TWIN FALLS — For many people, pets are family. And for Charles Schabacker, that connection doesn’t stop upon their death.
Schabacker has had his pets cremated, and when he dies, he wants his ashes to be mixed with theirs. With the growing popularity of cremation over the past decade, it isn’t an unusual request; Schabacker, a veterinarian and owner of Sawtooth Veterinary Services in Jerome, says he knows several other clients with those same wishes.
Heidi Heil of Twin Falls didn’t have the option of cremation when her cat died while she was attending mortuary school in 2001. Nor did she own any property for a burial. So Heil had her 14-year-old cat stuffed and made to look like she’s curled up asleep.
“I consider her my first child,” Heil said. “It really helped me with losing her, to have her there.”
And she intends to be buried with her.
Cremation has made it easier for humans to have memorial keepsakes of their pets, and there’s a big demand for those services in the Magic Valley. Heil, owner of Serenity Funeral Chapel Life Celebration Center & Cremation Services of Idaho, says she gets calls every week from people wanting to know if she can cremate their animals. It was for this reason she requested permission to cremate both humans and pets from her center in Twin Falls.
The Idaho Board of Morticians this month denied her request, stating state code prohibits humans and animals from being cremated in the same facilities — even though Heil intended to use a separate container for the pets to prevent co-mingling of remains.
“Apparently, they really frown upon it,” she said.
She refers interested callers to Green Acres Pet Center in Twin Falls. Sawtooth Veterinary Hospital in Jerome also offers cremation services.
There are some who would still prefer a traditional burial or even a small service. And it appears that there is nothing in state or local codes that prohibits small animal burials on private property in town.
Rules on burials or disposal
“There’s nothing I know of that makes it unlawful to bury your pet on your own property,” said Lt. Daron Brown with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office.
The Idaho Department of Agriculture has rules in place that apply only to animals 100 pounds or heavier. These animals must be taken to a licensed rendering facility or approved landfill, or buried at least 3 feet deep. Burial sites must also be at least 300 feet from any residences or wells, 100 feet from public roadways, 200 feet from bodies of water and 50 feet from property lines.
Any pets under 100 pounds are not overseen by the state, agriculture department Chief Operating Officer Chanel Tewalt said.
“A county or city may have some kind of ordinance in place,” she said.
City of Twin Falls spokesman Joshua Palmer said no one had ever asked the city about pet burials and their legality.
“The City of Twin Falls does not regulate the disposal of deceased animals, unless the disposal involves another ordinance or statute,” the city attorney’s office said in a statement. “For example, a person cannot trespass on another’s property to bury a deceased animal.”
The city now plans to add a section on its website regarding the removal of deceased pets, recommending residents call their veterinarian or, as a last resort, Southern Idaho Solid Waste.
The regional solid waste district has few rules regarding the acceptance of animal carcasses, Executive Director Josh Bartlome said. People can bring in small animals to either a transfer station or the Milner Butte Landfill. Larger carcasses, however, can be taken to a transfer station only with a 24-hour notice so Southern Idaho Solid Waste can make plans to take them off the premises quickly.
The landfill does see a higher volume of animal carcasses coming in during winter months, Bartlome said, especially when cattle slip and hurt themselves. And burial isn’t always an option even for pet owners.
“During the winter, it’s almost impossible to chisel through the frost layer to bury a dog deep enough,” Schabacker said.
Options for cremation
Behind Sawtooth Veterinary Hospital, an old incinerator is running almost every day, reaching temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It generally takes about six hours to cremate a dog,” Schabacker said.
His business offers both private and communal cremations, but it’s only with the private cremations that owners get cremated remains — or cremains — back.
“We are really conscientious about making sure people get their dog back,” he said.
During cremation, the soft tissues and even some bone is burned off. For a private cremation, the bones are then ground up into a powder, bagged and placed in a decorative wooden box that’s included in the price. Schabacker has some nicer urns for $35-40, but “most people are just happy with the box.”
The remains from communal cremations are spread over the lawns behind the veterinary clinic, he said. Sawtooth Veterinary Hospital has cremated cats, dogs, rats, snakes and guinea pigs, Schabacker said. And it also contracts with other vet clinics in the area.
Schabacker has been offering crematory services for 10 years, but says it’s time he get a new incinerator. He’s running the machine even on weekends just to stay caught up. And it isn’t inexpensive.
“It’s not a big profit center,” he said. “This is more of a service.”
He typically charges $37 to $133 for communal cremations, depending on the size of the animal. Private cremations range from $110 to $234.
Green Acres Pet Center offers another type of cremation using an alkaline hydrolysis system, Manager Bob Davis said. Unlike a burn facility, this one uses chemical reactions to remove the soft tissues. The bones are then dehydrated and ground into dust, he said.
“It takes seven to 10 days to get through the process,” Davis said.
Green Acres offers both communal and private cremations, which range from $40 to $270 depending on which option you want and how large the animal is. Pet owners also get a carved box and a complimentary paw imprint.
Davis said Green Acres Pet Center plans to set up a separate mortuary space for people to bring in their deceased pets.
Heil said she has some urns for pet cremains in stock, and she can also order jewelry that has their paw print on it for a memorial keepsake. If you’re planning an at-home burial, both Valley View Veterinary Clinic and Sawtooth Veterinary Hospital offer boxes for taking pets home.