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Annie's Healing Hearts provides compassionate care during a pet owner's hardest moments, providing pet memorial and cremation services

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Staff at Annie's Healing Hearts from left: Michelle Nelson, owner; Rigoberto Zendejas-Ochoa; Sara Newman; Sharron Brown-O'Roke; and Ethan Holliday.

Businesses sometimes get their start from personal experiences.

Michelle Nelson, the owner of Annie's Healing Hearts, has such a story. Nelson went operational in May 2006 with her business. She provides pet memorial and cremation services for the Central Oregon area. Her mission is to provide first-rate private pet cremation care for the community.

"Both attentive and professional, all of us at Annie's are here for you during this difficult moment," her mission statement says. "We hope to help ease the pain by answering your question of, 'What do I do now?'"

Other services include pick-up and delivery from the preferred veterinary clinic; home visits available by appointment; ashes returned in handcrafted rosewood urns, engraved with forget-me-not flowers; and urn options and glass memorial pieces available by local artists. They also offer pendants and blown glass beads — also made by local artists. Ink pawprints are available upon request as well as complimentary cremation for community police dogs.

Annie's Healing Hearts was named after Nelson's own dog, who was only 7 years old at the time and was hit by a car in front of her house.

"It was really traumatic for me at the time, as with anybody who deals with unexpected death. I took her to services we had at the time and felt like I could totally do it better for people in Central Oregon," she explained.

Nelson noted that she had to carry the body in herself, covered in blood.

"I was a mess. A few months later, I walked out of there, (thinking) 'I could do this,'" she said of the idea to begin her own business.

Her crematorium experience was also not good. She had requested a private cremation, which she thought meant one at a time.

"What sometimes crematoriums don't tell you is that they will tell you it's a private when it is segregated, where there will be multiple bodies in the same chamber at a time, maybe separated by bricks or air. I felt like that was it. I went to friends and family and started figuring out how to do this myself. It took about one year."

She noted that it took that much time to get equipment and find a place that would rent to her, not including the cost of getting it launched and operational.

"Fortunately, Prineville was amazing. The city was amazing to work with, and the landlord, Paul Cooper, he was fabulous, and he just said, 'No problem, absolutely, come on in.'"

She has been in the same location for 17 years. Nelson indicated that the majority of her clients come from veterinarian clinics, and they also work with animal emergency centers in Central Oregon. They also work one-on-one with animal owners.

"It is nice when we have individuals come to us, and we encourage that."

She added that they like to have them have a pre-meeting and talk to them to meet the staff and tour the facility.

"Then they feel better when the time comes. They know who to call and what it is going to take, and, in this business, there is no right or wrong, it is just personal choice," she added.

Private cremations in their facility are 100% by themselves and they guarantee they will go home with only their pet. She added that she encourages people to ask questions and to come for a tour to learn more about their services.

"It is as important as a human family member to many families, and they are family," she said of people's beloved pets.

"It is tough," she said of the grieving process of losing one's pet. "Every time we help a family, it is so rewarding."

Nelson has five staff members who work in her facility. Although many are new, she hires kind and compassionate people who care about the work they do and the importance to families.

Rigoberto (Riggo) Zendejas-Ochoa began his position the end of May 2022. Upon recently moving to Prineville from Klamath Falls, Oregon, it was important to him to get in touch with his new community. His position involves working with the crematorium and picking up "kiddos" at various clinics. Although he finds it challenging — in a good way — it is something he feels that he can do well and take his time, to ensure no mistakes are made and that they are taking good care of their client's beloved pet.

"When I heard about this job, I knew this was the best way to get in touch with my new home, my new community, and it would be somewhere where I knew I could be there for them," said Riggo.

"For me, the most important thing about this job isn't just doing the right thing but being there for our clients. Our clients, to me, are not really clientele but friends and family. (It's)losing not just a pet...but companion, a best friend, a brother, a sister or even a son or daughter. So, for me the most important thing is doing the best I can for them, so they feel sure that we take care of their beloved."

Riggo is also bilingual and able to communicate with folks who are Spanish-speaking.

"I believe that it is nice to stay in touch with our humanity, with all that goes on. I feel that people should know that there is still good, and we are still good. They can feel safe with us."

Ethan Holliday also loves his job. He does a variety of tasks for Annie's Healing Hearts, and during a busy Thursday afternoon, he was making pawprints for a client. The facility has one community crematorium and four individual (private) crematoriums. Nelson pointed out how meticulous they were with paperwork and their processes to ensure no mistakes. Her facilities were impressively clean and organized.

"I love what we do here. I love that we do something that brings comfort to people when they are having a really bad time. It could be one of the worst points that they have had —losing a pet, losing a loved one. We are there for that. I really like doing something that is rewarding — they have a good feeling when they leave us, and when you do that day after day, that's a good feeling to take home," concluded Holliday.


Annie's Healing Hearts

Owner: Michelle Nelson

Address: 2675 SW High Desert Drive #26, Prineville

Phone: 541-408-6925


Office hours: Monday — Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday for emergencies and by appointment only.

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