Pound fails undercover test of cremation services
Published Monday, April 2, 2012 1:41PM PDT
The Vancouver pound is defending its animal cremation practices after failing an undercover test of its private services.
Steele on Your Side launched a hidden camera investigation evaluating the facility after the majority of privately operated crematoriums in B.C. failed recent independent testing, exposing unethical and arguably fraudulent behaviour in the private cremation industry.
The city-run Vancouver pound is among six crematoriums in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island that failed tests by a team of private investigators made up primarily of former police officers.
Investigators filled toy cats with raw hamburger meat and submitted them for private cremations to test the ethics of the industry. Because the toys contain no bone material, any bone samples contained in the returned urn would constitute a fraud, said lead investigator Ivan Chu.
In each of the half dozen failed tests, the facilities returned urns filled with a substance archeologists confirmed was animal bone.
Chu said he was shocked when the taxpayer-funded Vancouver pound failed its testing, calling its actions "fraudulent."
"It's wrong, and they're going to have to answer to it," Chu said.
The private investigation was paid for by the Pet Cremation Alliance, a group of animal lovers and pet industry experts who suspected unethical behaviour on the part of some companies who they say were severely undercutting the competition in B.C.
Steele on Your Side decided to do its own test of the Vancouver pound, again using a toy cat filled with hamburger meat.
The decoy cat was frozen and wrapped in white plastic kitchen bags before it was carried into the pound by an undercover CTV producer wearing a hidden camera and microphone.
The producer paid $90 in total to privately cremate the 10-pound "cat," dubbed Andy. Staff said the private cremation would ensure that animal was placed alone in the crematorium.
The price is more than double that of a general cremation, which means the cat would be placed in the crematorium along with many other animals. The ashes are typically not returned in this process.
Cremation experts said what should have been returned from our pound submission was simply a few metal pins and screws and a pinch of dust from Andy, because it was a toy that contained no bone structure.
But what was returned was an urn full of ashes that archeologists confirmed contained multiple bone samples.
Brian Pegg, a zoo archeologist and Kwantlen College instructor, said Andy's ashes contained part of a cat claw, a phalange and possibly a bird bone.
"Unless your toy cat had bones in it which seems really unlikely, you've got some contamination in your sample," Pegg said.
"There is bone in the sample, small fragments as well as complete elements."
Tom Hammel, who speaks on behalf of the Vancouver pound, admitted that the facility does not do individual cremations, despite what shelter staff told our producer.
Instead it burns several animals at once, separated by a brick inside of the crematorium. The practice, sometimes dubbed "partitioned cremation," is a practice shunned by crematoriums that do private cremations because you can't guarantee the remains won't be mixed together.
Hammel defended the practices of the pound and said they provide pet owners with a trustworthy service.
"We can assure the pet owners in the city of Vancouver that when they come to us and provide us with a pet -- a deceased pet for cremation -- for a private cremation that they're going to get their pet remains back," he told CTV's Steele on Your Side.
When asked why a cremated toy cat would yield an urn containing animal bones he said that "sometimes there's a little bit of cross-contamination that can happen between samples when we sweep up the remains of the ashes."
"It's possible that bones or other fragments from previous cremations would get mixed in with the current remains."
However, a pet cremation expert who looked at the urn returned from the pound said it contained the remains equivalent of a "medium to large size cat" – a substantial amount.
Hammel said despite the investigation results the pound has absolutely no concerns about its procedures and no plans to change them.
"We can assure pet owners of deceased animals that we're providing a good service, that they're getting back the remains that they bring us. I think we are doing a good job and we're diligent in providing those services," he said.
Chu believes the failed tests amount to a "serious consumer deception," where crematoriums take advantage of grieving pet owners by selling them a premium service they never deliver. In some cases, a private cremation costs three times as much as a communal one.
Private investigators notified RCMP about their test results, but so far no action has been taken.
While there are multiple laws governing the human funeral industry and crematoriums in Canada, there are none for the pet cremation industry.
Courtenay RCMP launched a cremation fraud investigation against a local facility last spring, but the file was closed after several months because there was not enough evidence a crime was committed.
Of the 12 crematoriums tested by private investigators, three passed. These are: Until We Meet Again Pet Memorial Center in North Vancouver, Pet Loss Care Memorial Centre in Victoria and Forever in Peace in Mission. It should be noted that not every B.C. crematorium was tested.
Two of the facilities where the toy cats were submitted – Alouette Animal Hospital and Capilano Pet Hospital -- caught them before they were sent to the crematorium.
Watch CTV News for a full report from Lynda Steele and the shocking undercover video. And come back tomorrow to find out why there are no rules governing the pet cremation industry.
Have your say: What do you think of the test results, and the pound's response?