Complaints against pet cremation service providers on the rise

Golden retriever Homer, considered part of the owners’ family, was cremated when it died of old age. The Sunday Times looks at the pet cremation industry and complaints that have been lodged against service providers

The demand for pet cremation services has been growing in recent years, in line with the increase in the number of pet owners and shifting attitudes on how to send these furry friends off after they die.

But complaints against service providers have surfaced. Some residents living near pet crematoriums have complained of a burning smell and one service provider was recently accused of releasing "fake ashes" after the cremation was done.

Such incidents have led some people to call for greater regulation of the industry and transparency from service providers.

Last year, a number of complaints involving "fake ashes" were directed at Express Pet Cremation (EPC), which reportedly used to operate at Pasir Ris Farmway 2.

At least two police reports were made against the company, with complainants claiming it returned to them substances similar to sand and cement after their pets were cremated. EPC's owner, Mr Patrick Lim, reportedly denied these allegations.

When contacted, an Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) spokesman said last week that the authority inspected EPC's premises last year, but did not find unauthorised pet cremation activities on the premises.

These premises have now been taken over by another establishment, the spokesman added.

When The Sunday Times called Mr Lim's number, a woman answered the phone and said he was overseas. She also confirmed that EPC was still providing pet cremation services, but did not say where.

There are at least seven pet cremation service providers here, a quick online search shows.

But only four have been allowed to operate at pet animal establishments and veterinary clinics licensed by the AVA.

These four organisations are Mount Pleasant Veterinary Centre (Whitley); Mutts & Mittens; Thierry Lim Thian Seng; and The Pet Hotel.

Online checks indicate that Mutts & Mittens and The Pet Hotel are both located in Pasir Ris Farmway 2, while Thierry Lim Thian Seng is in Seletar West Farmway 5.

It is understood that the Mount Pleasant Pet Sanctuary in Mandai, which has been operating the crematorium previously located at Whitley since 2014, is neither in a pet animal establishment nor a veterinary clinic.

This year, five complaints have been lodged with the National Environment Agency (NEA) against this pet sanctuary regarding "smell nuisance".

They were made by three residents of the nearby Thong Bee residential estate.

In addition, two other such complaints about bad smells have also been lodged with NEA against other service providers.

NEA regulates the air emissions at the exhaust outlet of incinerators.

It inspected the Mount Pleasant Pet Sanctuary and Thong Bee residential estate on multiple occasions, but did not detect any burning smells during these visits.

A spokesman for the agency said: "NEA did not detect any abnormalities in Mount Pleasant Pet Sanctuary's equipment or operations. NEA also inspected the general surroundings within the residential estate but did not detect any burning or industrial activity which could give rise to smell nuisance."

The agency will continue to monitor the case closely, says its spokesman, adding that operators of incinerators must comply with the air emission limits stipulated under the Environmental Protection and Management Act.

Ms Ling Ing, 50, an administrator at Mount Pleasant Pet Sanctuary, told The Sunday Times that cremations in its incinerator are "smokeless and odourless".

She adds: "Our services are recognised by the authorities and our operations have minimal impact on the environment. We have informed residents that they can contact us if they have any issues related to the cremations."

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has received three complaints involving pet cremation services since 2014.

One complainant claimed that after engaging a pet cremation service, she sent her pet's ashes for testing and found out that 90 per cent of the "ashes" consisted of silicate compounds.

This complainant declined to be interviewed by The Sunday Times.

The other two complaints lodged involved unsatisfactory services rendered, where the service agreed on was not what was provided.

Case's executive director, Mr Loy York Jiun, 43, suggests that there could be more transparency in the pet cremation industry.

He says: "For example, companies should be upfront about their policies and procedures and allow consumers the option to witness the cremation process where possible."

He advises consumers to engage only approved pet cremation service providers, adding that consumers should always ask for the company's procedure and policies in pet disposal.

Ms Olivia Choong, 38, who is president and co-founder of environmental group Green Drinks (Singapore), says it is essential for pet cremation service providers to adhere to high emission standards to minimise the amount of air pollutants released into the environment.

"While regulations can be passed, it is not always easy to enforce, so the relevant government agency needs to make regular unscheduled visits to check on such companies, if they don't already do so."

Costs range from $20 to $800

The Mount Pleasant Veterinary Group was the first to make pet cremation services available here in 1987, when it set up a pet crematorium in Whitley Road.

The Mount Pleasant Pet Sanctuary - which falls under the Mount Pleasant Veterinary Group - in Mandai now operates this crematorium, which was moved from Whitley to Mandai in 2014.

The crematorium cremates more than 150 animals - mostly dogs - every month.

Customers have three options. The most expensive is a private cremation, where their pet is placed in the cremation chamber alone and the owner, friends and family members are allowed to be present during the cremation.

After the procedure, the pet's remains are handed over to the owner inside a porcelain urn.

Such cremations cost from $400 for a pet weighing under 10kg, to $800 for one weighing up to 100kg.

A cheaper option involves having the pet processed with other pets in one cremation session, but in separate partitions, with no mixing of ashes.

Another option is a mass cremation where the ashes are combined and buried in the pet sanctuary's common burial ground.

Mass cremations typically cost from $20 for hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, rabbits, ferrets, puppies and kittens, from $150 for cats and dogs below 10kg, and from $250 for heavier animals.

Depending on which option customers choose, it can take anywhere between one and 10 days for customers to receive the ashes. Urns of various shapes and designs may also be provided.

Operators of pet animal establishments and veterinary clinics that wish to conduct ancillary activities such as pet cremation on their premises must seek approval from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority.

Operators must also ensure that the air emissions at the exhaust outlet of the incinerator used are within the limits stipulated under the Environmental Protection and Management Act.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline Complaints against pet cremation service providers on the rise. Subscribe