Lorraine Schlaht rescues unwanted hamsters, litter trains them and teaches them to recognize words.
“They’re like little puppies,” the Port Coquitlam woman said while describing the pocket pets that bring her so much joy.
But when her most recent hamster, SnowPea, died after a full life at two-and-a-half years of age, Schlaht was devastated.
“SnowPea knew 20 words and when you would say, ‘Do you want kisses?’ she would hold her nose up,’” recalled Schlaht.
It was when Schlaht was told the cost of cremating SnowPea — $318 — that she found her emotions pivoting from sadness to shock.
Distraught by the high fee
“I was really distraught — [but] we had to have her [ashes] back,” said Schlaht.
“No matter the cost I would have to do what I could to raise the money to pay for her.”
In a panic, Schlaht gave the OK to the vet to proceed with the cremation.
A few days later, however, she tried to have it cancelled, only to be told it was too late.
Schlaht believes the pet crematorium, Until We Meet Again in Surrey, had access to software that could have cancelled the procedure and she believes the company is “price gouging” customers with pocket pets.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said Schlaht, who called the price “ridiculous” for such a small animal.
Ultimately, the crematorium service agreed to reduce the cost to $280 — the seniors’ rate.
But Schlaht believes the fee is still too high and believes her vet should have offered other options.
What’s more, she called six Tri-City veterinarians and found a wide range of charges for the service, from $200 to $468.
She encourages people to shop around and ask more questions about pet cremation services before handing over their beloved pet.
But Schlaht, who is on disability and did dog-sitting services to raise the fee, is likely among many stunned by the cost of veterinary and pet cremation services.
Like the cost of rent, mortgages and food, the cost of veterinary services — and pet cremation — are going up.
“The cost of living is very high. It trickles down to everything,” said Dr Marco Veenis, a director with the Canadian Medical Veteran Association (CVMA), Society of BC Veterinarians Chapter.
He said veterinarian and pet cremation services are facing higher costs, especially in larger cities, which have to be passed on to the consumer.
Shortage of trained vets
Of particular concern to B.C. veterinarians is the ongoing shortage of trained vet doctors, and despite B.C. boosting the number of seats, is still short 60 vets a year, said Veenis.
As for the fee Schlaht paid for her hamster’s cremation, Veenis acknowledged there are only two pet crematoriums in the Lower Mainland, although more are located on Vancouver Island and in the Interior.
However, he said while he couldn’t speak directly to the fee charged by Until We Meet Again, said he suspects that running a crematorium is expensive and the cost of providing the service for a hamster not much different than for a cat.
“The amount of work, labour, materials, time and effort is largely the same,” said Veenis, noting that both vets and pet cremation services have to provide dignified services that pet owners have come to expect.
As well, he said costs are higher in the city, especially to rent or own a building, while the machines are sized for the largest of animals.
The Tri-City News reached out to Until We Meet Again, but didn’t hear back. The Tri-City News did confirm that prices for cremating small pets is significantly cheaper at Forever in Peace in Mission.
However, owner Colleen Alpe said her family-owned business is struggling to keep its costs down.
Due to a staffing shortage, Forever In Peace Pet Cremation Services can’t take animals from the public. Therefore, it only services contracts with veterinary clinics — none of which are in the Tri-Cities.
Increasing costs for pet services
Alpe said charging $280 for a hamster is “highway robbery” but she acknowledged that she’ll likely have to raise fees for pet cremation services soon because costs are going up.
“Rent has gone up drastically. Natural gas has gone up from $4,000 to $12,000. The prices will be definitely going up.”
On its website, Until We Meet Again states that is partnered with Gateway Services Inc., a North American pet aftercare provider.
It offers pet after care, including cremation services, a compassion care line and grief support services, among other things.
On its website Until We Meet Again states:
“Today, we are proud to uphold the mission to operate a pet memorial center with honesty and integrity, ensuring all pets and their families are treated with the utmost respect, dignity, and compassion.”
However, Schlaht believes Until We Meet Again has “cornered the market," which is why it charges $280 to cremate a hamster.
“I don’t think the vets are the villains,” she said.
Larger animals, higher price
To get a neutral viewpoint on the subject, a family-run business in Courtenay was called to explain the complexities and costs of pet cremation.
Owner Tammy Hargreaves said costs are variable depending on the size of the animal, which affects the length of time in the crematorium, as well as electricity, propane and other costs.
While her fees are tailored to the community in an area where many people might choose burials, Hargreaves admitted she’s had to raise prices recently due to inflation — and may have to do so again.
“But we only raise our prices by $5,” she said.
Even a small animal, such as a bearded dragon cremated recently, takes 40 minutes, while cats can take three to four times longer.
“It’s time consuming. We have two machines,” said Hargreaves.
“We do five private cremations a day and it takes all day.”
Hargreaves couldn’t comment on the cost of the service in the Lower Mainland, but acknowledged that vets typically add a mark-up to the crematorium fee.
But she said Vancouver Island Crematorium, run by her and her husband with a part-time driver, is able to keep costs down because they own the property.
Still, prices are going up for building insurance, hydro, the driver and packaging.
As for a small pet, she says the crematorium has to be fired up no matter how tiny.
Consider options before end of life
B.C. vet Dr. Veenis said he sympathizes with Schlaht and others facing costly fees for pet cremation.
He suggested pet owners consider how they want their beloved pet to be handled when it’s nearing the end rather than after the animal’s death when emotions are high.
Burials are possible, especially in more rural areas, with precautions, as the pet should be buried as deeply as possible and away from waterways that may be used for drinking water.
Benevolent societies could be contacted when someone doesn’t have the ability to pay, Veenis suggested, while municipalities that deal with animal disposal could be approached, although he doubts many people would want to go that route.
There is also the option of choosing a communal cremation, where an animal is cremated with other animals and the ashes are spread on the property of the crematorium.
Most people, however, probably want a private cremation, and for those who can afford it, that will likely be their choice.
He recommended speaking with the vet to ask about options.
“If you know your pet is nearing the end of its life it might be good for you to educate yourself so when that final moment comes you aren’t caught by surprise.”
As for Schlaht, she now has a new hamster — Mousse — and has retrieved SnowPea’s ashes, which are contained in a small mother of pearl urn.
She wanted to raise the issue so people know what they could be facing when their beloved animal dies.
She suggests pet owners ask around for options.
“I want people to know there is an alternative and they don’t have to go through the agony I’ve been through.”