Pet crematory pays due dilligence to standards |

Pet crematory pays due dilligence to standards

John Seelmeyer

Steve Woods reads through page after page of the requirements that A Beloved Friends Pet Crematory needed to address on its path to becoming accredited by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories.

The housekeeping regimen. The rules on exterior landscaping. The standards for continuing education of staff members. The requirements for detailed recordkeeping. The emergency plan in case of disaster.

It’s little wonder that Woods and his wife, Elaine, spent several months fine-tuning the operations of A Beloved Friends before the inspection that led to the accreditation of their business. It’s the first accreditation awarded by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories.

But here’s the kicker: Steve Woods brought much of the work on himself. He was one of eight pet crematory owners and operators around North America who met monthly for more than two years to hammer out more than 240 standards for accreditation.

A methodical approach to the business is nothing new for Woods.

After his retirement from a 31-year career as a deputy and chief deputy coroner, details of a successful pet cremation business caught his eye when he read a magazine article about the best business startups for people older than 50. His wife had retired after 43 years as a registered nurse.

For the next two years, Steve Woods visited pet crematories in Texas, Ohio, Maine, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California.

“I told myself that we would do it only if we could do it better than they did,” Woods recalls. A Beloved Friends opened in late 2008.

A key element that differentiated the best pet crematories, he found, was the ethical standards to which they held themselves. And that began with the words they used to describe their services.

The international association defines three types of pet cremation:

Communal, in which several pets are cremated together and their remains are comingled. These remains aren’t returned to the owner — for example, when animals come from a shelter and don’t have a specific owner.

Individual cremation, in which several pets are cremated at the same time, but their remains are kept separate for return to the client. (A Beloved Friends separates them with fire bricks.)

Private cremation, in which only one pet is placed in the crematorium.

Most of A Beloved Friends’ clients opt for private cremation, Woods says.

Along with service type, costs are based on the weight of the animal. Private cremation of a 24-pound dog, for instance, is priced at $130. (A Beloved Friends has provided service for animals as large as 400-pound Bengal tiger and as small as a chameleon.)

Many owners also decide to purchase one of the 75 types of urns sold by A Beloved Friends rather than rely on the standard urns provided in the basic service.

The company’s services begin when it picks up a pet, either at the owner’s home or a veterinarian’s office. Cremation, a three-hour process in a unit that heats to more than 1,450 degrees, is scheduled as soon as possible.

A Beloved Friends has a freezer in its back room — it’s required by the international association’s standards — but Woods keeps it unplugged.

“I’m not going to put my pet in a freezer, and I’m not going to put your pet in a freezer, either,” he says. “We take care of the pets as soon as we can after they arrive at our facility so they can be home in 24 hours at the maximum.”

The six employees of the business also are focused on providing emotional support to pet owners who often are deeply stricken with grief at the loss of a companion.

“Our biggest expense is Kleenex,” Woods says.

A velvet-topped table in a quiet room provides an opportunity for clients to say farewell to a beloved pet. Some stay throughout the cremation process, taking the cremated remains in an urn with them when they leave.

The emotional support for clients and the standards that Woods has set for the operation are, he says, simply the right things to do.

But they also are the key elements in the company’s slow-but-steady growth.

“Word of mouth is very important,” he says. “That’s why we’re transparent all the way. That’s a big word around here.”