Adults and children painted memorial stones to honor their pets for National Pet Memorial Day.
Carol Croft held back tears as she remembered her Pekingese named Foo Man Chew, but she knows, and is reminded by her grandchildren everyday, that they will see him again.
Before "Foo Foo" died from stroke complications, he comforted patients at the neurological intensive care unit at Halifax Health and Halifax Health - Hospice for about five years. Croft said he was a natural.
"He was a once-in-a-lifetime dog," said Croft, a Port Orange resident.
Croft and others found closure for their deceased pets on Sunday, which also was National Pet Remembrance Day, at Volusia Memorial Funeral Home in Port Orange. Bette-Jo Foster, reverend at Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange, led the memorial ceremony, and attendees painted rocks in honor of their pets.
Tracy Jackman, director for the funeral home, began the tradition because of her love of animals. When she began her career as a funeral home director about four years ago, one of her earliest clients was a dog.
Jackman planned a funeral service for a man, and his wife asked if she could bring her dog. As soon as the dog came through the doors, he jumped into the casket and wept. After that experience, Jackman realized pets also can experience grief, and she allowed them at memorial services. Today, she also plans memorials for deceased pets.
Vicky Letellier, of Flagler Beach, brought her granddaughters Riley and Reagan Donato to the pet memorial service.
The family dogs recently died — One from cancer and the other from from a stomach condition. Riley and Reagan stood up in front of an audience and shared their favorites stories about their dogs. Letellier said this is a wonderful way to help children remember their pets and understand death.
Riley said their chocolate lab, Penelope, was her favorite of all the three dogs her family has owned, and it was "quite special" to remember her.
After the ceremony, everyone gathered at a table and painted memorial stones to take home and also place under the funeral home's pet memorial tree.
Foster said pets are an important part of a family, which is why memorials are helpful to them.
"It helps give families closure, a way to celebrate their pets and give relevance to their pets' lives and how much a part of the family they were," she said.
In the past, she also has hosted pet blessings at the church. She began hosting them in 2004 and continued hosting them when she moved to Port Orange.
Animal blessings date back thousands of years, she said. Saint Francis of Assisi, is associated with the patronage of animals, and it became a custom for churches to host pet blessing ceremonies on Oct. 4, his feast day. Every year, people parade all types of animals into churches to be blessed.
Foster said many people bless their homes and family, and it can be just as important to them to bless their pets.