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Living with Pet
Bereavement

When the time comes to say goodbye...

Aftercare

How important was your pet to you?

Like all the decisions we make for our pets, deciding the right and appropriate aftercare for our pets, is one that needs to be given careful consideration. A pet carer can spend anything from 25,000 to 90,000 over the life time of their pet, yet when their pet dies, many shy away from making the arrangements for their pet to have a dignified cremation/burial, some even take the 'couldn't care less attitude' about what happens to their pets body or leave the arrangements to the vet - a strange attitude to take when a pet was considered to be 'one of the family'.

Cremation

There are advantages and disadvantages when choosing between cremation or burial for our much loved pets, and indeed which company should carry out this task. In most industries and companies, there will always be the odd 'bad apple' that gives everyone else a bad name, and sadly the Pet Bereavement industry is no different, but fortunately the unscrupulous companies working in the industry are few and far between and are slowly, but surely, are being exposed and weeded out.

Most of us have heard some horror story about a pet cremation or the service not being what they thought it would be. Fortunately, unscrupulous companies are in the minority and rare. However many pet carers are still being misled or do not truly understand, exactly what pet cremation service they have chosen will entail, especially when it comes to an 'individual cremation'. It is up to pet carers to decide what they feel is the right choice for them and their pet, but being aware of the differences in cremation service is paramount before any decision should be made.

If you have decided that you wish to have your pet cremated when the time comes, you should make enquiries about what services and charges pet crematoriums are actually offering and get them to confirm the total charge of the service and do not just accept the price they have quoted on their website. There is no point in waiting until your pet is dead , as most pet carers are unable to make any rational decision at that time, nor is there any point in just leaving your pet at the vet, as this often adds to feelings of guilt at a later date if you did not make the correct choice. We make arrangements for our own funeral in advance, yet when it comes to a much loved pet, many simply walk away and leave this important decision making to the Vet. Like me, you may have a fantastic Vet who you trust implicitly, but leaving them to deal with the aftercare of your pet doesn't necessarily make it right!

We have listed below the differences in Pet Cremation and also highlighted the differences in the interpretation of individual cremation. Most pet crematoriums do not only cover their local area, but in fact many cover a vast area, some will travel hundreds of miles to collect a pet.

ADVANTAGES OF CREMATION
Cremation is less expensive in comparison to burial and although prices vary greatly for this service, you should be looking to pay approximately 150 -200 for a medium size dog. The price will also vary depending on the size of your pet and the distance the crematorium staff have to travel to collect your pet and return the ashes. If a company is particularly cheap, you should investigate their practices further or what type of cremation they offer, because many add additional charges on that you did not expect, or it may be that you are not getting the type of cremation that you thought you were! Pets ashes can be kept indoors or you can scatter them in a favourite place that had a special meaning to you and your pet. Many pet carers opt for cremation because they wish to have their pets ashes placed into their coffin when they die. This is not as straightforward as it would first seem.

INDIVIDUAL CREMATION / ASHES BACK
This is where one pet is placed into a cremator and cremated on its own. All ash is then carefully collected and the chamber is cleared ready for the next cremation. This is the only way that you can guarantee that the ashes returned to you are that of your pet and only you're pet. If at any time throughout your pets life that they had metal plates inserted during surgery, you should have the plate and screws returned to you along with your pets ashes, if you requested an individual cremation. These items belong to the pet carer and should be returned to them. over the years when I worked as a Pet Undertaker, I have found amongst ashes (and returned to the pet carers), the following items:- Plates & screws, wire from a Pacemaker, paper clips and stones.

INDIVIDUAL CREMATION - ON TRAYS
This is where a pet is individually placed onto a tray and put into the cremator with several other pets who are also on individual trays! As the cremation takes places, ash rises and may not necessarily settle back down on the correct tray, therefore it is impossible for those using this method to categorically state that the ashes you receive back are only those of your own pet. Crematoriums who do individual cremations in this manner do not usually admit to it. Sadly many companies who claim to be carrying out individual cremations, and who are in fact cremating pets on individual trays, are safe in the knowledge that no pet carer will want to witness the cremation of their own pet. Those who do ask to see the cremation of their pet are often discouraged by these companies by being told that it is against the safety regulations to be near the cremator.

COMMUNAL CREMATION
This is where several pets are placed into the chamber and cremated together. The ashes of which should be buried in a licensed site or scattered in a memorial garden, providing the company has a licence to carry out scattering of ashes.

MASS CREMATION
This is where no arrangements have been made for a pet to be Individually or Communally cremated. Pets will be sent for mass incineration at a waste disposal site.

CREMATIONS ARE NOT INSTANT
Cremation times vary according to the size and weight of the pet. The actual time to cremate a pet can take anything from 40 mins for a small cat through to 2.5 hours for a large breed dog.

DNA - Pets Ashes
Science has moved on at a phenomenal rate and although 'ash' cannot be DNA tested to prove that it originated from a specific pet, it is possible to test if the ash you have receive back is that of Canine, Feline or Equine or a mixture of ash. This is an expensive route to go down to test ash, however if you feel you have had too much ash returned you can arrange for this test to be done.

LEAVING A PET AT THE VET TO ARRANGE CREMATION
Many people have asked me over the years what will happens if they leave their pet at the Vet for individual cremation. Veterinary Surgery's tend to have a contract with only one Pet Crematorium, and the contract may also involve the removal of the surgery's clinical or hazardous waste. The Pet Crematorium will provide the Surgery with coloured bags in which the pets are to be placed according to whether the pet is to be individually or communally cremated. If an owner does not stipulate that their pet is to be individually or communally cremated, a pet will be sent for mass incineration.

As soon as you leave the Veterinary surgery your pet will probably be placed into a plastic bag, labelled and placed into a freezer. This is standard practice and for obvious reason of health and hygiene. The bags are coloured coded depending on whether you have asked for an individual or communal cremation. White for individual and Green for communal. These bags are especially designed to minimise emissions during cremation. Mistakes have been made by some Vets, whereby the wrong pet is placed in the wrong coloured bag. This error should be noticed by the Crematorium if they open the bags prior to cremation, unfortunately many pet crematoriums do not open the bags to check they contain the correct pet.

Generally speaking the Vet will have arranged for Crematorium to collect from their surgery once a week, occasionally they may collect twice a week. The companies will use vans to collect all the deceased pets regardless if they are for individual, communal or mass cremation. The larger the company, the bigger the van! At some point over the week your pet will be cremated and the ashes will be returned to the Vets next time the van is there for collecting the next batch of deceased pets.

Burial

There are two types of Burial available to pet carers, Home or Pet Cemetery -

Home burial
Most of us at some stage may have experience of a home burial, after our beloved first pet hamster, guinea pig, or budgie, dies and we bury it in the garden. The grave marked with two lollipop sticks stuck together to make a cross. That is still a very apt way to introduce children to the aftercare of a little pet. However, the dynamics change when you are faced with burying a cat or larger dog. Firstly, you need to own your home to bury any pet in the garden. Many local authorities will not allow you to bury a hamster in the garden, let alone a dog.

Finding the right spot is vitally important. Underground utility cables have to be taken into consideration, because if you accidentally sever a cable, you could easily leave your entire neighbourhood without gas and a hefty bill from the gas company to repair the cable. Ideally you have to dig a grave of approx 3 feet deep - that's a lot of digging! There are many other factors that have to be taken into account with a home burial -

  • The time of year and how hard the ground is
  • The time factor of how quickly the grave has to be dug
  • How will family cope emotionally if they move house in the future

All these factors have to be taken into account when deciding on a home burial. Most family's wrap their pet in a blanket or some sort of waterproof lining, however if there is any doubt that the grave will not be permanent, a pet carer can place the pet inside plastic box or steel box which will not degrade should they wish to exhume at a later date. The pets remains will degrade within the container, but actually locating the pets remains, is very much easier.

Pet Cemetery Burial
With private burial, a pet is separately prepared and buried in an individual lot or grave site where memorial markers can be provided for the pet. There are many variants from cemetery to cemetery depending on the geographic location, local regulations, available facilities and range of services. Pet cemeteries provide a wide range of choices, enabling the pet owner to select a casket, vault and plot that meet both emotional and financial requirements. Another option is a woodland burial, these burial sites don't take on the appearance of a traditional pet cemetery - instead of small headstones they plant a tree as a marker for your pet.

Like pet crematoriums, a pet carer should visit any pet cemetery they are considering using. Check to see if they have a Waste Management Licence which is a requirement for a pet cemetery, and visit the cemetery to see if the grounds are well maintained. Pet cemeteries are on privately owned land and not consecrated ground, like a human cemetery, and therefore there is always a possibility that land used for a pet cemetery may be sold at a later date. When land is used for a pet cemetery it becomes virtually worthless, as there are very few prospective buyers who would consider purchasing land that had been used for burial.

Burial can be up to 3 times the cost of cremation and there is usually an annual ground maintenance fee to be paid for the upkeep of the cemetery.

Alternatives

The main methods of aftercare for a pet is either cremation or burial, alternatives are available and we will highlight them here -

Taxidermy
Some people who consider Taxidermy are surprised to discover that not only is it very difficult to find a taxidermist who will even consider working on a pet, but even if they do, a pet is normally kept frozen for approx 6 months prior to any work being carried out, because more often than not a pet carer will change their mind about having their cat or dog sitting in the corner staring at them. Taxidermists are very reluctant to give even a ball park figure for their work, but you can expect to pay hundreds of pounds for a small dog or cat. Firstly, the skin is removed from the animal's remains, then the Taxidermist will construct a realistic figure of the animal's shape, and create lifelike facsimiles of the eyes and any other organs. The figure is often made from polyurethane foam, while glass is typically used to design the eyes. Wax and clay are frequently used to recreate parts such as lips and snouts. It is the muscle in the face and body that gives pets their unique and recognizable look, and as the muscle has been removed to allow the taxidermist to work with the outer skin, it becomes extremely difficult to recreate a pet's features in the way in which it was in life.

Freeze Drying
Like taxidermy, freeze drying is also very expensive, but you may also have the added expense of the courier costs to have your pet flown out to the states, as Freeze drying is only available in the USA. Freeze-drying is a method of preservation which eliminates the decaying process inherent in the living tissues of plants and animals. Through a combination of very low temperature and vacuum application, all moisture is removed, leaving the tissues otherwise unaltered. Upon completion of the process, the pet is returned to room temperature, and remains indefinitely in the same condition thereafter, subject to the same care and treatment as other valued possessions.

Mummification
The cost of this ranges from 5,000 - 120,00. So I guess in today's economic climate that we won't see many mummified pets! There is only one company in America offering this service, Summum in Salt Lake City, so there may also be the cost of shipping a deceased pet to America. An incision is made to remove the internal organs, the organs are thoroughly cleansed and placed back in the body. The body is then immersed in a special preservation solution made up of certain liquids, some of which are chemicals used in genetic engineering. Several layers of cotton gauze are wrapped around the body. The body is then encased within a bronze or stainless steel mummiform.

Cloning
The first cat to be cloned was a little cat in America in 2002, closely followed in 2005, the cloning of an Afghan Hound, in South Korea. The cost to clone a pet is in the region of 80K and live tissue has to be taken from the pet to be cloned. Up to six puppies could be born out of cloning and many may have defects however it is the pet owners responsibility to take all of the pups and not just the perfect clone.

Donating your pets body to science
Most veterinary colleges will happily accept your pets body as a donation to allow their students to study it. Your vet will be able to tell you where the nearest college is.

PUBLICATIONS

**NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE ON AMAZON**
Dawns book 'Pet Bereavement Support - The Complete Guide' is now available to purchase on Amazon

For more information about the book and how to order a copy click here.