Losing a pet is one of the hardest emotional challenges an animal lover will ever experience. At the very moment we’re most distraught, we have to make end of life decisions that would be tough at the best of times. Along with medical decisions, including whether it’s time for euthanasia, we have to decide what to do with our beloved pet’s last remains.
For most of us, that decision will be cremation. But how can we know which cremation company to entrust with this task?
At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, Dr. Mary Gardner and Dr. Dani McVety advised their fellow veterinarians on how to tell the good from the bad in the pet crematory field – advice that will also help pet owners make their own choice or evaluate the recommendation of their veterinarian. For pet owners, if at all possible, do this in advance of any need.
Here are their tips:
- Call 4-5 large local clinics and find out what crematory they use.
- Use Google to identify the largest pet cremation services in your community.
- Contact some or all of the crematories and inquire as to available services as well as prices. Use this as an opportunity to judge their customer service.
- Visit the crematory. Many pet owners might want to skip this step, but it’s essential for veterinarians.
Their advice to veterinarians: “You should feel confident that once the pet has left your facility, they are treated with honor, respect, and that the private cremations are indeed the same pet.”
About 70 percent of pet owners choose cremation, with the remaining 30 percent opting for home burial. Depending on the time of year and whether the region is rural or urban, cremation numbers can hit 90 percent or higher.
Cremations can be communal or private. When a crematory describes a cremation as “private,” this should mean that there is only one body at a time in the cremation chamber at a time. However, if this is important to you, be sure to ask them to define what they mean by “private,” as some services instead use a metal divider between individual pets in a single chamber.
Other questions to ask include what the price includes, such as a basic urn, and what upgrades are offered. Some cremation services will call a simple plastic box an “urn,” which may feel misleading to many people. Additional services can include paw prints, certificates, photo urns, and more.
Some crematories will offer viewings, visitations, and memorial services, and also offer witnessed cremations for pet owners who wish to be absolutely certain the remains are those of their pet.
What happens to your pet’s remains after cremation? They can be returned to the veterinary clinic for pickup, delivered to you at home by UPS, FedEx, or the postal service, or you can pick them up. Some offer burial in an on-site or other community pet cemetery, and others offer a service that spreads the ashes. In recent years there have been a number of scandals where human ashes have been stockpiled in storage instead of scattered, however, so this is a choice where trust has to be well and truly earned if the ceremony can’t be witnessed.
What if your pet passes away at home? If the pet is euthanized by a visiting veterinarian, they probably offer transport to the cremation facility. Other crematories offer pickup at private residences, or you may need to bring the deceased pet to your veterinarian’s office or even to the crematory. If you have a pet in hospice care, these are important questions to ask the supervising veterinarian as early in the process as possible, as not knowing what to do with your pet’s body, especially if he or she is a large dog, will only make a distressing time much more difficult.
There is not a lot that can ease our pain when a pet leaves this life, but there’s no reason that the worry you were ripped off, your pet’s remains were treated disrespectfully, or that you were forced to deal with difficult decisions in the midst of grief should add to your pain. Open a conversation with your veterinarian at your next visit, and do some research in advance of need. It will only be harder if you delay.