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.