The death of a loved pet can be a traumatic experience for many families. Dogs and cats become a special presence in their lives.
Some grow up with a household's children as they mature into young adults and may even appear in graduation photos. Others may be a special companion to an older couple in retirement, going on trips with them in RVs or sitting on their laps during a movie in the living room.
When they pass away, it can be difficult to know what to do next. A new Philomath business offers a unique option with what is called aquamation. In basic terms, it's a cremation that uses a process with water instead of flame.
Veterinarian Jilinda Lewis, who also owns Ark Animal Hospital in Philomath and Eastgate Veterinary Clinic in Corvallis, runs the service, which is called Peaceful Heart Aquamation. It is located next door to Ark at 1112 Applegate St., in the back portion of the yellow building just west of the post office.
Peaceful Heart Aquamation represents the only place in all of Oregon where pet owners can go for this service, Lewis said. The next closest aquamation facility is just over the northern state line in Vancouver, Washington, opening up just a few months before the Philomath business.
There is a funeral home in Roseburg that offers human aquamation as an alternative to traditional cremations or burials.
"It's a water-based process instead of flame-based, so the bodies are placed in a stainless steel machine that has two trays and then they're gently lowered down in the machine and are covered with water," Lewis said.
Water flow, temperature and alkalinity come together to hydrolyze proteins down to amino acids, Lewis continued. The process takes approximately 20 hours. "It's just an accelerated decomposition process," she said.
The process also gets rid of any viruses, bacteria, prions and chemicals.
"So pets that have had chemotherapy in their system, euthanasia solutions, all of those things are neutralized so that they're not released," Lewis said.
The procedure continues after coming out of the machine.
"Because the process uses water, they come out of the machine wet so we have a drying room with a dehumidifier that dries the bone out and then uses the same type of cremulator that flame-based cremation uses to grind them down," Lewis explained. "We have a screening process so that the bigger pieces go back and that they end up being very fine."
The pet's remains are sand-like and light in appearance.
"It's a very fine, much lighter in color than flame-based cremation because there's no charring," Lewis said.
The machine's design allows individual aquamations or up to 14 at a time if smaller pets are involved. Dividers can be taken out of the machine for a "communal" process for those who don't want the remains back.
"Really the only other option is to take them home and bury them and in our part of the country, either it's wet, muddy and fairly hard to dig or it's dry, rock hard and fairly hard to dig," Lewis said. "Certainly some people do have pet cemeteries and they take their pets home, but a lot of people now choose to cremate."
The machine has the capacity to handle up to 400 pounds once a day.
Interestingly, the technology was actually developed in the 1800s.
"They developed it to make fertilizer from the larger farm animals when they would pass away," Lewis said. "It was just kinda forgotten about until in Europe when they had the prion diseases in the deer and cattle, and they brought the technology back out to get rid of those carcasses so they didn't have to worry about spreading the prions."
Prions are any of a group of tiny infectious agents capable of self-replication and thought to be the cause of various degenerative diseases.
The costs for private aquamation with ashes returned to the owner run anywhere from $105 to $225 depending on the size of the pet and also includes a tin or wooden urn. Communal aquamations, or those that are not returned to the owner, have a lower price range of $55 to $150. The business also offers various other additional services ranging from body collection to a clay or ink paw print or engraved plate for the wooden urn.
For more information on Peaceful Heart Aquamation, go online to https://peacefulheartaquamation.com or call 541-929-8145.