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Cremation: One way to bring a beloved pet ‘home’

I can always find my beloved pets in my heart, but having their cremains on a shelf in the living room makes me feel like they are still here with me.

The boxes and urns have become the physical presence of the companions I loved and lost. Stopping to look at each one may make the tears fall, but it more often stirs good memories.

The first pet I had cremated was my wonderful Booker, a German shepherd I adopted as a puppy from a shelter. When he was about 10 years old, he was diagnosed with cancer and stopped eating.  I agonized about the euthanasia process, but it ended up going calmly and quickly.

Then I was asked what I planned to do with his body. I hadn’t even thought about that.

I learned that I could take his body home to bury in my yard since I lived in a rural area, but if I had lived in a municipality, I’d have to check local codes. I also could have him cremated. The choices were a private cremation, in which he alone would be cremated and his cremains returned to me; individual cremation, in which several pets are cremated together, but kept separate in the chamber, and his cremains returned to me; or group cremation, in which he would be cremated with other pets and their cremains buried together. I wanted him back.

Over the years, as each of my pets has reached that final stage, I’ve scheduled private cremation. Each has been taken to Forrest Run Pet Cremation and Memorial Tribute Center in Sherwood, Wisconsin, which began in 1984 and is used by many area veterinary practices.

Maybe it’s odd, but I almost count the hours until each pet has returned. Although it’s only what remains of their physical selves, to me, they are home again.

Cremation has grown more popular with pet owners, says Forrest Run’s owner and director, Pat Fahrenkrug, who also is a funeral home director.

“It has a lot to do with personal preference,” he says. “There’s been an increase in cremation on the human side, and that has carried over to the pet world in the last few years.”

Cremation is more economical than burial, Fahrenkrug says. Burial services at Forrest Run start at about $400, but their most expensive cremation is probably half that, he says. The cost is partially determined by the pet’s size and the type of cremation. At Forrest Run, the remains from group cremations are buried in the Companion Garden in its cemetery.

It is also a good choice for pet owners who are increasingly mobile. Many pet owners choose not to inter a pet at home or a local pet cemetery if they plan to eventually move from the area.

Crematories are chambers in which temperatures reach 1,600–1,700 degrees Fahrenheit to evaporate or burn away organic material and reduce the body to its skeletal remains. The bones are then processed to create the gray, coarse, sand-like material called “cremains.”

The volume of these cremains depends more on the pet’s body type than weight. For example, the cremains for an overweight pet and a lean pet with a similar body type will likely have the same volume, as it is only the body’s framework that remains, not the body itself.

Cats and dogs are the most typically cremated pets, but pocket pets, among others, are now also getting this final farewell. Cremations of gerbils and hamsters can be particularly touching, says Fahrenkrug, since parents often bring children who are having their first experience with death. They may hold a small memorial service or offer prayers for their lost one.

Trusting that you will get your own pet’s cremains back can be a big concern. So, how can pet owners be assured that a cremation business in their area is legitimate?

“The best thing [to do] is to ask questions of the owner,” Fahrenkrug says. “We have an open door policy. People can visit the entire facility, and even choose to witness [their pet’s] cremation. If the business you choose doesn’t seem open, I’m not saying they are doing anything wrong, but I would be a bit more skeptical.”

When pets are cremated, pet owners still place cremains in urns and other containers, but the new trend right now is jewelry, says Fahrenkrug. Some of the cremains may be placed into a locket or a glass-blown pendant. Glass ornaments, handcrafted beads, paperweights, and more are also being created using cremains.

For others, cremains may end up being scattered along a pet’s favorite trail, under his favorite tree, in a garden, or throughout hunting grounds he traversed. Pet owners can even arrange to have their pets’ cremains mixed with theirs to be buried or scattered together at their favorite spot. 

Maureen Blaney Flietner is an award-winning freelance writer, professional photographer, and artist who has been happy to enjoy the companionship of several horses, dogs, and cats over many years.

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