A dog owner was so devastated by the loss of her pet pooch that she splashed out £4,000 on an lavish funeral – including a horse-drawn hearse, limousine and a dove release.

Grieving Sasha Smajic, from Acton, London, didn’t eat for a week when her 11-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier Captain passed away on Christmas Day after suffering a cardiac arrest on the operating table.

Determined to give her rescue ‘angel’ a proper send-off, Sasha arranged a white-themed celebration of his life with family-run human funeral directors – claiming he deserved the same as any deceased family member.

Sasha spent £620 on floral arrangements including a statue of Captain and his name in huge floral lettering and more than £3,000 on the funeral service and burial on December 30.

With an additional £225 on a dove release so he was ‘with his animal friends’ during the send-off, Sasha forked out more than £4,000 in total.

She also spray painted his coffin white and had a plaque which read ‘I love you to the moon and back’ – a nod to ‘their’ song, Savage Garden’s ‘To the moon and back’.

Sasha said: ‘Captain deserves a special send off. For some people he was a dog, to me he was my baby – he was everything to me and always will be.

‘I don’t think we should differentiate [between animals and humans]. If you decide to have a pet then you have decided to have a kid in your family and they should have the same respect as humans.’

In the painful days after Captain’s death, consultancy practice owner Sasha found solace in organising the best possible send-off for him. 

Animal lover Sasha, 37, said: ‘I wanted Captain to be taken away from the vets with animals, with his friends, and that’s why I decided on the horses. 

‘I wanted everything to be white as he was like an angel and demanded white flowers on everything, including the dog statue.

‘I planned a route from the vet passed my house and to the park where he spent a lot of time as I wanted Captain to say goodbye to everything he knew and to have that last walk with me.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever celebrate another Christmas. I don’t think I would ever have the strength to do that – a piece of me has gone.

‘When he died I couldn’t talk to anyone and locked myself in my room for seven days, I couldn’t eat. 

‘I still have this physical pain in my heart, it’s like someone has ripped something out of me and it’s empty in there.’ 

Despite initially struggling to track down a funeral director willing to make Captain’s funeral a reality, Sasha eventually found family-run business Southall Funeral Service after a friend’s recommendation. 

Sasha said: ‘We tried to ring several funeral directors but they didn’t do these types of services for pets which was quite shocking and surprising. 

‘A friend said this company were nice and respectful and got in touch on my behalf. 

‘It meant a lot to me that I received so much love and respect in the way the owner Michael planned everything, I felt like he felt my pain.’ 

Sasha organised for a horse-drawn carriage, carrying Captain’s coffin, floral arrangements and tribute photos, to Trinity Way Park in Acton at 12.30pm. 

There the procession paused and his coffin was transferred from the carriage to the car before making the 40-minute drive to Willow Haven Cemetery and Crematorium in Bedmond, Hertfordshire. 

Cemetery owner Maureen Beach read a poem at Captain’s graveside and there was a dove release during the 2pm service before his casket was lowered into the ground. 

Sasha said: ‘I went to several pet cemeteries but I didn’t like any of them, they didn’t feel like home for Captain. 

‘I found this family-owned one run by Maureen, who was absolutely amazing, she makes you feel like your dog is going to be safe. 

‘The plaque on Captain’s coffin read ‘I love you to the moon and back’ – I used to say this to Captain and we used to dance together to that Savage Garden song, it was our song. 

‘We released 11 doves – one for each year of his life. 

‘After the funeral we went to the pub as Captain loved them. When we would go to the countryside for walks we would always stop for a pub visit and his tail would wag. 

‘We all had a meal and bought a portion of chicken and chips which we placed on the table for Captain, as that’s what he would have had.’ 

Sasha adopted Captain from an animal rescue when he was seven months old where they suspected he’d been used in dog fights. 

Initially shy and reserved, Captain soon grew to love and trust Sasha and her family, dispelling the belief that staffies are a ‘dangerous’ breed.

Sasha said: ‘Staffies don’t normally have a good reputation but he defied that stereotype of being an aggressive dog, he loved people. 

‘He would teach people that he wasn’t dangerous, he loved babies but got scared when they cried and would try and ‘save’ them. 

‘If he accidentally stepped on you and you said ‘ow’ he would wag his tail and lick you to apologise. 

‘Captain was a very playful and outgoing dog and loved chasing his tennis ball.’ 

Last autumn Sasha claims she knew something was wrong with Captain as he was acting out of character – being quiet and lethargic. 

Sasha said: ‘In August I was sitting with him at home and in my heart I felt something was wrong with him. 

‘He was being quiet and not himself – it’s a bond you can’t explain with words.’ 

Captain was diagnosed with stomach cancer and just before Christmas took a turn for the worse. During an operation he suffered a cardiac arrest and couldn’t be revived. 

Sasha said: ‘I wanted him home for Christmas and on Christmas Eve spent two hours with him at the vet just holding him as he lay flat on my legs. 

‘When I left he walked away and as he approached the end of the corridor he looked back – that’s the last time I saw him alive.’ 

Sasha said looking back at pictures from the funeral is helping her through the grieving process. 

Sasha said: ‘The memories of the funeral help, I keep looking at the images. ‘I have no regrets how I sent off Captain, he deserved every piece of it and more.’ 

Owner of Southall Funeral Service Michael Tiney said it was the third animal funeral they had arranged. 

Michael said: ‘We are funeral directors, we help the bereaved and the family wanted the best for Captain. 

‘I’ve got a dog – they give unconditional love. I don’t class him as a pet, he’s a member of the family.’  

SEE ALSO: Pack of Loyal Stray Dogs Honor Animal Lover at Funeral