You Don’t Ask Your Doctor to Make Your Final Arrangements, So Why Are You Letting Your Veterinarian Make Your Pet’s?
Questions about Pet Cremation You Need to Ask Your Veterinarian
When a pet dies, many pet owners are fine letting their veterinarian handle the arrangements for their pet’s body for them. In the past, there were not many other alternatives, other than burying at home when your pet died. Your veterinarian found themselves acting as a mortician out of need rather than by choice. As most people now think of their pets as family members, pet memorial centers, also known as pet funeral homes, have now opened to support pet parents when their beloved pet passes away and handle their final wishes for them. Currently there are 700 pet funeral homes in the US.
Veterinary practices typically offer a cremation service to “take care” of your pet after it dies, but you need to consider that providing death care is not what they went to school to study. A veterinarian’s focus is treating your pet to keep them healthy and well, and give them a good quality of life as long as they can. Almost all vet clinics use a commercial pet cremation business, or in some cases, their own cremation equipment. However, if you are a pet parent who wants to make sure your pet is treated in a respectful and dignified manner, and as a family member, you need to ask some questions of your veterinary practice about the cremation services they provide.
Many times veterinarians may feel awkward offering death aftercare services with clients after they have euthanized their pet. If they have had a long term relationship with you and your pet, the loss is one they experience and affects them too. There may be a designated person in their practice who works with grieving clients. In your sad and emotional state you will be given a binder to look through and ask to pick out a package you would like to purchase for your pet’s cremation. Your veterinarian clinic is not offering this service to you out of the goodness of their heart. The commercial pet crematory sells the cremation packages to the veterinary practice at a wholesale price. What once was provided out of necessity has become an income generating product for most clinics. In some cases, the commercial pet crematory may even provide the freezer to store the pets in. Can you imagine if physicians had a set up like this with human funeral homes?
Contrary to what many pet owner’s think, most veterinarian practices do not have a pet funeral service on call that comes to collect your pet as soon as it passes, unless you make those arrangements yourself. After death, your pet will be bagged and tagged and placed in a freezer, where it could be a few days or as long as 10 days, depending on how often their the commercial pet cremation service transports the pets to their cremation facility. Your pet will then be loaded into a vehicle with other pets being picked up that day and taken back to the cremation facility at the end of the day and sorted. The facility could be hours away; the drivers don’t return to their facility as soon as they pick up from one practice. This means your beloved pet is riding around all day in the back of a vehicle with other frozen and bagged pets.
Commercial pet crematories typically offer a community cremation option where many animals are cremated together and their cremains are disposed of by the crematory; or a private cremation, where the pet is cremated separately and the cremains are returned to the practice a week or two weeks later. You have probably seen their brochures or even photos of a serene looking pond, beautiful landscaping and lots of green space. Your pet’s ashes will not be scattered in the wind across the beautifully landscaped gardens as many think they are. One commercial crematory in northern Indiana uses a large underground receptacle where the animal cremains are disposed of over the course of a year. If you were to visit their grounds, they would show you the general area where the disposal tank is located based on the year your pet died. Not quite as you imagined is it?
As a concerned pet parent, you have the right to know about the aftercare that is provided for your pet so you can make a determination if the services offered are acceptable to you. Here are some questions you need to ask your veterinarian clinic about the cremation services they offer:
1) What do they do with your pet after it dies? Do they bag and freeze your pet? Some people cannot imagine their pet being handled in this manner,
but this is the way bodies are handled at almost all veterinarians, unless you make arrangements for other services yourself. They do not have a
morgue to store pets in.
2) Is the cremation service done locally? Many times the commercial pet crematories are several hours away from your vet’s office.
Your pet will be transported with many other pets the day it is picked up and may be in the transport vehicle for 8 hours or more.
3) If you opt for a private cremation, what if any type of identification is placed on your pet’s body, if any, to insure that the
ashes you receive back are your pet’s?
4) Has the veterinarian or any representative from their clinic ever visited the commercial cremation company to insure clients’ pets are treated in a dignified
and honorable manner and that the cremation company cremates the pets as indicated? Are they able to drop in unannounced? An annual open house
may be held for veterinary staff to attend, but what about the days when actual cremation is occurring? Can your veterinary practice guarantee
that the commercial pet crematory they use is not scooping and returning ashes to clients based on the approximate size of the pet? This terrible
scenario has occurred before at commercial pet crematories. One pet crematory had broken cremation equipment and resorted to burning the pets
on the ground with gasoline to cremate them. They were found out when people saw the billowing streams of smoke coming from their location.
5) How often does the commercial pet cremation company pick up the frozen pets from them?
6) Are the pets transported in a refrigerated vehicle once they are picked up? How are they stored at the cremation facility?
7) What is the typical turnaround time for you to get your pet’s cremains back?
8) If you are purchasing a private cremation, how does the clinic know the pet is cremated alone in the cremation unit? Some commercial crematories
define a private cremation as the pets being sectioned off with bricks or stones from the other animals in the cremation unit, but all cremated at
the same time. If private cremation is important to you, you may want to make your own arrangements for your pet.
9) If you choose a community cremation, how are the ashes disposed of? Can your veterinarian guarantee they are not thrown in a garbage receptacle?
No commercial crematory is going to scatter cremains across their lovely green space as is. If you were to dump cremains on the ground, or even
bury them, how they appear in their current state is how they will stay. They do not dissolve and they will even kill grass above them if buried
due to their high salt content. Bone fragments do not dissolve. Reputable pet crematories offering community cremations typically mix the cremains
with a neutralizing compound, to reduce the ph and help the bone fragments dissolve. This process takes about three months before the cremains
can be scattered over a green space and can expect to remain green. Otherwise, the landscape would look like the surface of the moon.
10) Is your vet clinic willing to hold your pet for you for less than 24 hours not bagged or frozen until you can research other options if you wish?
If not, can they refer you to someone who will?
11) How can they assist you if you want to bury your pet?
12) Are the operators of the commercial pet cremation company certified in cremation practice? What certifications do they hold that
designate them as cremation operator professionals?
13) Does their commercial pet cremation company belong to any national pet loss organizations, which would indicate they abide by ethical cremation policies?
Pet Loss Professionals Association (PLPA), a division of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, and International Association of Pet
Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC) are two such national groups. You can also visit the websites of these organizations to view the members.
14) Is your veterinarian able to offer you any other options other than using their commercial pet cremation company? Some clinics may offer
an in house crematory and do their own cremations, but the same questions should apply to them as a commercial cremation vendor.
Effective cremation equipment is not inexpensive. It can cost as much as $100,000 and that does not include the permits, set up and a structure
for the equipment. Many clinics have old equipment and the people doing the cremation, in most cases, are not certified cremation operators.
As a pet parent, you need to know there are pet loss providers who will pick up your pet at your veterinarian’s clinic, or at your home, when your pet passes, and on your time table. Should you decide to use a professional pet loss specialist, you will not be “cheating on” your veterinarian. Your veterinarian’s practice is making a profit on the services they offer you, just like they do for most products they sell you for your pet. You will be choosing to secure an honorable and dignified aftercare service for your pet from someone who offers you a more desirable alternative to meet your needs, and recognizes your pet for the important role they have had in your life.
Your pet will be picked up individually and returned to the pet memorial center. At my center, we use a pet bed with soft blankets to pick up pets entrusted to us. A ribbon with a metal tag with a unique identifying number is tied around their paw and stays with them throughout the cremation process to ensure that only their ashes are returned to their family. Pets are cremated privately with no other animals in the cremation unit. Pets are returned within 2-3 business days to our pet parents. We also provide grief support materials and pet loss support meetings to help our clients on their grief journey. Your wishes should be followed without question regarding the handling of your pet. Not all pet loss businesses are the same, so you will need to do some homework on the business you select to care for your pet.
As a pet parent, you should also know that there are veterinarians who will come to your home to euthanize your pet. This way your pet can pass in a loving, familiar and less stressful environment. Does your veterinarian provide this service? If not, and this is a service you want for your pet, a pet funeral service will be able to put you in contact with the veterinarians they work with who provide in home euthanasia.
A pet funeral service will hold your pet until you decide whether to cremate or bury and will assist you in making those choices.
Your pet will not start to decompose as soon as it dies, and you can see your pet again a final time. A pet funeral service will provide a tasteful viewing of your pet for you, your family and friends to say goodbye, if you would like that option.
Most pet funeral services are certified in pet loss support and can help you in your grief journey too.
As pet parents, we have strong connections to our pets, sometimes more so than we do to other humans. Our pets love us unconditionally; help us determine our daily routine; and most people have more physical contact each day with their pet than their significant other. As a consumer, you have the right to ask questions about the aftercare service you are purchasing for them. If you are not comfortable with the cremation services your veterinarian offers, you have the right to make your own plans for your pet.
Jane Rose is the owner of Rose Pet Memorial Center in Indianapolis, IN and is a member of Pet Loss Professional Alliance of the International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association. She is a Certified Pet Loss Companion and a Certified Pet Loss Professional.