More people than ever consider their pets, particularly dogs and cats, as integral members of the family. So, it’s hardly surprising that we want, and indeed expect, our beloved animal’s final sendoff to be special and dignified. But, under current rules, the reality for many grieving pet owners is rather different. One pet champion, Lars B Andersen of 3D pet memorial company Arty Lobster, has started a campaign to have the rules changed to ensure that one-pet cremations mean just that.
Patricia looks thoughtfully at the pretty metal container on the sideboard. The flower-entwined writing reads: “Baxter, the best boy anyone could have.” A tear drops to her cheek as she recalls the happy memories walking the Golden Retriever, who died aged 12, three months ago.
She also remembers the trauma experienced soon after he was put to sleep at the vets, then dispatched to the local pet crematorium. The remains she received seemed so meagre, but she didn’t dwell on it at the time. “I took the remains to my vets as they were closer than the pet crematorium,” Patricia explains. There, her vet agreed the remains seemed lacking.
So Patricia decided to try to find out about her suspicions that Baxter’s remains were not entirely there. “I did some digging and found out that many pet crematoria still mix a pet’s remains with others, or don’t take care in getting all of the remains, or even losing ashes, as was the case with Baxter.” As well as the pain of losing Baxter, Patricia’s anguish was compounded by the feeling that his remains were not treated with the respect they were entitled to.
Patricia is not alone in making the painful discovery that many pet cremation companies do not treat pets’ remains with dignity. The problem of missing or mixed pet ashes stems from the fact that animal remains are still treated as ‘waste’ and can therefore be handled with less respect than if they were not.
Pet cremations regulatory body the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria (APPCC), which operates a voluntary registration scheme, states: “Pet crematoria are controlled under the Animal By-Product Regulations and, in some areas, Waste Management Licensing. This has caused us many difficulties in the past but with the help of the Environment Agency and Defra we have carved out our own niche within the regulations that allows us to operate as genuine pet bereavement facilities. However, the regulations are designed for waste. This allows any disposal operation to gloss up their services and call themselves by any number of tempting and appealing names.”
The APPCC continues: “Licensing for Pet Crematoria and Cemeteries is only concerned with the operation as a disposal site. There are no regulations controlling how the cremations should be carried out to ensure the correct ashes are collected, for the dignified handling of the animals, or to distinguish between ashes going to a normal disposal site or to a specific memorial area. The standards set by the Association are the only ones that provide this distinction.”
So, regulation of pet cremation facilities is voluntary and many commercial bodies still choose to treat pet remains within the letter of the law as mere ‘waste’ and not with the respect they truly deserve.
A petition (“Stop Pet Crematoria Passing Off Mixed Ash as One Pet Cremations”) started by Lars B Andersen is, quite simply, calling on the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that pets’ ashes are not mixed with the remains of other animals and labelled ‘one-pet’ cremations. The petition is aiming for all pet crematoria to be made to abide by strict regulations that ensure one-pet cremation means just that.
Lars, who launched national Pet Remembrance Day in 2015 to commemorate the lives of deceased companion animals, said: “At a time of grieving, it’s so important that people are not misled about how their pet’s remains are treated. While the APPCC is there to provide information about what pet owners should be asking at crematoria and also has members who adhere to codes of conduct on the treatment of remains, there needs to be greater protection. That’s because many people do not question the pet cremation company or they may receive misleading answers to their questions.”
So, what about the wishes of the grieving pet owners who want, and expect, their pet’s remains to be returned in their entirety and not mixed with those of other animals?
Lars says: “In the absence of root-and-branch reform of the industry, pet owners should go through the APPCC to find a reputable pet crematorium; all association members must sign up to a Code of Practice, which means that they are legally bound to carry out a cremation, as described.”
Many pet crematoria will try to avoid being pinned down to the term ‘individual’ by using other descriptions such as ‘return of ashes service’, ‘cremation on numbered trays’ or even ‘special’ or ‘private’ cremation
There is a lower-cost option available for pet owners called ‘mixed pet cremation’, which is where the remains of many pets are cremated together in a mass ceremony. The latter tends to be chosen by pet owners who do not wish to have their pet’s remains returned to them.
The problem, according to the APPCC, is that many pet crematoria will try to avoid being pinned down to the term “individual” by using other descriptions such as “return of ashes service”, “cremation on numbered trays” or even “special” or “private” cremation. “If you see this you should suspect that the pets are being cremated together,” warns the APPCC. “There may be some kind of separation but since cremation is a volatile process nobody can guarantee the ashes will not be mixed. Unfortunately, even if a cremation is called individual, it may still be carried out in this manner.”
One founder member of the association, Paula Bryan, MD at Dignity Pet Crematorium, says: “We only offer individual pet cremations, something we have been passionate about since our opening in 1992. Rather than the plastic ‘body bags’ often used, we place all pets in a bed which is carefully transported in the back of one of our vehicles.
“The paperwork stays with the pet throughout their journey at Dignity, ensuring that there is no mistake when it comes to returning the ashes. Once the cremation has been completed the chamber has all the ashes collected by sweeping every particle out. Our team of pet loving staff understand the importance of returning all of the ashes to their owner.”
The APPCC lists members who have signed up to abide by a principled Code of practice on their website.
Lars says: “Our pets’ remains should not be classed as waste, but if they are, then at least all operational pet crematoria should be made to adhere to strict rules. They should not be passing off the remains of several pets as one pet’s remains nor should grieving owners have to deal with the emotional turmoil of receiving back only a small part of their pet’s remains.”
Our pets are members of our family, and at a time of grieving for their loss, surely it is neither fair nor just that pet owners should have to worry that their pets remains are not being handled respectfully.
To view and sign the petition to ‘Stop Pet Crematoria Passing Off Mixed Ash as One Pet Cremations’, go to: https://www.change.org/p/secretary-of-state-for-environment-food-and-rural-affairs-stop-pet-crematoria-passing-off-mixed-ash-as-one-pet-cremations