Pet Cremation Demystified. Part 8 of 9
By Patrick Couture
Director of Resting Paws Cemetery & Crematorium Inc.
We previously covered the offerings to clients from service providers and pros and cons. Although I kept it to service providers, who am I kidding? Most people are not prepared and leave it up to their veterinary staff to explain or offer final arrangements. None of us are prepared and just take what seems to be the best fit for our budget. I know my wife and I walked in those shoes ourselves twice in Ottawa.
So, you opted for ashes to be returned. You either decided on a nice urn to keep on your mantle or a pouch return with the intention of spreading the ashes at your pets’ favorite location. The cost might have been an influencing factor. Never the less you received the ashes back a week or two later.
How can you determine if you received the ashes from your pet? Most resourceful people will go to the internet and try to figure out if the ashes returned really match what everybody says it should be. Most say that it is based on the live weight of the pet at the time of death. i.e. 16.39 cubic centimetre per pound of live weight (or 1 cu. In. ) !!! Whaaaaatttt?
Let me clarify, in reality it is not based on the live weight of the pet but the skeleton weight of the pet. I cremated a 25 kilo (56 lbs) beagle which should have weighed approximately 11 kg (25 lbs). If you go with the logic above, you would expect twice the ashes to be returned.
Fact, the extra 11kg (25 lbs) of fat produced approximately 25 000 BTU’s of energy during the cremation process. For the mathematicians out there, this means that each lbs of fat have a potential to create 1 000 BTU’s of energy during their transformation from fat to combustible vapors due to the extreme heat. All of this weight is consumed. Other factors include the age of the pet, the bone density, and illness. Let’s not forget the placement in the retort if you opted for an individual / segregated / semi private / ash return / partitioned. There are also traces of cement loosened by the intense heat and small amounts of metal if your companion was cremated using a cremation pan. Many a times we cremate a 80 to 110 lbs + companion and the ashes fit in a 75 cu in urn.
We will discuss what are the checks and balances put in place by providers to minimise risk of not returning the proper ashes.
We know that it is in the best interest of any providers to take great care in ensuring that you do get only your pets’ ashes returned. Potential for mistakes does increase with each manipulation of the pet once it is euthanized. Veterinarian passes it to technicians, technicians package it and create the identification tags. Pets are placed in cold storage awaiting the service provider to pick it up. They are picked up with other pets and transported to the crematory. They are removed from the vehicle, sorted and placed in the cold storage according to the service selected (private, individual or communal). They are then organised by weight, size and priority for cremation. Once cremated, bone fragments are removed from the hearth then cooled down prior to being processed into ashes. The ashes are placed into a plastic bag then in an urn and prepared for return to you… Have you been keeping track of how many people potentially manipulate your pet? Each person involved has the potential to make a mistake. Let’s face it, this is a reality in any process that involves numerous manipulation. The only difference is that once the pet is cremated there is no way to go back and verify the identity!
For the first part of the journey, tags and/or bags of various colours can be used to minimise the potential for mistakes i.e. red for private, green for communal, blue for special request. Most will double tag the pet to ensure that if one tag is lost a second still remains. The first tag is similar to what is done to humans and tied up on the back leg v.s big toe for humans and the second one is placed on the bag closure.
All providers strive to ensure positive id confirming the information on the back leg before it is sequenced for cremation. Usually a number is assigned to them which corresponds to a cremation disc. This number follows them throughout the process and will be marled on the plastic bag that will be used for the processed remains to be returned to you.
Further safety measures CAN be used to prevent mistakes during the cremation process. Many providers use stainless steel id disks with a unique identification number and place them with the pet during an individual / segregated /semi-private / ash return / partitioned cremation. The idea is when the bone fragments are swept out the disk falls into the container and remains with the bone fragments until they are processed. The disc is usually placed into the ashes when they are returned to you as it can’t be reused. This method is an excellent way of keeping track of every pet in a partitioned cremation. Other ways are to carefully document the position of each pet in the retort. Resting Paws does not use disk as our pans have a unique identification mark which is cross referenced to the pet placed within.
Now many of you are looking at their urns, feel like opening them up to see if a cremation tag is present? Once you open it up, you find a tag and you are relieved. You might even have a certificate of cremation with the tag number on it! You are very glad that you were offered a good service and more confident that these are your pet’s ashes.
Wait we are not done yet!!! In what state is this tag? Nice and shinny and with a chromed look? Or rusted faded and twisted? You should feel very comfortable if the tag is rusted faded and twisted (Pic 1). Why? This means that it was present in the retort during cremation and was swept out when the removal occurred and remained with the bone fragments until they were processed. If the disk is shinny (Pic 2) that disc never made it in the retort with your pet. However, do not assume that because it is shinny that these are not your pet’s ashes. It just means that the potential for mistakes is greater. The fluff of a shinny disc does ad legitimacy and providers’ claims are made around these tags stating that “we ensure proper identification is maintained the same way that it is done for humans”. Feel good measures are part of our daily life but many are just deceptions or excuses to charge more money.
What do we do differently? We don’t use these disk because our cremation pans have distinctive markers. Our unit is small enough that we can’t do more than 4 small pets simultaneously. The bone fragments are cooled down in the cremation pans. We don’t identify bodies by numbers but by name and owners name. This is why on the plastic bag you will not find a number but rather the name of your companion, date of cremation and initials of who performed this cremation. Each companion is carefully recorded and details of the cremation are kept on record. (Pic 3 – 4).
By now if you have followed this series you should be well informed and ready to make a good decision when the eventuality presents itself.
It’s a funny thing: People are sometimes afraid to ask questions out of fear of seeming “stupid.” And yet the smartest people on the planet are often the ones who ask the most questions.
Case in point: Albert Einstein.
In the final segment we will post a series of questions that you should ask your provider to ensure you will receive the service you want and deserve.