News 2 I-Team: What you need to know about pet cremations

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCBD) — For many, losing a pet is like losing a child or a sibling. More families are turning to pet crematories to help keep the pet’s memory alive.

Funeral directors say this is most common among millennials and baby boomers who often use a pet as comfort once a child leaves the home.  However, unlike human cremation, pet cremation is not regulated by a government agency.

“My two dogs died of cancer, so we knew they were suffering, and it was time,” said Debbie Eastman, a long-time pet owner.  When that time came, and her pets passed, she heard her options.  “I remember the vet asking, we can have him taken at a group cremation, or a private cremation and have their ashes, or there are pet cemeteries that will bury them,” Eastman said.

Charleston-area funeral director Marcus Yocum is passionate about educating his pet cremation clients.  “Where I’m from, being a funeral director, we have to be very careful about how we say things to our families. In the pet industry, there’s no regulation. Nobody’s watching,” Yocum said.  He fears families may not know exactly what they’re choosing when they decide on a pet cremation service.

A number of funeral homes offer 3 forms of pet cremation:

  • “Private” cremation is when the animal is alone in the cremation chamber, and the owner receives all the remains.
  • “Communal” cremation is when multiple pets are placed in a cremation chamber, and the remains are not released to the owner.
  • “Individual” cremation is the method Yocum believes is confusing for clients.

“To use the terminology as ‘individual,’ that’s very misleading,” Yocum said.

Clients may also see similar terms “partitioned” or “separate” cremation. This practice generally means multiple pets are placed into a cremation chamber but are separated by brick or air space.  “Everybody knows that there are flames in regards to cremation. Well, fire needs air, a lot of air. It’s very powerful inside of that unit. There’s a lot of co-mingling going on when that kind of cremation is taking place. I don’t think it’s justifiable,” said Yocum.

News 2’s I-Team also spoke with Elayne Smith, another Funeral Director in the Charleston area.  “Some organizations have a problem with the term ‘separate’. That may indicate that there’s a wall between them, but it’s not, because of airflow, it has to be open,” said Smith.

In an email after the in-person interview, Smith added, “Of the three cremations, the Partitioned cremation is the one that requires the most skill, care and ethics to ensure that each pet’s remains are retrieved individually. That is why we use fire bricks to form a clear partition that sections off a space for each pet. So, even though they share the same “air space” during the cremation, the floor upon which their remains lie is very clearly marked, identified also by the engraved, uniquely numbered ID disc that I mentioned in the interview. At the completion of the cremation process, each pet is clearly divided in its own are by the brick partition.”

Smith admits there may be a mixture of particles in the remains. However, she says no form of cremation, not even with humans, can prevent co-mingling.

“There is, what you call, residual co-mingling, because it’s a chamber that’s repeatedly used. You think about dust in the air, and when that settles, those are particles in the remains. So, certainly anyone who is very concerned about the co-mingling, should go with private,” said Smith.

Eastman chose a private cremation for her first two pets.  “I didn’t even ask how much,” she said.  Now, she has her lab, Marley. But, she’ll never forget the roles her first pups played in her life.  “They can never live long enough so you have to enjoy every day you have with them,” Eastman said.

Although there’s no government regulation for pet cremation, the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance offers guidelines for pet crematories. The group stresses the only time the term “private” should be used is when the pet is cremated alone in the chamber.

In order to operate a crematory in South Carolina, one must apply for a permit through South Carolina’s Department of Environmental Control. There are 13 permitted crematories in the tri-county area.

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