The best disposition at an animal shelter is through adoption, but not every outcome meets our hope. Due to age, illness, behavior, or overcrowding, we are too frequently faced with the need to dispose of an animal that has been brought to the shelter dead or has been euthanized. The four methods of disposal are landfill, rendering, selling them for research and cremation. I have always said that the respect in which an animal shelter treats there dead animals is an indicator as to how they treat their animals while they were alive.
Burying the animals at the landfill is the cheapest option and least preferred. Overtime, landfills have stopped accepting animal remains. The process requires that someone is available upon delivery of the load of animals to dig a hole and cover it up immediately. But, beyond the additional work, there is a general feeling among community members that pets should not be treated like garbage.
The ability to use rendering plants and local research companies to “repurpose” the animals are becoming rarer and rarer. But, these are to two options that provide for revenue when selling off your dead animals. You’ll have to do a little research to see if these options are available and if your community is open to the idea.
One option that should be mentioned is selling your live animals for research. When I was director of the a Utah animal shelter, the State passed a law requiring animal shelters to make their animals available for research I was opposed to this Pound Seizure principle. I spend much of my time finding work-a-rounds to prevent the animals in my care to become research subjects. It is an issue that you may one day face. No all research on live animals is bad, but who wants to take the chance?
Cremation is the most preferred method of disposal, but it is costly due to the upfront cost of equipment and the ongoing cost of fuel. In an effort to reduce costs, some “efficient” crematoriums are constructed with the secondary burner below the primary burner, so the heat from one adds to the heat to the other.
Very quickly, crematoriums have two chambers: the primary chamber is where the animals are placed and a secondary chamber to burn the smoke and debris caused during the primary bury; so in other words, you are burning the fumes. The primary chamber is usually lined with fire brick called a green coat and infrequently needs to be replaced. In most models, the secondary chamber is in the smoke stack.
There are two problems with the new energy efficient crematoriums: your staff will have to lift the animals up into the primary chamber that may cause strain when dealing with large animals. In these models, the secondary chamber is a bricked chamber area under the primary (thus the need to have to lift animals up to the primary chamber). To reach the secondary chamber, a person has to climb into the primary chamber to access the area for brick replacement underneath. I am amazed that anyone can perform that task. Also, the primary chamber is only large enough for a dozen medium sized animals.
The most convenient crematoriums are the walk in units. Many are large enough for 50 to 100 animals. We had a couple oddball crematoriums in Wisconsin that only handed 3 to five animals. Given the size of those units, two were used. Since one or the other was always down for maintenance, it was nice to have the other as a backup unit. I suspect that these units had poor secondary burners, because it was always obvious when the units were in use. Given the smoke and neighborhood complaints, I suspect these units barely met EPA requirements. This is something to think about when building a shelter in a residential neighborhood and decide to cremate. We frequently had an inspector parked outside our shelter watching for visible emissions. Emissions or not, we were not a very good neighbor; more money should have gone in to the purchase of better units.
A word to the wise. If you have a crematorium, you might be approached by your local law enforcement and asked to burn a narcotics seizure. Unless you are eager to pay the cost of constantly green coating your unit, I would turn them down. Marijuana burns at a much high temperature that biomatter. There are special units for burning drugs. If you want to be the good guy, only burn a few kilos at a time with the animals.
If you have a crematorium, you will be asked to perform private cremations. Obviously, it is too expensive to fire up the crematorium for just one animal. Usually a private cremation is set aside of the main body of animals and scooped up separately. Many shelters will use large steel bowls to confine the ashes. Once the cremation is complete, you either sift out the larger pieces of bone or you put the ashes in a blender so that the ashes look esthetically like “ashes.” Many shelters have nice bags or boxes they use to return the ashes to the owner.
The biggest problem associated with crematoriums is that the companies that make these units seem to only stay in business a few years. As you can expect, as the units get older they require more maintenance; but it might become increasingly difficult to find someone to repair them. It is surprising how many things can go wrong. I knew a guy that flew around the country from unit to unit repairing crematoriums after the company went out of business. He was the last remaining expert. That was ten years ago.
In an ideal world, I would outsource the cremations, so as to avoid all of the problems that are associated with running your own crematorium. However, if your volume is too high, even an outside vender may refuse. This is one aspect that as communities increase their live placements, the need for costly crematoriums become less needed.
As we began expanding our animal placement efforts in Virginia, we saw the added benefit in cost savings to our budget in firing up the crematorium less.