Coleen Ellis Headshot PhotoColeen Ellis is the Founder of Two Hearts Pet Loss Center. If you’d like more information regarding identifying and leveraging both individual and team talents and strengths, please contact [email protected].  or you may call 317.966.0096. You may also visit her website at

Not so long ago, professions such as: physician, dentist, and yes, funeral director, were occupations that on the surface appeared pretty mysterious.  People really didn’t want to know what went on behind the proverbial curtain as “The Wizard” performed his or her respective craft.  Few questions were asked.  The specialist was largely trusted empirically.

Long gone are those days.  Whether it was the invention of “The University of Google” where everyone can be quickly educated on just about everything; or the Baby Boomers who’ve always questioned everything and as a result have largely extinguished the “buyer-beware” caveat, today’s consumers demand transparency.  In fact, whether you want to give it or not, they already have it.  Information is immediate and robust on-line.  Please believe me when I tell you that consumers really do want to know what goes on behind the curtain.  Not only do they want to know WHAT goes on behind the curtain, they want to know HOW and WHY.

Pet death care businesses, including pet crematories and pet cemeteries, have been flying under the regulatory radar since their inception.  There are few regulations or laws that govern how they operate.  Few substantial penalties have been levied for operating in a manner considered inappropriate or just plain wrong as it pertains to the mortal remains handling and death care practices of four-legged family members (yet).

Welcome to 2014.  The Baby Boomers continue down their historic path of driving major socio-economic change in America.  Their assertive game of retirement savings catch-up is driving S&P analytics into uncharted territories.  Their accelerating frequency of care is shaping new health care delivery processes. And, they’ve also largely empty nested, and pets are becoming their new children.  In 2004, the year that the oldest Boomers turned 60 and when I started the first stand-alone pet funeral home in the US, overall pet spending in America was $34.4 billion according to the American Pet Products Association.  In 2013, in less than 10 years, it has grown to an estimated $55.5 billion.  Starting to see a pattern yet?

Welcome to 2014, and a start to doing what’s right in the pet death care business.  There are way too many businesses out there that continue to operate disrespectfully and without moral compass.  This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Singing out of the Same Hymn Book

The time is way past to establish consistent practices, standardize phraseology, and eliminate confusion for consumers of pet death care services.  With that, at this year’s ICCFA/PLPA conference, attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about the steps being taken to take pet crematories through an Accreditation Process.  For the first time in the history of pet death care businesses, the curtain will be pulled back on pet crematories in order to understand what really goes on behind their scenes.  And for pet crematories who choose to not participate in a process of educating consumers as to their various options and provide the information that they want, prospective customers will begin to ask themselves “what does this firm need to hide from me” and will likely move on.  Rightfully so.

Definitions and Standards as Drafted by the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance

As seen on the site, these various cremation procedures are defined as:

  Private cremation:

A cremation procedure during which only one animal’s body is present in the cremation unit during the cremation process.

•  Partitioned cremation:

A cremation procedure during which more than one pet’s body is present in the cremation chamber and the cremated remains of specific pets are to be returned. Due to a number of factors and by virtue of multiple pets being cremated within the same unit at the same time, active commingling of cremated remains will occur.

•  Communal cremation:

A cremation procedure where multiple animals are cremated together without any form of separation. These commingled cremated remains are not returned to owners.

Furthermore, when accompanied by a Cremation Authorization form, the above definitions will be spelled out so families will know exactly what it is they are selecting and paying for.  (A sample of this form as well as these detailed definitions can all be found on the website)

More Important Definitions As a Responsible Pet Death Care Provider

Per the PLPA website, various other definitions for cremation include:

Cremation process:

o  The heating process that reduces human or animal remains to bone fragments, followed by the processing that reduces bone fragments to unidentifiable dimensions.

Commingling – the mixing of cremated remains.

o  Active Commingling:

Commingling that occurs between animals during the cremation and/or retrieval process when multiple animals are cremated together at the same time. This type of comingling can be minimized with effective partitioning but it is impossible to assert that it can be eliminated entirely. This type of commingling cannot, by definition, occur with a private cremation.

o  Residual (Incidental) Commingling:

Unavoidable incidental commingling between cremations that occurs despite a best effort to recover all cremains from each cremation. This will occur to varying degrees with any type of cremation. This definition is the minimal type of commingling that occurs even in cremations performed in succession. (Human cremations and private pet cremations).

For the definitions below, state definitions and regulations may preclude members from treating anatomical pet remains as anything other than medical waste. Please check with your state EPA.

Anatomical Pet Remains: A portion of pet’s remains not discarded as medical waste, but for which reverent cremation is desired for that body part, (i.e. an extremity or necropsied head.) and for which reverent disposition is not otherwise forbidden by law.

•  Medical Waste:

Waste derived from the medical treatment of humans, or animals, or from biological research.

Pet Cremation Procedures

Single Pet “One at a Time” Cremation Procedures – “Private Cremation”This cremation process may also be referred as “Individual Cremation.”  Any cremation procedure deemed “Private” must be performed with only one pet’s body or cremated remains in the cremation unit during the cremation process. Only “one pet at a time” will be cremated when a Private Cremation is performed.

All retrievable cremated remains should be collected from each cremation prior to placing the next animal’s body in the cremation unit.

Operators should not use the word “Private” in the title or description of any service in which more than one animal is cremated in any part of a single cremation unit at the same time. (i.e., “Semi-Private” and “Privately Partitioned” are confusing and should not be used).

Multiple Pet Cremation Procedures – “Partitioned Cremation”

Pet crematories should follow strict guidelines when/if performing this sort of cremation procedure. Full disclosure should accompany this type of cremation procedure so that the consumer knows EXACTLY what they are paying for and getting.  The words “private” and/or “individual” should not be used in whole or in part in the description and/or definition of this type of procedure.  At the very least, some contiguous method of effective physical separation not just space—should be employed in order to keep commingling to a minimum. Commingling of cremated remains will occur with this type of cremation and will vary based upon conditions in the cremation chamber, height and type of the partitioning medium used, amount of space between animals, method of retrieval employed, and other factors.

Communal Cremation

A common misconception is that those people who choose Communal Cremation (i.e. they do not wish to have their pet’s cremains returned) don’t love their pet.  That is a very false statement.  There are a variety of reasons that people don’t get their pet’s cremains back from religious to living space.  Therefore, professionals should still be expected to treat the bodies of pets designated for communal cremation with respect and dignity at all times possible.

This primarily includes, but is not limited to:

•  Completing the cremation expeditiously if cold storage is not available.

•  Standards for Cremation Procedures

•  Minimizing or eliminating any amount of rough-handling of animals.

•  The final disposition of the cremated remains is to be disclosed to clients, but these cremated remains are not to be returned to clients in whole or in part.

•  Unless otherwise prohibited in an operator’s jurisdiction, the PLPA recommends dignified disposition of the cremated remains, such as scattering or interment in a location that families may visit.

•  Cremated remains of companion animals should not be disposed of in the garbage or land fill unless doing so is required by law of that jurisdiction. Operators should also disclose what the final disposition area is for the consumer.

Family Cremation

The last definition that pet loss providers should be aware of is a Family Cremation.  This is a special type of multiple-pet cremation procedure performed at the request of a single owner or family during which pets from the same family, and only pets from the same family, are cremated together.

Pet Loss Professionals – Additional Informational Points

Transparency. An open door policy.  Pet loss professionals should encourage families and veterinarians alike to show up unannounced at their facility.  In fact, veterinarians have a fiduciary responsibility as an agent of the cremation transaction to perform this task.  Pet parents will want assurance that their pets are being handled and cremated properly.

Welcome to 2014! It’s time to step up the business practices that have been going on in the pet death care world.  If you’re performing these services, make yourself a part of the solution and let’s stop the problem of unethical, immoral and inappropriate business practices.  Be the Good Witch.

For then “The Wizard” would be proud – because we then have a Brain, a Heart and the Courage to make a difference. FBA