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Lighting the way through grief: how candles can help with pet loss

Monaca native Tiffani Eckhart has always been a dog-lover.

“Most of my fondest memories are of all the dogs we had growing up. I have a diary from when I was little that says ‘I want to grow up and have a big yellow dog named DAWG!’ Well, I did grow up to have that big yellow dog. Actually, several!”

Now a mom to the loves of her life, English Labrador retrievers Hope and Joy, she also grew up to become the force behind Beaver County-based DogGone Candles, a woman-owned hand-poured candle company that helps animals in need. Promising natural, eco-friendly ingredients in small batches, Tiffani’s found a way to combine her passion for pups with her mission to produce great-smelling candles and home fragrances that are safe for the whole family, two- and four-leggers alike. 

“I just love dogs so much! I knew I wanted to do something at some point that was related to dogs and, most importantly, could give back to animals in need,” explains Tiffani. “I’ve been a musician most of my life so I definitely have a creative side.  I also strive to be as healthy as possible for me and my dogs as well. That meant not using a lot of the toxic home products we often see in retail stores. I decided I wanted to make my own home fragrance products that were completely safe.”  

On August 19, 2018, to her own surprise, she set out to do exactly that with the launch of DogGone Candles.

Healthy homes, happy pets

“To be totally honest, I never thought I was going to make candles to sell. I originally wanted to make them for my home because I loved candles, but [I] didn’t want to use anything toxic. This whole endeavor was completely based on dogs and helping animals.  It was a unique way for me to create something safe that wasn’t full of toxic chemicals and help animals in need which is a main priority. At some point, I thought of dog-themed candles, and it took off from there,” says Tiffani, who added that being a songwriter only reinforced her desire to create something new and original. 

“After much research, I found there weren’t any dog-themed candle companies. I started creating names and learning the process of candle-making. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart!” laughs Tiffani who never realized or appreciated how scientific it is. “Candle wax can behave differently as temperatures and seasons change. It requires an incredible amount of testing. Fragrance changes can affect the end result as well.”

Tiffani attributes safety as the biggest influence in the candle-making process. Recognizing that our pets lives are so much shorter than their human companions, she wanted to ensure that they have the healthiest environment possible, a value that led her to develop her own proprietary blend of beeswax and coconut wax.

“Almost all retail candles—and most handmade candles—contain paraffin. You would be surprised how many soy candles contain small amounts of paraffin,” she cautions. “Paraffin is a toxic by-product. They’re cheaper to make, but they’re made from a non-renewable resource called petroleum.  Burning them gives off many of the same fumes found in auto exhaust!”

For that reason, Tiffani promises that her candles or their wicks will never contain paraffin.

“Some candle makers will try to convince you it’s OK because they use food-grade paraffin or because it’s a minuscule amount. It’s not OK. It’s still a toxic by-product. We only use beeswax-coated cotton wicks.”

Pawsitively inspired

DogGone Candles currently offers over 40 scents, including classics and seasonal ones. They’re sold in 12-ounce jar candles, 8-ounce jars of wax melts, 8-ounce jars of reusable scent beads ideal for cars, closets, and even vacuum cleaners, multi-wick candles in ceramic dog-themed bowls, and 8-ounce room sprays, which have quickly become a customer favorite. Nearly every single customer to who Tiffani sends a sample of her Stay-scented room spray raves about it.

“One of our newest customers is actress Lauralee Bell from The Young and the Restless!  That was very exciting for us! I still can’t believe it!”

Among DogGone Candles’ best-selling products are its 12-ounce jars; wax melts are a close second. With scents, its many pumpkin scents remain clear front runners.

“My favorite is the Cinnamon Roll Over.  It was my very first candle I came up with so it will always be special,” recalls Tiffani. “It has those memories of my mom baking and Christmas all in one. 

A bakery-scent lover, Tiffany offers plenty of scents that will trick people into thinking there’s something baking. 

“I can’t tell you how many times my husband thinks I’m baking him something! He has gone out to get brownies or cake so many times because he craved baked goods because of the candles!”

From Cinnamon Roll Over and Banana Mutt Bread to seasonal creations like Cookies for Santa PAWS, Blueberry Pupkin Patch, and Dogs Are My PEEPS, Tiffani has no shortage of unique and fun combinations, inspired by everything from the suggestions of family and friends, holiday celebrations,  and of course, her own pups.

Where does she come up with her candles’ names?

“Honestly, I think it’s my songwriting background. When I have a song idea in mind, the lyrics and melody come quite quickly. It’s been the same with the candle names!” she elaborates. “The ideas literally wake me up at night! I used to keep a notebook beside my bed because I’d always wake up in the middle of the night with an idea. One of my first scents, Man’s Zest Friend, was the first to wake me dead out of a sleep.”

A symbol of hope during grief

It’s not just the dark of the night that can inspire; dark times can spark that flicker of hope as well, something Tiffani discovered following the loss of her beautiful Labrador Presley in 2021.

“When we lost Presley, I had an emotional breakdown,” she reveals. 

Experiencing some other losses in her life around that time that compounded together felt just too much to bear.  “Presley was the first dog we lost since starting DogGone Candles.”

This loss became a catalyst for change and a surprising push to re-evaluate her priorities and explore new possibilities through her brand and its values in the best way she knew how: the development of a special candle.

The simple act of lighting a candle serves can serve as a physical representation of the love and connection felt toward our furry friends that have passed, honoring them through a calming ritual that adds peacefulness to the wildly varying emotions of pet loss.

For those who enjoy meditation or the reflective benefits of journaling about their companion animal, the comforting scent and warm glow of a flame can help focus and soothe their mind, which can help in the processing of the sadness and loss that accompanies the mourning process. 

Most importantly, lighting a candle in our pet’s memory can serve as an ever-present reminder of their presence, keeping his memory alive, an act made even more impactful and supportive when done as a shared experience with family and friends.

“I’ve always been someone who doesn’t want to receive anything relating to the passing of my dogs. When I started getting things in the mail from customers in remembrance of her, I was so unbelievably touched. It was amazing,” she shares. “I have so many beautiful reminders of her and that’s thanks to my special customers and friends.  We even got packages for Hope who was also struggling with the loss. My favorite is the rainbow beads from Jessica of Bark and Gold Photography. I put them in the window so when the sun hits them you see all the beautiful colors of the rainbow. I always say ‘Hi, Presley. I love you,” every time they light up the wall. I want others to know they’ll see their animals again in heaven. It couldn’t be heaven otherwise.”  

All of those things are what inspired Tiffani’s All Dogs Go To Heaven candle, a pet loss-themed candle with heavenly notes of lily, bergamot, lemon, neroli, jasmine, rose, and musk.

Upon first announcing this candle, she shared that it will be the hardest candle she’ll ever make, adding that in DogGone Candles’ five years, she’s always wanted to offer it, but just couldn’t find the courage to do so.

“Some people do better with loss than others. I am definitely not one of those people.  I’m an extremely associative person,” explains Tiffani. “When we were coming home after losing Presley, my husband knew to leave the radio off, TV is the same. There’s a movie from the 1980s called The Great Outdoors.  I loved that movie…watched it a million times.  It was on TV the day we lost our chocolate lab Sammie in 2005 and I haven’t watched it since. I’ve thrown away every stitch of clothing I had on every time we lost a dog. I know it sounds crazy and it probably is, but that’s how it is for me. I take others’ losses hard, too, I really do. I know the pain and I feel it for every single one. When I make one of our Birthday candles for someone, I know it’s celebratory; I know when I make All Dogs Go To Heaven, it’s not celebratory. That’s where the courage had to come in: the courage to realize that, yes–even though you know the reason this candle is being purchased is incredibly sad, it’s also celebratory because our dogs are in heaven and we will see them all again someday. Once I really understood that, I was able to put it out there.”

Tiffani pairs this heartfelt candle with the Rainbow Bridge poem as a reminder to anyone grieving for a reminder of the day they’ll see their beautiful companions again.

“I hope they know we feel their pain and want to honor the memory of their beloved pet,” she adds.

Finding comfort in the chaos

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching struggle is the anticipatory grief that occurs when a pet guardian experiences the emotional pain and sadness associated with the impending loss of their beloved animal companion.

While a natural and common response to the understanding that their pet’s life will soon come to an end due to age or ailment, anticipatory pet loss grief can manifest well before the end of life with symptoms appearing weeks or months in advance. One may run the gamut of emotions that range from sorrow and denial to anxiety, guilt, and anger that, when combined with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, only deepen this grief and mourning.

“The best advice I ever got is to not mourn our dogs while they’re still with us,” emphasizes Tiffani. “I know it’s hard and excruciating at times, but we have to take it day by day.”

For anyone experiencing anticipatory pet loss grief, seeking support from family, friends, or a professional therapist can make a tremendous difference in processing the conflicting emotions and thoughts that come with it. Pet loss support groups and online forums are also beneficial for those looking to connect with others in the throughs of anticipatory grief.

Shining a light on giving back

As DogGone Candles continues to grow its product lines and popularity, the heart of its mission remains the same: to help animals in need.  

“I’m a creative person, so I love creating these fun names and the whole process, but in the end, if it didn’t help dogs in some way, I would lose the drive to continue,” admits Tiffani who says that she’s met so many awesome people throughout her journey.

And help dogs she does. 

To date, Tiffani has donated over $12,000 to support animal rescue since 2018, choosing her recipient organizations based on her customers’ suggestions. Among past recipients are Joey’s P.A.W, Gray Paws Sanctuary, and Abby’s Angels Animal Haven.

As for proceeds from her All Dogs Go To Heaven candle? They’ll be forever donated to the Beaver County Humane Society’s TLC Fund, which provides help for stray, abandoned, and abused animals.

Shop the scents

DogGone Candles ships nationwide and can be ordered directly through the DogGone Candles website at www.doggonecandlesllc.com

Those located in the greater Pittsburgh area can also connect with Tiffani this June at Beaver’s Garrison Days and shortly in Wags on 3rd, a downtown Beaver dog bakery and pet boutique that will soon carry her products.

Tiffani also welcomes fellow dog (and candle) lovers to follow DogGone Candles on Facebook and Instagram where you’ll find frequent features of her furriest fans and friends sniffing out their favorite scents.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has helped make us a success,” Tiffani says. “The people I’ve met in the last five years have been truly wonderful. I’m so blessed with so many new friendships.”

Jessica Wasik is the award-winning photographer of Bark & Gold Photography, focused on celebrating the joy and love between Pittsburgh pets and their people with natural, expressive images captured through small moments in time. Through timeless portraits and luxury products to fill your home and heart, she transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary to tell your story your way. To learn more, visit www.barkandgoldphotography.com

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