Key Questions of Pet Cremation and Burial

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 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. 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.

One concern we had was from 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 revealed 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.

Another contacted us after she received only a tiny amount of ash back after her cat had been cremated. The crematorium concerned, one that serves a huge number of veterinary surgeries, claimed they had left the cremation running for too long and the remains had burnt off. That explanation is utter rubbish as the bone fragments are made of non combustible material and will not reduce no matter how long the cremation lasts.

The term Individual Cremation has, over the years, been widely 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 can guarantee the ashes will 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. Never agree to an individual cremation service without a proper description of the process.

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 but the fact that our members have signed up to the Code of Practice means they are legally bound to carry out the service that way. At the end of the day you must be getting the cremation for your pet that you want and that you are paying for.

Do I have to use the cremation service my vet offers me?

No. It is your choice which cremation service you use.

You must ensure you have clear descriptions of each stage of the service from collection to the final return, scattering or burial of the ashes and be sure you understand and are assured by them. If your vet is unable to provide this then do your own research.

Unfortunately most of the companies dealing with veterinary surgeries collect the waste at the same time and this is often a main factor in a surgery choosing a company. With large numbers of surgeries to collect from the handling is often more in line with a waste collection than a cremation service. Although the crematorium may look very nice on their website, the service they provide through the surgeries may be quite different to the one they describe and provide if you go direct to them.

So it is always best to take control and do your own research. The inspection system of the APPCC is the most rigorous available and ensures you get the service that is described to you, handled with the utmost respect. Look out for the “Independently Inspected and Approved” APPCC logo. Other members may not have been inspected but all have agreed to abide by the Code of Practice.

What happens to my pets if I don’t have an individual cremation or burial?

Although more people are opting for an individual cremation the majority of pet owners still don’t really like to think too closely about the matter. They allow their vet to take their pet away and like to feel that things are being handled properly. The question is are they?

We are committed to ensuring you receive the service you are expecting and are paying for. If your vet says your pet will go for communal or mass cremation you have a right to expect them to receive a cremation service, to be handled decently and for their remains to be interred or scattered over a memorial area. This may be a Cemetery or it may be a meadow or woodland but you should expect them to be dealt with respectfully.

Unfortunately this rarely happens. Most companies using these terms will be collecting large quantities of bodies in bags, piling them into the back of a lorry and often taking them many miles to a large incinerator. Here they are heaped into the incinerator. Once finished the remains are loaded into covered skips and taken to a waste site. Sometimes they are buried in the grounds of a cemetery to give the service some kind of credibility but this masks the process that has gone before. All this is carried out according to the current regulations and is perfectly legal but is it really the service most people have in mind when they are told their pets are going for cremation? We don’t think so.

To adhere to the Association Code for a communal cremation then the handling should be similar to the individual cremation service.  Pets should not be piled one on top of the other. Although a number of pets may be transported together they should still be handled respectfully and placed side by side. The same applies to the cremation where they should be carefully placed alongside one another in the unit. At the end the ashes should be collected and interred or scattered in a memorial area.

If you want a dignified cremation it is best to use a crematorium that has a small chamber machine with just a few pets placed in there at a time. Once you start using large furnaces you are getting back to disposal handling operations.

So we have two very different services that are being sold as the same thing. This situation has arisen because there has been an attitude that what people don’t know can’t upset them and because large scale disposal is a cheaper alternative to cremation. In truth there has been, and still is, a lack of crematoria carrying out proper communal cremation services but that is no reason to mislead people. It is time that pet owners were also treated with respect and allowed to make their own decisions about their animals.

It may be argued that large scale incineration makes better use of fuel and is therefore better for the environment but in fact the differences are small. You also have to take into consideration the distances travelled which may be many hundreds of miles to some of the larger plants. Most importantly you have to consider if this is what you want. A small local crematorium is often the better alternative. If your vet does not use a member of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries & Crematoria then we suggest you make your own arrangements for anything other than simple disposal.

If you are searching for a pet cremation service on the internet you will find that most of the websites now look very slick and professional. However, do not go by appearances, personalities or testimonials. It is what actually happens that is important and our members have all agreed to work to a strict code that ensures pet owners are protected. If a glossy website does not have our logo then you should ask why.

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 you ask this question you need to have a definite idea about what you want to see. Some of you may want to see your pet placed into the cremation unit. This may be 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 may not have any ceremony. People often associate the ceremony at a human crematorium 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.

ch-lodge-2If 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 and in the in manner you rightfully expect.

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 for individual cremation : 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.

logo-ind-insp-option-4-web-150The new Association independent inspection system has been designed to check for quality as well as procedural accuracy and clarity of advertising and promotional material. In that respect it goes beyond industry standard systems such as ISO9001 which only focuses on procedures regardless of the quality of the outcome. It is the only inspection system of its kind and you can be sure that a member displaying the logo has been rigorously inspected.

How are pet cemeteries & crematoria controlled?

Pet cemeteries and crematoria are regulated through the Animal By Product Regulations and, in some parts of the Uk, by Waste Management Regulations In other words they are regulated as waste sites. Any regulation to govern standards is purely voluntary and the members of our Association commit to adhering to a strict Code of Practice. This places them under  the Consuner Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and any breach of that Code is illegal under the those Regulations. That shows the Association’s committment to helping you get the correct service for your pet.

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 grave 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 over the years due to the uncertainty with changes in legislation or simply because they overestimated the market for the service.  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.

Why are some members independently inspected and others are not?

The Association sets a strict Code of Practice for membership that clearly defines the services you may receive and sets a requirement for our members to make sure you understand everything before deciding on a service. You are also given the time to come to a rational decision. This Code is taken on trust but is legally binding under the Consumer Protection Against Unfair Trading Regulations. You should still go through the details with members to ensure all is as you wish.

logo-ind-insp-option-4--web-250However it is clear that this is not enough so we now have a scheme for independent inspection and verification. It is currently voluntary although we will be introducing it as a condition of membership for all new members. Gradually we will bring all members into this scheme.It is based on an expansion of our Code of Practice into a new Consumer Code. This closely examines all aspects of the business to ensure the highest standards of customer care, clarity and quality of service, respectful handling of pets and technical procedures.

Once this verification takes place it makes choosing a burial or cremation service a straightforward procedure, allowing you to focus on how you want to celebrate the life of your pet.