No ashes, what to do?
July 12, 2006 8:29 PM   Subscribe

DeadDogFilter: My vet lost my dog's ashes - what should I do?

I had to have my dog euthanized, and the vet hospital didn't have the ashes returned to me. I'm sad and angry - anybody have any ideas what I ought to do here?

Last September, my 10-year-old Weimaraner was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I had about two months to plan on how I wanted to deal with my best friend dying, and the thought of scattering her ashes at some of our favorite places made it a little easier to take. I talked to my vet beforehand about the procedure, when to know the time, and everything went exactly as he described. He did his best to make things easier on all of us - I really appreciate this man's concern for my dog's well being during her life and her death. I have nothing but respect for him.

Afterwards, I went to the front desk to settle up and to make the final arrangements. The vet tech asked how I wanted the body disposed of, and I said "Creamated."
"Do you want an urn?"
"Nah, you can give 'em to me in a plastic bag for all I care."
"But you don't want an urn?"
"No, I really don't care to buy their urn."
"Ok, we can call you in a few days, or you can check back when you're ready."
"Thanks, let me give you a call."

After about a week, I went back and the tech above handed me a manilla envelope:
"This is it?" [says me]
"I just thought there'd me more."
"There's a certificate and maybe a lock of hair in there."
"The ashes...??"
"You said you didn't want an urn."
"Right, I didn't want to pay for some ugly-ass urn, but I wanted the ashes. That's why I said that you could even give me them in a plastic bag."
"Oh my god, I feel awful..."

Apparently if you want your dog's ashes back, you have to buy an urn. If you don't want an urn, they just throw your dog in the fire with a bunch of others, and just do whatever with the collective ashes.

Realizing that there was absolutely no solution to the problem - I wanted my dog's ashes and they didn't exist anymore - I let go of the urge to absolutely stomp this woman's fucking head in and humbly left, hoping I'd learn to deal with it. Eight months later, sometimes I still cry a little bit about how all that happened. Can somebody please tell me what I can do? Should I be pissed and maybe raise hell with them? Or should I try to accept it as one of those things that I have to bear?

You people are smart, and I'm at a loss. Please help.
posted by lost_cause to Pets & Animals (37 answers total)
Response by poster: Oh yeah, obligatory photo of said dog
posted by lost_cause at 8:37 PM on July 12, 2006

i'm sorry that happened to you. and yes, i'd be pisssed.
posted by brandz at 8:39 PM on July 12, 2006

Have you tried executing your planned ritual using some sort of symbolic proxy for the ashes?
posted by Good Brain at 8:39 PM on July 12, 2006

Oh, how sad. You can rest assured that your story made it all the way around the office and that *some* change has been made there, because they do not want to make the same mistake again. You have every right to feel sad and frustrated.

This is something that you are going to have to bear, but maybe you can turn it into something positive? I have no idea how much urns cost, but why don't you do something with the money you would have spent on the urn? Donate it to a local animal shelter or your favorite charity. If you and your dog went to the park a lot (and I'm suspecting you did given the breed), you could donate to the parks department to have a tree planted. It's not going to bring the ashes back, but it could help bring some piece of mind.
posted by radioamy at 8:43 PM on July 12, 2006

Try to accept it. I had all my pets' ashes, collars, locks of hair, everything, I lugged them around with me for years, they were all lost in a massive apartment storage space fuckup, I was horrified, but then I thought about it and dealt with it. Your pet is gone, what made her her wasn't her body. If you have a lock of hair, why not do what you intended to do with the ashes with that? The principle and intent behind it are the same. If you're crying, I highly doubt you're truly crying about the ashes, I suspect you're just missing your dog and pinning that pain on the whole vet clinic screwup. No reason to freak out at them, but I might write them a letter explaining that they really should try to make sure that they and their clients are on the same page about things like this in future (if you can only have the ashes returned in an urn, then they should be sure to explain that you will not be able to get them back otherwise).

(In future, be really specific, "I want the ashes returned to me, but I do not want them in an urn")
posted by biscotti at 8:44 PM on July 12, 2006

Good grief, that is a handsome dog.
posted by chef_boyardee at 8:49 PM on July 12, 2006

"Nah, you can give 'em to me in a plastic bag for all I care."

if you really said it this way, with a "nah" and "for all i care," you'd come off as pretty uninterested. if i was on the other end of this exchange, i'd assume you didn't care what was done with the remains. so, no, you shouldn't raise hell with them.

also everything biscotti said.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 9:03 PM on July 12, 2006

Dude, you had to put your dog down. That is one of the crappiest things humans have to go through. I say, if it makes you feel better, give 'em hell. They fucked up big time.
posted by JPowers at 9:06 PM on July 12, 2006

Gah, why did you post the picture? *deep breath* What a good-looking dog. Weimaraners are so photogenic for some reason, it's ridiculous. I'm so sorry the vet treated you that way. You've got every right to be pissed, but as has already been said, there's not much they can do for you. Refund the cost of cremation, maybe?
posted by emelenjr at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2006

The question doesn't match the description: what you need to do is grieve for what you've lost and get past it.

Rasing hell now will achieve nothing and get you nothing. Eight months it would of the done the same. Whilst what they did was shitty, you do appear to have rolled over and accepted it too easily. Your exchanges with the vet, as sergeant sandwich mentions, do make it seem you didn't really give a hoot.
posted by toby\flat2 at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2006

I'm so sorry about your loss.

When our family's dogs died, the ashes were sent directly to us from the crematory sealed in a can. This was in L.A.

I have other stories about this, but this thread isn't the right place.
posted by brujita at 9:19 PM on July 12, 2006

One thing you might want to do is just go tell them how upset you still are and how much it matters to you that you don't have the ashes... and that you want to be sure that other pet owners are able to get their ashes without paying for an urn. It's WAY too late to be confrontational, but go and genuinely show them how much it hurts you that you weren't able to say goodbye how you wanted. If they are honest/legit, they will remember your pain and will be VERY careful not to make that mistake again.

If anything seems fishy about their reaction or answers, then you might contact your local papers... a racket where you have to pay for an urn to get your pet's ashes would be newsworthy.

Our family's tradition was usually to get a new pet when one died.... it really did seem to help. The new pet doesn't replace the old one, but it does help blunt the hurt some.

Your dog was gorgeous, btw. Wow.
posted by Malor at 9:32 PM on July 12, 2006

Your loss might be mitigated by ensuring that others don't go through what you experienced. "Hound" the vet's office — and copy any regulatory agency, the BBB, etc. — until they agree to provide all survivors with remains, whether in a baggie or said fugly urn.
posted by rob511 at 9:37 PM on July 12, 2006

Its been 8 months, I think its time to move on, if you wanted to do something about it the time was then, not now.
posted by crewshell at 9:50 PM on July 12, 2006

What Malor said. Make it a tribute to your lost friend that no one else will have to go through that. It was stupid and insensitive of the person who asked you about it. She wasn't paying attention, but going through the motions. They need to train their staff to pay attention. It may all be in a day's work for them, but for us pet owners, it's our friends and family members. (Yup, if I've had my cat for x years, she's family.)

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:56 PM on July 12, 2006

It sounds like you might be feeling guilty about your exchange with the vet assistant and that you're worried that you've disrespected the memory of the dog in some way because of what happened. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, though, so if I'm way off base feel free to ignore me.

If I were in your situation, I'd try to accept that this was just an unfortunate miscommunication. Generally, you have to pay extra for a single animal cremation, which is what the lady was asking about in a roundabout and unclear manner. The "urn" is usually just a tin canister that you could get at Hobby Lobby or some such.

I'd set up a small pet memory area to memorialize the pet. You can buy shadow boxes at a craft store for 10-15 bucks. Maybe pick up one of those, paint it a nice color that you think suits the dog, and put things in it that you associate with the good times you had with the dog. Her collar, a toy, the lock of hair, some photos, and so on. Maybe get a small plaque engraved with her name and year of birth and death. Or you could put the lock of hair in a prayer box necklace and have it sealed at a jeweler. Something like that, though. Something formal to honor the memory of the dog as a companion and friend.

After that I'd buy some confetti or sparkles or some such (seriously, I would) and let it go at the park or wherever I spent time with the dog. It's the ritual that matters, not the specific details.

Then, last but not least, I'd write a letter to the vet's office thanking them for their help with your dog's euthanization, which was handled well until the mixup with the cremation. Then, after briefly summarizing what happened, I'd politely suggest that they write a simple handout explaining the various options for cremation to help grieving and stressed people understand what the consequences of their choices in this matter will be. With this type of feedback you might help others who've lost their pets and that is one of the greatest things you can do to honor the memory of your lovely dog.

Good luck.
posted by xyzzy at 9:59 PM on July 12, 2006

1) I agree with what others have said that you need some kind of ritual remembrance ceremony. Something that'll signal your subconscious that the grieving has moved to a different stage.

2) Print out this thread, mail it to all the veterinarians in your area, and politely, professionally urge them to train their office staff in being super-crystal clear with grieving owners who will not be in the best frames of mind when it's time to make a gut-wrenching, but humane, decision.
posted by frogan at 10:00 PM on July 12, 2006

On preview, xyzzy said it better.
posted by frogan at 10:01 PM on July 12, 2006

if you really said it this way, with a "nah" and "for all i care," you'd come off as pretty uninterested.

Sorry about your dog, but your conversation with the front desk person doesn't jive with your question. Maybe it's the way it looks online, but you come across as not really giving a damn about the ashes.

Yes, the front desk person obviously made a mistake, which happens when you do something over and over and over. You certainly didn't help.

As for the urn, was it expensive? A can, an urn, something to hold the ashes is probably required. I wouldn't be comfortable with a place that would just throw ashes in an envelope.

I'd probably write a letter to the place in hopes it doesn't happen again. But if it was an honest mistake, I'm sure they already feel bad about the situation.

Move on.
posted by justgary at 10:08 PM on July 12, 2006

I'm sorry for your loss.

When I signed up to have my deceased 70 year-old (cat years) cat cremated, I didn't hear from the crematorium after a week. I called them up, and that's when they decided to tell me they couldn't read my address and actually copped an accusatory tone while telling me I needed to tell them a payment method. I still have no idea why they didn't call me in the first place.

At that point I pretty much accepted that they were idiots, and knew I couldn't be sure whether I would even get the correct ashes back, or whether they weren't part of some common ash collection. I regard the ashes as a symbol of respect rather than worry about the genetic content.

Find a symbol or focal point for mourning.
posted by evil holiday magic at 10:26 PM on July 12, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for bringing clarity so quickly. I especially appreciate hearing that my nonchalance could have been part of the problem. In retrospect, I can see that. I always thought I was very clear in my instructions. Turns out I wasn't. Y'all are the first people to have the balls to call me out on that.

And if I do have a right to be pissed, you've pointed out that it's eight months past. What am I gonna do? Walk in tomorrow raising cain about how they lost my dog's ashes eight months ago? I'd be a damn fool.

The funny thing is that in reliving that whole kicked-in-the-nuts feeling when I realized they didn't have the ashes, I forgot the second part of my question. I'm getting a new dog soon, and so do I take it to this vet?

Like I said, I really trust this one doctor - he was the only person I'd let kill my dog - and would want him to take care of my new dog. Maybe they'll remember, feel guilty, and treat us like royalty. Or maybe I might go bat-shit crazy on one of the staff over the slightest thing. Guess we'll see how it goes.

Thank y'all for recognizing that Adele sure was a hottie. Best damn stick dog in town, she was. Good on turtles, too. And for the record, there wasn't even the lock of hair in the envelope. I did find a small box of baby teeth, though, and a couple of those are in the root ball of a new dogwood we planted this spring.
posted by lost_cause at 10:34 PM on July 12, 2006

The tech was stupid.

But perhaps the reason you are upset now, is because you need to grieve. You really need to cry.

Been there.
posted by crw at 10:41 PM on July 12, 2006

Just wanted to say that I love this shot. Nothing relaxes me more than watching a dog sleep.

I'm sorry for your loss, and wish you the best of luck and happy times with your new dog.
posted by invisible ink at 10:46 PM on July 12, 2006

Adele was a beautiful dog. I'm very sorry for your loss.

I lost my beloved cat last year, 4 days before my birthday. He got out of the house and was run over by a car.

My mother didn't even let me see the corpse. She had someone put him into a garbage bag and toss him into the trash, because we didn't have a place to bury him.

You could imagine how sad I felt to dispose of his body in such a way. I really hate that I didn't make a bigger effort to give him a proper burial. I didn't want to upset my mother more.

In the end, what made me feel better was to think of his body as the wrapper of what he really was. He was a very special cat, but his body was not him.

It took me about 10 months to stop grieving. One day I just realized I could remember him fondly without crying or getting depressed. You are almost there. It will get better soon, I promise. Enjoy your new puppy!
posted by clearlydemon at 11:31 PM on July 12, 2006

I would suggest sticking with the vet you learned to trust.
To me, the screw-up of not returning the ashes pales compared to seeing living pain and debilitation from work done by a vet that didn't really care (which is not something you can evaluate beforehand). Also, it wasn't the kind of screw-up that would suggest (to me) they screw up other things, or things related to animal care.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:10 AM on July 13, 2006

I'm getting a new dog soon, and so do I take it to this vet?

sure, i think so. it sounds like you have a very good relationship with this doctor. that's priceless, like having a great mechanic. the reception staff (or whoever it was) may come and go, but the vet is the one who'll be making the decisions about your dog's health, and it sounds like that's more important than whatever awkwardness you might encounter with the tech.

also, just because someone on the staff made a mistake once doesn't mean they're incompetent. i was very good at my old job, but i still managed to screw up every now and then. it's part of life, and it sucks when you're on the receiving end of it, but that's how it goes sometimes.

it sounds like you recognize this person didn't do it on purpose - so if you encounter them again and feel yourself turning into mr. hyde, just go outside and punch a tree or something, and try to remind yourself of when you yourself have fucked something up, and maybe that'll help. i dunno. i hope this'll be easier on you when you get your new pup. anyway, good luck.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:10 AM on July 13, 2006

I think it was just a bad case of nobody being clear on things. They weren't clear about what the options were and what was going to be done, and you weren't clear about what you wanted. I know thinking clearly wasn't high on my list at that time. My vet was very clear that getting the ashes back was going to require individual cremation and an urn for the ashes, and that not getting an urn meant not getting any ashes. I was certain they knew before I left that day that I wanted to get the ashes back and wanted the "default" urn that came with it, and they were clear about my options and verifying I was going to get what I wanted. It's sad and unfortunate, but mistakes in communication happen, and sometimes no one is 100% at fault. Still sad though, and I can relate to the feeling of wanting to scream at them, because I would have wanted to do that too.

Should you take your new puppy to this vet? Never let a good vet go. If they know what they are doing, worked well with your pet, and (up until this situation) you had a good relationship and trust in them, by all means, take your new puppy there. We went through several vets before we found one that filled all those stipulations, and now I know that when the next cat adopts me, I have a place to take them where I know they are going to be well taken care of and and kept healthy. You might want to sit down and explain to the vet how you are still feeling somewhat upset about what happened with your previous dog ... not yell at them or lose your temper ... just tell them how much it still bothers you a little without being accusatory. It will clear he air and get you both ready to have a good working relationship caring for your newest addition to the family.
posted by Orb at 2:42 AM on July 13, 2006

Don't let the loss of your dog become about the status of his ashes.

It's the memories that you treasure, not the remains. The remains are merely symbolic in nature.

Make the memories of your dog be about your dog, and not about what happened after he died.

If you need closure, do something in your dogs name.
posted by filmgeek at 3:56 AM on July 13, 2006

I think your anger is really with Adele for leaving you, but it's hard to be angry with someone you love, so you've subconciously shifted the blame to some poor sap that made a clerical error. You need to let go of the ashes thing, and learn to accept the loss of your precious little friend.
posted by The Monkey at 4:04 AM on July 13, 2006

First, I'm sorry to hear about what happened. My sister just recently had her cat euthanized and cremated, and was quite paranoid about the ashes.

As for your case, rather than storm into the Vet's office angry about what happened to yourself, what about walking in and simply inquiring to see if the Vet's office has adopted new policies to make sure something to this extent never happens again? Perhap institute something in writing where you check off boxes for "No Urn" and "Yes, Ashes." "Do you wish to provide your own container?" Etc..etc. In fact, you could even create a fascimile and take it in with you. Basically, see if you can't help heal your wound with the knowledge that no others will have to go through the same experience?
posted by Atreides at 4:39 AM on July 13, 2006

I'm so sorry that you went through this, and I agree with the suggestions that you work with what you have to give your beautiful dog a respectful and loving memorial. Your vet sounds like a keeper and worthy of dealing with any new pet.

We had to have our beloved little black cat put to sleep last month. The receptionist asked us if we wanted an urn or a box of her ashes, and I told her that it didn't really matter which one as long as we got her ashes. We wound up getting a very pretty box -- that was glued shut, leading to my husband gashing his thumb with a knife when he was opening the box so we could scatter her ashes in the backyard garden. I guess we should have chosen the urn, or just asked for a cardboard box.

I think the system is set up so people have a pretty container for the ashes, and asking for something different throws a spanner in the works. But if enough people ask for simpler options -- a sturdy plastic bag, or a bag in a cardboard box -- they should become easily available.
posted by rosemere at 6:21 AM on July 13, 2006

Beuatiful dog, I'm so sorry for your loss. Print some of those gorgeous photos, shred the photos, then go outside to one of her favorite spots, and bury the shredded paper. If you can burn the paper safely, maybe do that. You just need to have a ritual to mark a special location where you can remember her.
posted by theora55 at 6:57 AM on July 13, 2006

Seconding the idea of visiting the places you would've used for scattering her ashes. Why not wait until you have your new pup? You can tell him or her why each place was so special for you and Adele - maybe your new friend will help you create some new shared memories there as you recall your good times with Adele. Take plenty of pictures in these places as your pup grows.
posted by hangashore at 7:11 AM on July 13, 2006

Call the vet or go in and visit. Ask what they did with the ashes. At our vet, they told us the ashes go to a pet memorial garden a few hours from here, and they gave us a postcard with an invitation to visit anytime. The vets (4 in the office) had been there and said it's beautiful. That might help you, either to know what happened to the ashes or to actually go and visit if you can.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:40 AM on July 13, 2006

After a year of lurking, I've finally up and joined MF so I could tell you how gorgeous your Adele is. So much good and honest advice in this thread, so all I'll add is that I think you should keep the vet for your new pet, but also share your story with him. He sounds like a very humane and thorough professional. The mixup possibly happened beneath the vet's radar, and you should make sure he knows about it.

I wanted to thank you for your post. We lost our dear cat Genie suddenly one morning about 4 months ago, and made the difficult decision not to receive her ashes. I haven't regretted that decision, but it's hard not to have had a more deliberate way to say good-bye. This thread has been bittersweet for me.
posted by isthenewblack at 8:29 AM on July 13, 2006

You've received lots of great advice here. I really love the idea of doing something in your late dog's name to ease the "letting go".

Here's a suggestion for doing that: Shelters and humane societies are always in need of money. Some have organized donor programs where in return for some specified amount, they will mount a plaque over one of their cages, or install a brick in a certain area of a courtyard, or plant something in the play area as a memorial. Something like that seems like a great idea - it will let her name live on, and give you a place to visit and the knowledge that your money is going to a good cause.

My sympathies on your loss.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:17 AM on July 13, 2006

I like the memorial idea. We have a new dog park in town and they are selling engraved "bricks" as a fund raiser -- so the brick becomes a memorial and the park gets the money to make lives better for other dogs and their owners. With a little creativity you can come up with something meaningful to commemorate the life of your beloved (and beautiful) dog.

When my dog died I declined to purchase an urn as well and the "cremains" were returned to me in a plastic bag inside a simple (and very inexpensive) decorative tin box, which was just perfect. Surely the crematory service has a similar option (even a cardboard box), there was just a misunderstanding. Nothing to be done about it. If you trust the vet, by all means take your new animal there.
posted by redheadeb at 11:10 AM on July 13, 2006

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