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Pet Cremation and Pet Ashes: Do Your Homework

 by J. Malec

Legion Memorial Cemetery: Cemetery Dogs

Image: Cemetery Dogs*

How do I know these are my pet’s ashes?

In the case of pet cremation, is it better to leave well enough alone and not ask questions? Or, as with the cremation of any cherished family member, do you want to be sure that the ashes returned to you are theirs?

A recent podcast produced for Freakonomics radio pushes the issue of whether or not pet cremains are a specific animal’s ashes. The podcast suggests that the returned materials are likely commingled with others. Sadly, their findings point to an industry that often gets away with jumbling pet cremains together. Stephen Dubner reports:

According to government statistics, there are well over 200 million pets in America. … And we spend a lot of money on these pets, about $61 billion a year. One area that is growing very fast: pet “aftercare.” The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAPCC) tells us that ten years ago, only a handful of places specialized in pet aftercare. Today, there are more than 700 pet funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries. … With so much money being spent, and with death being so fraught with emotion and mystery, might there be some misbehavior going on? 

Findings from their independent experiment that included multiple pet crematories point to fraudulent promises made on the part of these businesses.

Pet cremation and pet owners’ rights

Ira Woods, president of OneWorld Memorials, was recently quoted on this issue in an article on the website Nano Express News. He advises spending a little extra to ensure that you are receiving solely the ashes of your pet, and not an amalgam of other animals. Ira states:

With little regulation regarding pet cremation, pet owners are right to be concerned. Before your pet is taken, thoroughly research the process and the facility you or your veterinarian is planning to use. If you want zero commingling of ashes, make sure your pet receives a completely private and individual cremation rather than a communal or partitioned cremation where other animals are included. Get it in writing and understand how the crematory defines these different kinds of services. Make sure proper tagging happens as is the norm with human cremation. These few things will certainly cost you more, but in the end you’ll have greater peace of mind. 

What happens during pet aftercare?

If you have opted to euthanize a pet at a veterinarian’s office, the office will often act as the middleman in pet cremation - for a fee, of course. After a pet owner leaves, the pet is often bagged in a black garbage bag. The bag is then placed in a deep freeze until the pet crematorium with which the vet maintains a relationship picks up the bag. Depending on the type of cremation equipment being used at the crematorium, several things can happen. Be sure to do your homework if it matters to you which method is used.

Small urns for ashes can be purchased as memorial urns for the pet’s remains. Pet cremation urns vary in size and style – there are specific ashes urns for cats, for dogs, for tiny animals, as well as ashes urns for larger animals.

Process of pet cremation

In a two-part series in Psychology Today, Jessica Pierce, Ph.D., describes the process of pet cremation after losing her fourteen year-old pet Vizsla.

There are three types of pet cremation: private, comingled, and partitioned. In a private cremation, only one animal's body is in the oven. During a partitioned cremation, multiple animals may be in the incinerator at the same time, but they are separated so that the remains from each can be collected separately. Some "active comingling" of remains is unavoidable. Communal cremation is the burning of several animals at once, without any form of separation. (“Pet Cremation”)

Dr. Pierce toured the facility where her pet was cremated. She discovered that the oven used was exactly the same type as that used for cremating people, just designed for smaller forms. She found that the average pet cremation takes between one to three hours, depending on whether it’s an individual or group cremation. After the burning is completed and cooled, the remains must be processed.

The bones are very recognizable when they come out of the oven. ... The bones are fed into an industrial size metal blender and crushed into a powder. … Most of the powder was very fine, like ash you would clean out of your fireplace, but there were some slightly larger pieces, … and these were recognizable as little pieces of bone.
The remains are poured into a plastic bag and tightly closed with a zip-tie, so they won't spill out. ... Also in the urn with the remains is an ID tag—that was burned along with each animal. This serves as a way to make sure that the crematory doesn't lose track of which remains belong to which animal. (“Pennylane: A Look Inside a Pet Crematorium”)

 

A memorial that honors a deceased pet

Although some of this may sound alarming you’ll find that by taking the time to get informed, do your homework and talk with the cremation vendor will provide you a great deal of comfort and understanding. It will make it that much easier to concentrate on ideas of how best to honor your departed companion animal. Our blog post on “’Pet Parents’ and How to Honor a Deceased Pet” is a good starting point for inspiration and ideas. And though the crematory will probably provide a temporary box to hold the ashes you may find you want to house the ashes in something more in line with your love for the pet. 

Pet cremation urns are often reasonably priced, are a joy to look at and give a feeling that the process is complete. As one customer said, “In this time of loss of my most precious friend my pet chihuahua Spencer you have made it easy for me to have something special for his final resting place.”

*Image: http://bit.ly/1OwZi39

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

Comments

Thanks for your ideas on ways to honor your deceased pet. I like the idea of a pet cremation urn so I have something I can look at and remember often. Our cat recently passed and we’re going to be getting her cremated. http://www.brownfuneralhomeswv.com/cremation-services.html

David Vranish I hope this isn’t too late but in response to your question – “I am mixed in my mind if I want the dog in the burial urn or if I want to scatter the ashes in the many places I used to take the dog to run and swim. It seems to me that putting my dog’s ashes in a burial urn is like putting her in a prison! I only had my girl for three years, but was very attached. Help me out here!”

It comes down to what you are most comfortable with. You are the one who has to live with the memory and the way you memorialize your dear pet. If you are upset that it seems like she is “imprisoned”, then you have to ask if that is the experience you want to have each time you look at the urn. If the experience of scattering her ashes makes you feel she’s with you each time you walk in the places you both enjoyed, then maybe that’s exactly what you’d like to feel.

Unless the deceased has given details about how they want to be memorialized, first start with how your approach will make you feel. In this way you will know exactly what to do for now.

I just had a “rescue dog” put down and had a private cremation! I have the ashes back and an urn ordered. In my wait for the burial, I am mixed in my mind if I want the dog in the burial urn or if I want to scatter the ashes in the many places I used to take the dog to run and swim. It seems to me that putting my dog’s ashes in a burial urn is like putting her in a prison! I only had my girl for three years, but was very attached. Help me out here!

I need a service for removal of my dog’s remains in the pet cemetery at Pets Rest, Colma, CA and to be cremated with the ashes to be delivered to me…

Peggy, you might check out the ASPCA end of life services for pets. You can find their pricing here: https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/services/end-life-services
It looks to me like having a private cremation for a dog is under $100.

my dog which was gotten for my grandson when he was born they are now gonna be turning 14 i have to put the dog down he can hardly walk and is in pain, i wanna have him cremated so my grandson can have some of his ashes put in a necklace. im trying to find a reasonable price since i am disabled. i wanna be sure it is my dog cremated can you help or do you know places that help with the cost. ty peggy patterson

Hi Lona, we have many low priced urns to select from. Look through the list I posted at the end of this note and then sort from “low to high”. The lower priced urns will appear at the top of the page. Then look for proper size. Use the rule of thumb of 1 pound (of your dog’s weight when alive) for each cubic inch of urn size.
http://www.oneworldmemorials.com/collections/pet-memorials

looking for low price creamation for my dog who just past away

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