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Advice on arranging Pet Cremations for Clients
Most veterinary practices 'sell' cremation services to their clients as if they were dealing with any other commodity. We know that many assume all pet crematoria are the same and select the most profitable option or one that encompasses collection of their veterinary waste at the same time. However, selling cremation services has many pitfalls and may result in the practice being the subject of litigation. The following points need to be considered.
1) The regulations governing the process only cover disposal of the animal carcass. The process of cremation whereby the ashes are returned to the owner is a concession within the guidelines of the regulations and is in relation to the crematorium returning the ashes. There is no place in the regulations for veterinary practices to arrange cremations, receive ashes back and to pass ashes to owners without being licensed waste brokers. However, the Environment Agency is content for the established practice to continue as long as there are no problems.
2) When the practice 'sells' a cremation to a client they are making a contract of sale. Any subsequent problems will be their responsibility and the client will bring any complaints to them or in extreme cases legal action against them.
3) Licensing for 'pet crematoria' is only concerned with the operation as a disposal site. There are no regulations controlling how the cremations should be carried out to ensure the correct ashes are collected, for the dignified handling of the animals or to distinguish between the ashes going to a normal waste site or to a memorial area. Licensing is a legal requirement but meaningless in authenticating a cremation service. The standards set by the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries & Crematoria are the only ones that provide these distinctions.
4) Only the ashes of a client's pet may be returned to them. This means the cremation must be carried out within a clean chamber and all the ashes collected before another individual cremation is carried out. If the chamber contains other remains or if a number of pets are cremated within the chamber then there is a significant risk of other remains being included with the ashes. This would be a breach of the regulations.
5) Veterinary Practices need to be aware of procedures and fees. Since veterinary practices are a major influence in the pet industry they are expected to be aware of problems and dangers with the sale of cremation services. They are also expected to have knowledge of the level of fees that may be charged. Accepting low fees without looking very closely at the procedures involved may present problems for the practice in the event of legal challenges.
6) The rights of the client must come first. The fact that a veterinary practice may be satisfied with a cremation service is irrelevant if the client does not share this opinion. Clients have a right to expect their pets to be cremated on their own in line with the generally accepted view of cremation. Anything other than a genuine individual cremation must be accurately described to the client.
7) There must be a written assurance of procedures. Any literature provided by the crematorium must accurately describe their services. A written outline of the process should always be given to the client when a cremation is arranged. A veterinary practice offering cremation services has to put a tremendous amount of trust in the crematorium they using. They have to rely on the crematorium to carry out the work according to their procedures. They have to place as much trust in the crematorium as the client places in the veterinary practice.
8) The Code of Practice for the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries only reflects what most clients expect from a cremation service. It is not onerous and provides a clear explanation to the client. The Association represents the industry in negotiations about regulations and is largely responsible for pet crematoria still being able to operate today. Veterinary Practices should ask themselves why a business that calls itself a pet crematorium is not a member.
9) Is it worth taking the risk? If a practice is not completely sure about cremations then it may be best to offer a simple disposal service and allow clients that want an individual or communal cremation to contact a pet crematorium themselves.