Rescue work, especially helping dogs who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned, takes its toll.

For Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, the dogs who don’t survive long enough to know a loving family are the ones that weigh the heaviest on his heart.

Stray Rescue has been saving the ashes of all of the dogs who passed away without a family — those who “were too sick, abused or tired to survive.” Over the last couple of years, these ashes began to increase in number, and shelter staff started to think about how or when they’d have the opportunity to properly honor them.

Last week, they finally found a way.

dog gives hug

An adoptable Stray Rescue dog named “Sunny Day,” comforting people with hugs and kisses. Image: Katie Crank for PupJournal

The rescue group held a unique ceremony dedicated to honoring all of the dogs who passed away due to abuse and neglect. Grim emphasized at the event that he and other Stray Rescue staff do their best to let the dogs know they are loved before they pass away.

Despite their best efforts, not every dog has the opportunity to be held close before their final breath comes.

It’s for these dogs — the ones who didn’t have a chance to know love — that Stray Rescue held a candelight vigil and public memorial last week.

Related: An Open Letter From A Lonely Dog To His Future Human

The event was held in St. Louis’ Benton Park, on a bridge overlooking a pond seemingly straight out of a storybook.

It was on this bridge that local Reverend Nancy McGwire honored the ashes of these dogs. Reverend McGwire remarked,

“I have always been comforted by the poem The Rainbow Bridge. I have a vision of these special animals being greeted, all former pain and suffering forgotten. And then when that one little boy or girl, who has never known the love of a special pet, comes to the edge of the bridge, one of our angel babies will be the one sent to greet them and they will cross the Bridge together…”

shelter dog passes away

Image: Katie Crank for PupJournal

Each dog’s ashes were contained in a specially labeled box. Stray Rescue made sure to record each of the names of these dogs, recognizing them as individuals that mattered.

For the memorial ceremony, one special vase combined ashes from each of the dogs.

Unfortunately, Grim said, this amounted to about 200 dogs over the course of the last two years.

releasing dog's ashes on bridge

Image: Katie Crank for PupJournal

Yet, Grim said that rather than hold onto bitterness or anger over what happened to these dogs, he wanted — and wanted the community — to focus on showing these dogs that there is love and respect for them in the world.

By freeing their ashes, he said, we’d be able to push forward and continue the difficult work of saving more lives.

Related: What It’s Really Like To Rescue Dogs In NYC

The ceremony brought many to tears, but was also graced by the loving presence of dogs who had been adopted into loving families, along with those who are still waiting for homes.

Grim said that the healing ceremony is one that they plan to hold annually — so that the souls of these dogs can rest, and so that the humans doing this rescue work have an outlet to honor them.

We hope each of these special pups rests in peace.

honoring dogs that have passed away

Source: Stray Rescue

If you’d like to donate to support the work of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, you can do so here.

Header images via Stray Rescue (left) / Katie Crank (right)