Pet-cremation fraud inspires clever bust

Stuffed cats like these exposed a ghoulish hoax in VancouverWe've heard terrible stories involving fraud and the disposal of human remains, and apparently that sort of swindle extends to pets as well. According to a report from the UK, pet cremations weren't always kosher; in one case in Derbyshire, pets intended for the crematory were dumped in a field instead to cut costs.

How does this happen? The pet-cremation field isn't regulated in the UK (or anywhere else in the world – except, oddly, in the state of Illinois), and the nature of the services offered – usually via vets – isn't usually described in any detail. Add to this the profit a vet can make by marking up a service whose details they're allowed to keep vague, and the opportunity (and motive) for conning bereaved owners becomes apparent.

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The Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria was formed in the UK as a result of participating members feeling that pet owners needed better protection and guarantees. The Association's members hew to a code stating that individual cremations mean just that: the pet gets its own cremation chamber, just as a human would, and "care and respect [are] shown" throughout the process. As it stands now, many pet cremations are done by volume, with multiple animals cremated together and sent to a waste site; the only oversight is to ensure that environmental statutes aren't violated. Other cremations "segregate" the animals on numbered trays, or separate them with bricks – but these are frequently described as, and charged as, individual or private cremations. The APPCC is looking to stop this practice.

In Canada, a similar organization, the Pet Cremation Alliance, undertook an undercover investigation of Vancouver, BC-area crematories, and exposed similar cons – and while it's all fairly depressing, we were really impressed by the PCA investigators' clever evidence-gathering tactics. The organization deployed private investigators – some former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – then bought toy cats, took out the stuffing, and re-stuffed the toys with raw meat. After freezing these cats, undercover operatives took them to 12 Vancouver-area crematoria for "individual" cremation. Burning a toy cat should only have returned some metal and dust detritus, but in six cases – fully half – the urns of ashes returned contained animal bone fragments, as confirmed by archaeologists. In other words, the investigators had brought in stuffed animals…and gotten the remains of someone else's pet in return. (Two of the facilities did catch the switch before the pets got to the crematorium. The RCMP were notified, but have declined to investigate further.) Investigator Ivan Chu described the fraud as "an easy way to do something diabolical." We would describe the set-up as brilliant, even though the results are depressing.

It's hard enough dealing with a pet's death; we shouldn't have to worry that the vase we selected to remember Fluffy by doesn't really have Fluffy inside. The APPCC suggests asking the following questions of your vet or cemetery-service provider if you opt for cremating your furry friend: How exactly do they define "individual" cremation? How are individual animals' ashes identified? What are the storage and transport processes, both before and after cremation? Can you guarantee that my pet's remains will be treated with respect during this difficult time?

We hope you've never had to face this sort of hoax – but if you have, please share your story in our comments section.

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