There is a legend about the "rainbow bridge," a mythological place where pets go when they die. There they wait to eventually be reunited with their owner.
It's a concept that brings comfort to those who have lost a pet, says Kristin Schumacher, a New Westminster woman who owns Kitty Kompany professional pet sitting service.
The rainbow bridge idea came to mind when Schumacher and her business partner Carol Francis were thinking about how they could give their clients a way to memorialize their pet.
"Of course, we always run across situations when people's pets pass away, especially when we've been doing this so long - 10 years - we grow quite fond of them," says Schumacher.
People often don't know what to do when someone's pet dies, she says.
"It winds up being like an elephant in the room. They don't know what to say," she says. "Do I get a card, do I just ignore it?"
As the pair sat in Schumacher's apartment kicking around ideas for how to memorialize a pet, "something glinted - a little rainbow into the living room," Schumacher says.
"And I said, 'You know what, we should do? We should make a suncatcher.'"
From there, the idea to create custom crystal suncatchers with personalized details, like tiny dog bone charms, sterling silver initials and coloured beads, took shape.
"Carol just did one for a little tiny grey teacup poodle, who is 17-years-old, who just passed away, and we found little grey buttons, and we managed to put them back to back. There's an actual little grey poodle on the suncatcher," Schumacher says, explaining the process.
They use Swarovski crystals to create the rainbow effect - a nod to the rainbow bridge legend.
"It's a legend, and most pet people I know believe in it fiercely," Schumacher says, "just as much as they believe in heaven or hell or that sort of thing.
"Many of the people that have received our suncatchers actually say whenever they see the rainbows, they feel like they've been visited by their friends. It may sound kind of weird, but it feels like a visit."
Rather than making the pet owner feel sad, it makes them think of their furry friend with fond memories, Schumacher says.
The pair started making the suncatchers as a one-off, but within a few weeks, a North American publication called Bead Design Studio Magazine wrote an article about their custom suncatchers, and the project took off.
Schumacher says they are primarily interested in doing the pet memorial pieces, but they do sell non-custom decorative suncatchers at Pharmasave at Columbia Square in New Westminster.
They retail between $30 and $40, and Schumacher says for an additional cost they can add custom elements to the pieces. As well, people can order custom pieces directly for about $60.
The pair has only been doing it for a couple of months, but already they have garnered international attention, shipping their work to Australia, England and the United States.
"We had a lady from Australia, (we) designed her memorial piece," Schumacher says. "She sent us a photo of her cat, and we work a lot off photos, so we get the colouring of the cat or the dog."
They learned that the cat's best friend was a golden retriever. The pet owner wanted the piece to be silver and purple, but Schumacher struggled to make it work.
"I tried and tried and tried to make this darn starcatcher for her out of purple, and it just wasn't working for me, and finally I found these stones that looked like tabby colour - that was the colour of her cat, and I was able to combine those with purple, and I took a little teeny, tiny gold heart and I attached that on there to resemble the golden retriever and their friendship."
Clearly, Schumacher loves animals. She's spent the last 10 years in the pet-care business. She left the corporate world after she burned out and turned her passion for pets into a full-fledged business.
"Nobody thought in a million years that a pet company - would do as well as we have done," she says. "We've turned a profit every year since we opened."
Technically, Schumacher's pieces are considered suncatchers, but she likes to call them starcatchers in keeping with the rainbow bridge legend - because pet owners and their animals go to heaven "beyond the stars" when they are reunited, Schumacher says.
For more information, call 604-521-1202, email Kristin@kittycompany.com or visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ OcbObsessiveCompulsiveBeaders.