You’ve Got a Friend in Me; A new model for pet aftercare

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I used to own a pet crematory as part of my end-of-life mobile veterinary service. Before this, I worked with local crematories in northern Colorado, all of whom did amazing work caring for my patients after death. Building my own aftercare service opened my eyes to what crematory companies can do for veterinary teams. And there’s a lot. Sometimes it takes being fully involved with an industry to really understand it, and see the opportunities for collaboration. I’d like to propose that vet med start utilizing aftercare companies more than we historically have. Here are some thoughts to spark the conversation.

My aftercare company was purchased by Regency, now under the umbrella of Gateway Services Inc, one of the largest pet crematory operators in North America. Crematories I’ve worked with have two main missions; meet the needs of the pet owner and provide veterinary support. It’s easy to agree that pet owners come first. They are the ones grieving. They should ask for and receive anything they want to honor the life of their beloved friend. Second, then, is the veterinary team, and crematories want to make their role in aftercare arrangements as easy as possible.

A recent study showed that pet owners were three times more likely to discuss aftercare needs with their veterinary teams compared to pet crematory staff. This is due to a century of vet hospitals managing womb to tomb, cradle to grave, birth to earth patient care. Pet owners are used to this, but the pressure to manage increasing aftercare demands by clients has placed veterinary teams in tricky waters.  Hospitals are already stretched thin on time and resources, and yet they continue to fill the role of funeral director, too. Is this what’s needed in modern vet med, or is now the time to leverage aftercare companies more? Some veterinary services are reaching out to aftercare companies to do just this, to great success.

A More Meaningful and Effective Approach

  • Increased pet owner preplanning so they can freely advocate for what they want
  • Application of technology to show pet owners their options from the start
  • Better utilization of aftercare companies for pet owner communication
  • Pet owners working directly with aftercare companies
  • Veterinary teams regaining their time by inviting aftercare companies to step up and serve

I know what you may be thinking…it’s asking a lot for pet owners to pre-plan for the death of their pet. It will require training by the veterinarian team to open these conversations earlier and for the aftercare companies to increase community awareness so pet owners know who to turn to. They need to become more visible to pet owners, open their doors for tours/open houses, and remove any concerns pet owners may have going to their facilities. Most I’ve toured are appealing, tranquil places that embrace the beauty of the human-animal bond. A model where pet owners work directly with the aftercare services will give veterinary teams their time back, pet owners will gain more choices/support/time from the aftercare experts, and aftercare companies will increase their engagement with pet owners, something most have always wanted.  

In a recent conversation with Scott Buttz of Regency/Gateway Services, he shared how his aftercare companies would like to rebrand pet crematories as funeral homes; even more welcoming and in line with human death care. And I think it’s a noble plan. Pet owners may have a misguided interpretation of what pet crematories are like. With the help of the veterinary industry, pet owners can be encouraged to see for themselves just how special pet crematories can be.

Modern Best Practices for Aftercare Companies (first proposed in another blog from 2021)

  • Client/pet owner centric services
  • Same day pet pickup
  • Provide emotional assistance (i.e., grief support facilities for visitations/services, etc.)
  • Demonstrate high quality body handling standards (i.e., proper containment and cleanliness; respectful conduct with or without owners present)
  • Play an active role in pet owner education and preplanning

Owning an end-of-life veterinary service and pet crematory has been a wonderful experience. I am blessed to have seen death care from both sides of the aisle. My takeaway is that while veterinary teams may feel compelled to handle everything for the pet owner, they simply may not have the time. Who does have the time is the pet crematory staff…and the training, the compassion, and the answers the pet owners are seeking. Let’s partner and learn more of what can be done together for grieving families. Step one…tour your local crematories and ask them how they can better support pet owners while lessening the work of the veterinary team.

* Photo of Hinsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory in Illinois

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Dr. Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, CPEV, DACAW resident Founder, Senior Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy

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