Losing a pet can be a tough experience. As a child, the loss of a pet could be the first instance of dealing with death; as an adult, a symptom of the passing of time. Those people who choose to keep the remains of their lost loved one often choose cremation, but now a choice can be made between the traditional cremation and an environmentally friendly option.
Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation, is a technique that has been in use for over a decade by scientists working with the human body as a means by which to dispose of said bodies in a clean, sterile and environmentally friendly way.
While in a specially designed aquamation machine, the body is broken down into its base elements by a stream of water heated to over 200 degrees combined with alkaline, creating a solution that mimics natural decomposition.
In just the past several years, veterinarians have taken to the technology for departed pets as well.
Jerry Shevick, owner and CEO of Peaceful Pets Aquamation located in Newbury Park, is not who you’d expect to enter into the world of pet remains. Shevick worked in the television industry for 30 years before stumbling upon aquamation, where he saw the opportunity for a niche business.
After months of research, however, Shevick discovered that alkaline hydrolysis is not only a greener way to deal with the remains of a beloved pet, but also the way to connect with the modern pet owner.
“People just want their animal handled with dignity, that’s all,” said Shevick. “Give them some respect because they were part of the family.”
When a pet passes away, be it dog, cat or otherwise, owners can choose to have the pet transferred to Peaceful Pets. The animal is then transported from its location via refrigerated truck to the facility where it undergoes the process, which can take anywhere from six to 18 hours.
After completion, all that remains are bones and any implants the animal may have had. The liquid is then collected and can be used as a natural fertilizer, as all are destroyed in the process, including those used for euthanasia or preservation.
Unlike traditional cremation, which involves extreme temperatures, there are no emissions for the aquamation process and no remnants of ash.
“My intent, really, with this is to redesign the entire aftercare industry,” said Shevick. “I think it’s a pretty archaic industry.”
The pet industry has seen a massive increase in net worth over the past decade. Since the year 2001, the market has more than doubled from $28.5 billion in industry expenditures to an estimated $58.5 billion in 2014 according to the American Pet Products Association. Shevick says that as the market grows, after care remains stuck in the dark ages.
Biologist Samantha Wilson is the vice president of research at Bio-Response Solutions based in Indiana, a manufacturer of alkaline hydrolysis machines and the only manufacturer of systems specifically designed for pets. Wilson says that the process has been in use since the 1990s for human remains and machines strictly used for pets are becoming increasingly popular, especially in California, as cremation requests increase.
Since 1985, the rate of cremation per human death has jumped from 15 percent of deaths resulting in a cremation to a near 44 percent projected rate by 2015.
“As a national average, cremation is going to exceed 50 percent and is going to surpass the burial,” said Wilson, who says there are many reasons for the increase. “A cremation can be more environmentally friendly than a burial.”
The amount of energy needed to cremate one human body traditionally — via heat — equates to driving roughly 4,800 miles in a car, or, according to Shevick, could “heat a home for three days straight in the dead of winter.”
Traditional burial also leaves a long -lasting impression on the environment.
“If you were just to bury a pet and they had to be euthanized, those chemicals would be present in the body,” said Wilson. “With this process, any disease would be gone, euthanasia chemicals would be gone; it’s a very safe fertilizer. All the nutrients in the body can basically be recycled safely.”
Shevick has worked with Dr. Jessica Spitzer, a veterinarian who also represents Lap of Love, a national organization that provides in-home hospice and euthanasia for pets. Spitzer says that making the family comfortable while dealing with grief is an important part of the after care process and that veterinarians are beginning to realize this.
“I do feel that I get a better chance at the home to really help people with the transition and they get the best that can be with them,” said Spitzer. “I try to do the same thing in a clinic, but for one thing the dog is more comfortable at home and so are the people.”
For Shevick, the environmental impact is a plus, but not the primary focus of the aftercare provided. A focus on compassion and respect to the animal is a service that also needs to be considered when dealing with the growing number of concerned pet owners, says Shevick.
“They just want their animals treated with dignity through the whole process, that’s all,” said Shevick. “Handle them right, give them some respect because they’ve been part of the family.”
For more information on Peaceful Pets and Aquamation, visit www.peacefulpetsaquamation.com.