powerful,” Crossen said. “It just opened my eyes to how much veterinarians care about their clients and patients.”

Dr. Carrie Burhenn and her colleagues at the Feline Medical Center have made donations to the program and in honor of patients like Riley for more than 20 years.

“We don’t really deal with pet loss very well in our society. This allows people to express their feelings and to help them cope and to see they are not alone,” she said. “It unites us as human beings when we see the strength that people have had to tell others what their experience has been like. We acknowledge the only reason this is difficult is because we knew we had something priceless to begin with.”

It has been more than two years since Riley’s death, but he’s never far from mind for Crossen.

“We have all these rooms in the house, and there’s special memories of him in every single room,” Crossen said.

Crossen can still picture Riley – or the Hound as he was nicknamed – following him and his wife throughout the house, how the giant cat would nap on his chest at night, and how he used his white paws to demand attention from his people. He remembers Riley’s final years, frequented by illnesses and veterinary visits that only strengthened the pair’s bond.

“He just added to our lives in so many ways,” Crossen said. “He made things richer in every area of our lives.”

Jack and Riley in a big comfortable chair. Jack stops reading the newspaper to give Riley some attention.

To learn more about WSU’s Pet Memorial Program, go to Giving Opportunities | College of Veterinary Medicine | Washington State University (wsu.edu)