WILKES-BARRE – White balloons graced the sky over Kirby Park on Sunday as pet owners paid tribute to their deceased animal friends during the third annual Memorial Balloon Launch.
Dabbing eyes with tissues and fighting to hold back tears, about 50 pet owners from all over the area came to honor their beloved pet's memory during the free event hosted by the Plains Animal Hospital.
The event was held at 1 p.m. at the Pavilion in the park. Donations to Blue Chip Farm Animal Refuge, Dallas, were being accepted.
Event organizer and Plains Animal Hospital front desk receptionist Carol Wills of Harding said Lisa Angeli, former employee, helped start the event after seeing pet owners mourning the loss of their pets whether by natural causes or through having to face the decision to euthanize them.
Wills said the white, biodegradable balloons will float up five miles, freeze and break apart. The pieces will decompose at the rate of a maple leaf, she said, emphasizing it was important to use something that was safe for the environment.
Coping with the grief from a deceased pet is very difficult, said Danielle Ambrose, a veterinarian with the animal hospital on South Main Street in Plains Township.
"The bond between owner and pet is very strong," Ambrose said. "To some, their pets are their children."
The event offered special prayers for cats and dogs. Lori Ann O'Malia provided a moving rendition of the Beatles song "Let It Be," which tugged on the heart strings of many, as tears began to flow.
Holding a silver framed photo of Zen, a 9-year-old German Shepherd, Sandy Tunnessen of Drums reflected on Zen's short life. The dog was taken from her due to bone cancer.
"He was a good boy," she said. "He had chemotherapy, but acupuncture seemed to help him the most."
Tunnessen had two other well-behaved German Shepherds at the event. She said the veterinarians at the Plains Animal Hospital called her to invite her.
"This is great; all vets should do this," she said. "It is an emotional release. I am happy we had him. He was a great kid."
Grazia Reedy and her 4-year-old son, Chris, of Wilkes-Barre, came to honor their dog, GeGe, and cat, Chester, who passed this year.
Reedy said it was difficult to explain to her son what happened to their pets.
"He believes they are in heaven," she said.
All was silent as pet owners reflected on their pets and gradually released their white balloons, some of which had messages of love written on them.
Everyone stood still watching as the balloons twisted and twirled in the breeze until they were out of sight.