Pet Burial and Cremation Service The Buzz


"If you're not a pet lover, you shouldn't be in the business."

So says Stephen Drown. He is the executive director of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries (IAPC). The business he's talking about is pet burial and cremation, also known as the pet death care business.

There's no question people love their pets. Many owners want special treatment for their pets when they die. This growing industry helps people cope with a loss that can hit hard.

Some pet crematoria do not include cemeteries. Full-service businesses offer both options.

If the pet is cremated, owners can keep the urn containing the ashes, also known as cremains. Alternatively, the ashes can be buried or scattered.

Most pet cemeteries and crematoria carry a variety of urns and caskets. Some additional features might include pet mausoleums and viewing rooms to watch the cremation.

Some pet cemeteries offer other pet-related services, including boarding kennels, grooming salons, training centers and veterinary hospitals.

There's no question the industry is at least several million dollars in size. But Drown is unaware of any industry estimates. The IAPC, founded in 1971, does not ask its members about sales figures. The association focuses on ethical guidelines and training.

There are about 800 pet cemeteries and crematoria in North America, Drown says. "That 800 figure is some mom-and-pops and some multimillion-dollar operations," says Drown.

"If you're going into business today, this is the business to go into. There is demand all over the country."

There are certainly a lot of pets out there. Drown says there are more cats in North America than there are people.

Then there are the other small creatures people have as pets, or big ones -- such as horses.

"That's the largest growing part of the pet cemetery business -- horse cremation and horse burial," Drown says. Not many crematoria can accommodate an animal as large as a horse. But more will likely be built to meet the demand.

Drown runs a pet cemetery in a rural area of New York state. It includes a pet funeral home, pet crematorium and pet mausoleum. Drown says his cemetery is successful despite the fact that people outside urban centers are free to bury their pets in their backyards.

However, Drown says many factors influence the success of businesses in this industry. These include how many people are in your area, the amount of competition, the services you provide and the demographics of the surrounding populace.

All these factors make it impossible to estimate what people earn in this industry, Drown says. "You can certainly make a good living," he adds.

The start-up costs can vary wildly. But they certainly aren't cheap. If you're going to have a cemetery, you need an acre or more of land.

Crematoria can cost $60,000 or more, and many businesses have more than one. Then there's inventory (caskets, urns, grave markers) and the building itself, which often has to be built around the crematorium.

"There is a big monetary investment," Drown says. "Some places it's more. Some places it's less."

Ken Wee started a pet cremation business four years ago.

"I had dogs and wanted to do my own cremations for my dogs," he says. "We only had the SPCA [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] and a couple of other services that didn't allow you to view the cremation. The question in my mind was 'Why not?' So I decided to set up my own."

Wee cremates pets up to about 150 or 200 pounds, such as a large dog. About half the pets brought in are cats and half are dogs. Smaller creatures such as gerbils and hamsters are also brought in.

Wee says the big monetary investment is a downside to the industry. "We have equipment here in the range of $150,000 [he has two crematoria]. To run the equipment is expensive. I think we just broke even this year. So it takes a while to get on your feet.

"This is a critical year for us, because this is the year we have to repair the machines. The floor, the bricks, the walls -- they don't last," Wee says. "It's going to cost me about $20,000 to fix the two machines."

Anyone opening a pet cemetery or crematorium needs to follow various regulations. Cemeteries can only be built on land zoned for that use. The land needs to be tested to ensure no contamination of groundwater occurs.

Permits are needed for the gas that is used in the crematoria. City and state regulations vary, so those entering the industry need to do their homework.

The fees paid by customers depend on the size of the animal. Typically, Wee charges from $30 to $160.

"Our mean price is in the area of $150 to $160," says Alan Molloy. He owns a full-service pet cemetery and crematorium. "That's what most people end up spending.

"We've been in it for five years," Molloy says. "We're basically paying the bills and making a few dollars now. It's not something that will make you a fortune. But over time, if you can develop a market, there is an opportunity there."

Molloy estimates typical start-up costs to be around a quarter-million dollars. His cemetery is on five acres of land. The crematorium is in a separate area, in a building on three acres of land.

Diane Rozier agrees with the quarter-million-dollar estimate. She owns a pet cemetery and cremation service in South Carolina. It's been in operation for 20 years.

"We're kind of pioneers, I guess," Rozier says. "We've always done well, but it's something that's really taken off in the past eight to 10 years."

Rozier credits that growth to increased awareness of pet death services. She says it's not really possible to advertise without seeming crass, so word of mouth is key.

"I think you have to like animals, and I do," says Rozier. "If you go in thinking these are just dogs and cats, and who really gives a rip, I don't think that's going to work for you."

As for training, Rozier recommends some business education. She has a business degree, which she finds helpful.

"Any person with average intelligence would be able to run this business," says Wee.

The IAPC offers courses twice a year on how to start and run a pet cemetery. The eight-hour course covers all areas of the business, says Drown, and costs $550.

This business has its challenges. To build your business, you need to offer excellent service, which isn't always easy.

"It's very demanding," says Rozier. "We work 365 days a year. We take calls in the night. So it's not a Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 job. Some people think this would make a good hobby business, but it's no hobby business. If you're going to succeed, you've got to provide service."

But if you love animals and enjoy getting to know their owners, this business can be very satisfying.

"We offer a service to people that they really do appreciate," says Molloy. "I have developed friendships from people who have come here, and they've continued to come back and visit.

"It gives them peace of mind, and that's what I enjoy."

Links

International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories
Tips on dealing with pet loss, a list of members and more

San Diego Pet Memorials Park
An example of a pet burial park and cremation facilty