An organisation which sets international standards for the pet funeral industry has blasted the sentence handed out to a crematorium owner who duped customers into thinking they had received the ashes of their dead pets.
Stephen Mayles, vice chairman of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria, described the sentence given to Allan McMasters as “ridiculously lenient.’
Mr McMasters, 52, owner of Swan Pit Crematorium in Gnosall, Staffordshire, was sentenced to 200 hours’ community service after he pleaded guilty to fraud and animal by-product offences. He was also ordered to pay costs and compensation of nearly £6,400, £2,000 of which will go to some of his victims.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand why Mr McMasters has been allowed to carry on his business,” said Mr Mayles.
“One of the reasons given for this shocking situation was that he was overwhelmed with work. He is now going to carry on earning his living in this way, but will have even less time to get it right because of his community service.”
After a tip off that animals were not being cremated, trading standards officers visited the property with a search warrant.
What they found, in the words of District Judge Jack McGarva, was ‘something out of a horror movie.’
Large chest freezers contained dogs, cats and in one case an iguana. Some had been stored for months, even though their ashes had supposedly been returned to their owners.
The bodies of horses were also seen lying in the grounds of the crematorium, and bags of ashes and clinical waste due for incineration were piled up in outbuildings.
Mr Mayles urged the public and vets to do their homework thoroughly on pet crematoria in the wake of the scandal:
“The sad truth is that so many similarly disturbing cases have been brought to our attention over the past few years,” he said.
“This particular operator was not registered with the APPCC. Our members must operate with complete transparency and adhere to a strict code of practice.”
The APPCC points out that the pet cremation industry is unregulated, apart from an obligation to comply with waste disposal and consumer regulations.
“We have seen evidence of operators flouting consumer regulations left, right and centre,” he said.
“Swan Pit is an extreme case, but the mis-selling of services is rife in our sector, especially in relation to how pets are handled and transported. That’s the reason we came into being more than 20 years ago and have been imposing stringent rules on our members ever since. We are doing everything we can to ensure the high standards the public would rightly expect.”
A string of alarming stories in the press recently prompted the APPCC to introduce a system of independent inspections for its members to restore public confidence.
Inspectors examine every aspect of the business, even whether pet owners are told how their animals will be handled, transported, and where they will end up.
Mr Mayles added: “Sadly, many pet owners never get told their pet’s ashes were destined for a council tip, or that their bodies have been transported alongside clinical waste from veterinary practices.
“To many people pets are family too and if their owners want to guarantee a send-off which reflects that, they need to ask a lot of questions. Alternatively, of course, they could seek out their nearest APPCC member.”