Pets are being transported huge distances after they die to be cremated – often without the knowledge of their owners, a Cumbrian pet crematorium and cemetery operator has warned.

Nick Ricketts, who runs Paws To Rest in Armathwaite, near Carlisle, claims the situation has come about because of the takeover of veterinary practices by corporates.

Mr Ricketts, chairman and a founder member of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria, says many vets are selling their businesses when they retire to groups which own multiple surgeries across the country. These companies frequently use industrial-sized incinerators to dispose of euthanised animals. However, these facilities may be many miles away.

The effect is twofold, he said in a speech to a communication and educational seminar jointly hosted by The Cremation Society and the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities.

“The big operators out there have been quick to do deals with these companies. So, you have the situation where the smaller local crematorium, which may have serviced a practice quite satisfactorily for years, is told they are no longer needed. The sad aspect is that quite often pet owners are unaware of the change and still think their pet is going to the local facility instead of being trucked miles away.”

pet crematorium chairman
Nick Ricketts, chairman of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria, addressing the communication and educational seminar jointly hosted by The Cremation Society and the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities. (Picture courtesy of The Cremation Society of Great Britain and the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities.)

To counteract this, members of the APPCC, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, are urging animal owners to come directly to them when their pet dies. Mr Ricketts told the audience gathered at the event there were many advantages to this:

• The pet owner visits the premises and has a choice to take their treasured companion somewhere else if they do not like what they see.
• The pet can be brought in its bed. A lot of owners have a horror of their departed being ‘stuffed in a bag and put in a freezer to await collection,’ he said.
• Most members’ operations, including his own, are based in pleasant surroundings and not on industrial estates.
• There is a ‘farewell room’ where last ‘goodbyes’ can be said. This may not be possible or ideal at the vets.
• Members allow the bereaved to see as much or as little of the process as they wish, in accordance with the APPCC’s policy of transparency.
• Pet owners are offered attended or same-day cremations so that they can return home with their loved ones’ remains within a couple of hours.

“It is interesting that many people, having lost their pet in the morning, seek to have it cremated and home on the mantelpiece in an ashes container by early afternoon,” he said.

Mr Ricketts added that recently the APPCC had introduced an independent assessment scheme for its members as the industry is still unregulated. They also abide by a strict code of practice governing the handling of pets and are checked to ensure they comply with trading standards requirements.

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However, over the last few years there has been a proliferation of pet crematoria starting up which have declined to be involved with the APPCC. It is up to the consumer, therefore, to ensure they are getting the service they expect, he said.

Mr Ricketts, a former Merchant Navy ship master, founded his business in 1992, inspired by a national TV documentary about giving animals a dignified send-off.

He travelled to Southampton as guest speaker to talk about the history of pet cremation and to give an insight into the industry. He told the gathering that archaeologists have discovered a pet cemetery in Palestine with the cremated remains of more than 1,000 dogs in urns dating backing to 332BC. The oldest recognised pet crematorium, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematorium, opened in 1896 in the USA.

“It is during the past two decades, however, that pet cremation has grown from what could have been considered a niche industry into one that is more accepted and mainstream.”

Afterwards Mr Ricketts said it was a privilege to be asked to give a speech to his counterparts in the human cremation sector.

“There were a lot of questions from the floor. I think a lot of people were interested to hear that pet owners increasingly expect our standards to be akin to those in the human funeral world. That is something which APPCC members have embraced. Dignity is paramount. It is vital that anyone who cares about how their pet is handled after death should ask a lot of questions about the way it will be disposed of.”

This is a guest essay by Phil Shanahan. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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