IT STARTED out as a unique sanctuary in Kingsley where newly bereaved pet owners could lay to rest their much-loved animal companions.

Now, 12 years on, Whitley Brook Pet and Equine Crematorium is one of the biggest in the North of England handling thousands of animal cremations, including Grand National racehorses and TV soap characters.

The sanctuary recently cremated a Great Dane who played popular dog Schmeichel in Coronation Street.

Founder Tony Faulkner said: “It’s hard to believe that a project that I started following the sudden death of a family pet has led to what we have today.

“I was looking for a cremation service that would give pets the same respect as we give humans, but sadly I could not find anything that I felt would be suitable back in 1999. So I decided to do something about it.”

The ex-farmer turned entrepreneur, who had just opened a craft centre near Kingsley, discovered that an adjoining piece of land, a former animal-testing facility, actually contained a fully operational incinerator.

“I decided there and then to launch my own crematorium, one that would recognise how the loss of a much-loved pet can be heartbreaking and traumatic for the owner.

“I put together a small team and we were busy from the moment we opened our doors.”

Animal lovers from throughout the area began bringing their treasured pets and not all of them were cats and dogs.

Guinea pigs, mice, goldfish, snakes and lizards have been delivered to Whitley Brook as well as llamas and on one occasion a baboon from Chester Zoo.

Racehorses are among the two to three equine cremations that also take place weekly at Whitley Brook.

Tony added: “Although the majority of the 125 cremations we carry out each week are for relatively small pets, the increasing number of equine cremations and the occasional request for us to deal with larger animals has meant we have had to supplement our fleet of vans with a vehicle capable of dealing with greater weights.”