An organisation which sets international standards for the pet funeral industry is advising pet owners on how to avoid the type of heartache exposed by animal welfare officials in Staffordshire.
Enforcement officers discovered that some people who had paid to have their animals cremated at Swan Pit Pet Crematorium in Gnosall were given the wrong ashes back.
They had received caskets containing what they believed were the remains of their pets and were shocked to hear that the bodies of their animals were still in cold storage.
The matter came to light following a tip-off from a member of the public and Staffordshire County Council is now investigating further complaints about the crematorium’s procedures.
The situation has shocked animal lovers nationwide and attracted widespread publicity.
The Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria (APPCC) says pet owners should do their homework before trusting an operator to dispose of their animals’ remains.
The APPCC operates a strict code of practice and has members the length and breadth of Britain in addition to members from America, Canada, Norway, Finland and Italy.
Chairman Nick Ricketts says some pet owners will have had their faith in the industry shaken by the headlines the case has attracted.
“That’s a great pity and I would urge anyone who requires the services of a pet crematorium not to tar all operators with the same brush.
“Dealing with APPCC members ensures peace of mind because they are obliged to follow our strict code of practice. We also help to ensure accountability as any complaints about our members can be addressed to us. The crematorium being investigated is not a member of the APPCC.”
The APPCC’s message has been backed by Gill Heath, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet Support Member for Environment and Rural Affairs.
“Handing over a pet for cremation is an act of trust, so it is important owners know what they are getting when having their pets cremated,” she said.
“Membership of the APPCC requires adhering to a strict code of practice to ensure that high professional standards are achieved, and crematoria operate with complete transparency.
“We would advise all owners thinking of having their pets cremated to research pet crematoriums carefully and choose one they know operates under high professional standards.”
Mr Ricketts said APPCC members must offer people the chance to witness as much or as little of the cremation process as they wish so they can feel assured they are getting the service they anticipated.
He says people can even bring their pets to APPCC accredited crematoriums and choose an alternative provider if they don’t like what they see.
“In fairness I’m sure there may be some excellent operators in existence who are not members of our association.
“An important thing to take on board is that even if a cremator is acting within the law, it doesn’t necessarily follow that animal lovers would find its practices acceptable.
“For example, there is no legislation which insists on pets being carefully handled and transported with dignity when they die – yet those factors can be of immense importance to their owners.”
He says the industry is regulated mainly from the ‘perspective of a waste disposal service’.
“That’s part of the reason the APPCC was set up in the first place, to win the confidence of the public by ensuring pet crematoriums operate to a standard we believe pet owners rightly expect.
“That means any pet crematorium carrying our logo can guarantee careful handling and dignified treatment through every stage of the cremation process. That protection does not come from the law of the land but from APPCC imposed standards.”
Mr Ricketts added: “We can’t comment yet on this individual case in Gnosall as we have to wait for the full findings of the investigation. But hopefully the advice I have given will enable pet owners to make informed choices.
“There are some excellent pet crematoriums out there, and following a few simple guidelines can ensure that your pet’s disposal is handled with complete respect and integrity.”
The APPCC would also like pet owners to be aware that they can approach pet crematoriums directly and are not obliged to use third parties such as vets.
Mr Ricketts says there have been many ‘unsavoury’ press stories about people being devastated to discover their animals had been treated – albeit legally – like ‘a piece of waste.’
Some people have also been horrified to discover that their pet’s ashes have been dumped at council tips or handled by giant pet crematoriums operating on an industrial scale in the UK.
“Using a service via a vet does not necessarily mean you will get the service you might expect,” said Mr Ricketts.
“You need to ask your vet a lot of questions about the pet crematoriums they deal with before you can be assured.
“Vets also need to be diligent when selling third party cremation services to distressed clients. They too need to ask a lot of questions about the crematoriums they deal with. The APPCC has the only code of practice in the country that protects both the pet owner and the veterinary profession.”