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Bereavement Leaflet

KEY QUESTIONS ABOUT PET CREMATION AND PET BURIAL

How do I know my pets will be cremated on their own and will I get the correct ashes?

I don't like the idea of cremation. How do I go about having my pet buried?

How are pet cemeteries & crematoria controlled?

What about Quality Control?

Are veterinary practices putting profit before everything else?

Will I be able to see the cremation of my pet?

How do I know my pets will be cremated on their own and will I get the correct ashes?

This is the main question we are asked and is in the mind of everybody who has their pet cremated with a view to having the ashes returned. It is a natural reaction to be suspicious especially as everyone seems to have heard some dreadful story about the process.

Firstly, when the term individual cremation, or even just cremation, is used then it implies a process similar to a human cremation - one body at a time. That is what you have a right to expect. All members of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries & Crematoria carry out individual cremations this way.

Your pet is placed into a clean cremation chamber, normally with a solid hearth. A label is attached to the cremator to identify your pet and the time of the cremation is recorded in a diary. The label stays with your pet's remains right the way through the system. The cremation is carried out until only sterile bone fragments remain. Once they have cooled to an acceptable temperature they are drawn into a tray or container and all traces removed from the hearth by careful brushing. All remains must be removed before the next cremation starts. There will be some fragments of the hearth with the ashes but this is inevitable if you are to receive all your pet's ashes.

The remains taken from the cremator consist of fragments of bone. These are processed through a cremulator which reduces them to a fine ash suitable for return or scattering. The cremulator must be carefully cleaned each time. The ashes are then packed into whichever casket or urn you have chosen. The original label stays with the ashes and is carefully checked against the original cremation request.

The term Individual Cremation is well understood within the pet bereavement industry but it is a term that is largely abused. Many so called 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. There may be some kind of separation but since cremation is a volatile process nobody could guarantee the ashes would not be mixed. Unfortunately even if a cremation is called individual it may still be carried out in this manner. If you are happy with a system like this then all well and good but many people receive this type of service when they are expecting their pets to be individually cremated. That is wrong.

We were contacted last year by a lady who had her gerbil cremated by one of our members. She had previously had another gerbil cremated by a non-member who had returned about ten times the quantity of ash. She naturally wanted to know why. Enquiries at the non member produced the explanation that there was a large amount of hearth with the ashes. However, laboratory analysis of the remains reveals the presence of bone fragments from larger animals. In other words, the remains of the gerbil may have been there but there were other animal remains too. This is not what she wanted or paid for.

The only way to be sure of getting a genuine individual cremation is to use a member of the APPCC or to go through the procedures with the pet crematorium. Remember you still have to trust them to carry out those actions correctly. At the end of the day you must be getting the service you want and are paying for.

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I don't like the idea of cremation. How do I go about having my pet buried?

Whether it is due to religious beliefs or simply personal preference many people prefer the idea of burial to cremation. Current legislation allows pets to be buried either in the property where they last lived or in a licensed pet cemetery.

Any burial requires careful consideration. People have different ideas and we should not be held back by conventions when we decide how we want to commemorate our pets' lives. Where many will want a permanent resting place they can visit others will feel that after several years the feelings may change and they may not want to be tied down. Others may like the idea of keeping the grave at home or the feeling of freedom they may get from a woodland or pasture burial. So let us look at the options.

Burial at Home. This is the traditional resting place for many family pets but digging a grave is no easy task. In a heavy soil there should be at least two feet of soil on top of the burial but in a light sandy soil we would advise three feet. You may wish to have a coffin for your pet and you can buy a range from eco-friendly ones made from cardboard, willow, jute and bamboo through to more elaborate and solid traditional coffins. If you do not use a solid coffin then be sure to cover the grave with some paving stones to stop any wild animals digging down. Before you go ahead think about how you will feel having the grave in the garden. Many people simply do not like the idea once the pet is buried or do not want to leave their pet when they move.

Burial in a Pet Cemetery. This can range from a formal burial plot to a 'green' burial where trees are planted on the grave. All cemeteries are different and it is important to visit the site to see if it appeals to you. Association members have a range of different cemeteries. Firstly decide on the type of burial plot you want and how or if you wish to have the plot marked in any way. Then see what cemeteries are nearest to you and if they meet your requirements. You may have to travel some distance to find one that satisfies you. The Cemetery will usually provide the location and the practical side of the burial. You are usually free to carry out your own ceremony but discuss any specific details with the staff in advance. Whilst every Cemetery is different there are a few points to consider which are relevant to all.

Will the cemetery be permanent? A number have closed in the last few years due to the uncertainty with changes in legislation. Many people who start pet cemeteries do not realise that demand for burial is relatively small and that a cemetery alone is unlikely to be a viable business. After a few years they close so it is advisable to ask what would happen to your grave should this occur.

How is the Cemetery maintained? In a formal Cemetery there is usually a Maintenance Fee which is either a one off payment or an annual fee. This ensures the grounds will be maintained and the Cemetery can run as a profitable business. This is the best protection you can have for your grave and you should ask questions if there is nothing in place.

How can the grave be marked? Cemeteries have their own regulations on this and you should check that they match your requirements.

What are the visiting rights? If you want to visit then check that the opening hours suit you, particularly if you have to travel a long distance.

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How are pet cemeteries & crematoria controlled?

Pet crematoria are regulated through the Animal By Product Regulations and Environmental Permitting. In other words they are regulated as waste sites. Any regulation to govern standards is purely voluntary and the members of our Association are the only group to openly adhere to a specific Code of Practice. There are 26 operating members of our Association out of perhaps 150 businesses in the UK calling themselves Pet Crematoria. What does that tell you?

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What about Quality Control?

Again, purely voluntary. Unless the whole cremation process is properly documented and carried out with careful procedures then mistakes will be inevitable. We have produced an operations module for our training course which is available to all members of our Association. It provides the proper procedures for carrying out cremations for pets. The spirit of the system can be summed up in four golden rules :
Always imagine the owner of the pet is standing behind you and watching your every action. That way you will always carry out the service with care and dignity.
Always make sure the identification label stays with the pet, is attached to the machine when cremating and stays with the ashes. Never separate the label from the pet.
Always make sure the cremation chamber and ashes processors are cleaned thoroughly to collect all the remains before the next cremation or ashes preparation begins. There must be no mixing of remains.
Always work as if it is your first cremation and pay the same attention as you did then. There are no second chances-it has to be right first time.

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Are veterinary practices putting profit before everything else?

We can't answer that question but we can make the following observations.

  • Many vets want to use a one-stop service that will not only take their bodies but also their veterinary waste. We do not approve of carrying waste with the bodies of treasured pets and do not believe this should be an issue for veterinary practices. The two services are completely different. However, many veterinary surgeries will only deal with firms that will act as waste contractors thereby excluding most of the genuine pet crematoria.
  • The more corners that are cut the more discount the so-called crematorium can give to the vet to entice them to use their services. Vets are often contracted to firms giving generous discounts and do not offer their clients any other choices.
  • Some vets and their staff will use one of our members for their own pets even though they send their clients' pets elsewhere.

If veterinary practices rated the services they use by our code of practice and trading standard and gave their clients the correct information to choose how they wanted their pets to be treated then it would immediately raise standards, separate cremations from waste handling and drive the dubious operators out of business. There are vets that already do this but we need to see it become the accepted norm. Until that day pet owners should ensure they make their own checks and either contact the crematorium themselves or make an agreement with their vet about who will carry out the service.

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Will I be able to see the cremation of my pet?

The answer is normally yes but it will depend on the working practices of the crematorium and any licensing conditions that may apply. An appointment time will have to be made and this will usually involve an additional charge.

However, when people ask this question they often have very different ideas about what they want. Some may actually want to see their pet be placed into the cremation unit. This is often linked to religious beliefs but may also be for reassurance of the procedures. Others may simply want to be present in the grounds at the time of the cremation.

Cremations that are attended by the owner have to be scheduled into what is often a busy day. Our working practices are the same as a human crematorium but we do not normally have any ceremony. People often associate this with the time of the cremation but it is not necessarily the case. Whilst the ceremonies are at a fixed time the actual cremations will be carried out in order and may be at a later time, although always by the end of the day. To carry out a cremation at a specific time means that some leeway must be allowed at the start to ensure the unit is available. This is why an extra charge is often levied.

If you want to see the start of the cremation to reassure yourself that it is your pet is being cremated alone then there are a few points to understand. Most genuine pet crematoria are small machines that are not allowed to use coffins for the cremation. To abide by the regulations the cremation unit must be raised to the correct temperature before the start of the procedure. This means your pet will be going into a very hot chamber which may result in instant combustion. You have to ask yourself if you really want this to be the last memory of your pet.

If you go ahead there is obviously a safety issue so you would have to follow instructions from the crematorium as to where to stand and you must not try to interfere with the procedure. It is normal for an additional member of staff to be present to prevent this. There have been cases in the past where people have collapsed when viewing the cremation and therefore some crematoria may not allow this.

Your crematorium may have a viewing room where you can watch through a window or they may show it on a CCTV camera. However we know of places where they only show the pet going towards the unit, not the actual inside of the unit. This may be because it is not being carried out individually.

If you want to be reassured about the start of the cremation but do not want to see your pet go into the hot unit then we advise the following. Arrange a scheduled time for the cremation. Ask to see inside the unit before the start of the cremation. Ensure the hearth has been cleaned of all traces of previous cremations as poor operations will not take the trouble to gather all the remains. Wait for the unit to heat up again and arrange to stand somewhere you can feel part of the process without having to see the actual loading. The total time for the cremation and preparation of ashes will vary from about one and a half hours to four hours depending on the size of the pet. It is best to go off and come back later for the ashes but talk to the crematorium about what you want and what they are able to provide.

For complete reassurance always use a member of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries & Crematoria. We set standards to ensure your cremations are carried out correctly in the in manner you rightfully expect.

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APPCC charter containing information to ensure that pet owners clearly understand the services they agree to for the after death care of their pets
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Pet Bereavement Support information
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