By Dr. Mary Gardner
Co-Founder Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
When we bring a pet into our household and family, we welcome a huge amount of joy in our lives. Unfortunately with that joy, there will also be immense sadness one day as most of us will out-live our pets and will have to say goodbye to them. The loss of a pet is devastating, and to many, it can be as painful as losing a family member. I can empathize with this as pets are considered family in my home.
Many people don’t think about what do to with their pets after they have passed and usually are faced with that decision at the veterinary hospital. Occasionally we prefer to bury our pets but with the transient living patterns we have today, we may not want to leave a pet’s remains behind if we move. Over 70% of families elect cremation and more than half of those elect to get the ashes of the pet returned. Not one option is better and this is a personal decision that the entire family has to make. If cremation is elected, ensuring their bodies are handled with dignity and care afterward is vital.
For decades, cremation (for both humans and pets) has been done with a flame-based method but there is a new type of cremation called Aquamation.
It actually is not that new as the process has been around for over a decade and is used for both pets and humans around the country – but it is new to South Florida.
Aquamation is a safe, natural and environmentally friendly alternative to flame-based cremation or burial. Pets are placed in separated chambers to ensure no co-mingling occurs during the process. By using a combination of flowing water and alkalinity, the natural course of tissue breakdown occurs. This process is similar to what occurs when you bury a pet. The tissue breakdown process takes about 24 hours and the remaining bones are then dried for 48 hours. This tissue breakdown is faster than burial (which takes about a year) and just a bit longer than flame-based cremation which takes a few hours.
Whether a family chooses burial, flame cremation or Aquamation, the end result is the same—each body is eventually reduced to its basic elements of bone ash. The primary difference between the options is the amount of time the process takes as well as the “catalyst” that supports the transition.
What is left in the water after the tissue breakdown? The remaining by-product of Aquamation is made up of nutrients, amino acids and sugars – there are no solids or DNA remaining. Another difference between Aquamation and flame-based cremation is that all inorganic material will remain intact after the process, so any toys or foreign bodies will remain afterward. You would be surprised what our dogs and cats can get into – we have often solved a foreign body mystery by using Aquamation. Helpful tip – keep hair ties out of reach of your pets! There are wonderful flame-based cremation facilities in South Florida as well as this new Aquamation option offered by Monarch Pet Memorial Services in Boynton Beach (monarchpetservices.com).
All crematories understand the importance of this last rite of passage. Selecting your aftercare provider based on your wishes is something you can do even if your pet has passed at a veterinary hospital. Most crematories can make special arrangments for your pet to be picked up from a hospital if you elect a provider different than the one the hospital uses. The care for your pet’s remains is a very personal decision. Every family will be different and the choice is yours alone to make.