You Had A Cat. Here Are Some Cat Ashes. Problem Solved!

How do you verify the identity of your cat after he’s been cremated? Matthew has no idea if the box he received really contains Spike’s cremains or the cremains of someone else’s pet. His vet offered to print out a new certificate with the correct name on it, but that seems less like a “solution” than a “waste of printer ink” designed to placate without providing answers.

My 15 year old cat Spike died several weeks ago of kidney failure and I had him cremated. My mother picked up his (supposed) remains today while I was at work. The certificate that came with the remains had someone else’s name on it.

I went back to the vet office (the Cat and Dog Hospital of Columbia, Maryland) and they explained that someone from the office called the cremation company (Valley Pet Cemetery in Williamsport, Maryland) and requested a last name change to “Chronister”, at least that’s what the cremation company told them. They presumed I got married. The vets asked around and no one knows who made the call, which is a little ridiculous.

I confronted them with the certificate, which displays a last and first name “change”.

My name is Matthew and my last name starts with a W; Amanda is not my mother’s name and I don’t have a sister. I’m not sure if this Amanda Chronister really even exists or is the result of a computer glitch or something else. Chronister appears in the phonebook and I already spoke to someone by that name, no luck. I also messaged three searchable Amanda Chronisters on Facebook, waiting to hear back.

[For the record, we already contacted Amanda Chronister the illustrator, and it’s not her cat, so please don’t bother emailing her. Unless you have an illustration job to offer. -Ed.]

The vet office assured me I had my cat’s remains and offered to print out another certificate with my name on it, which made me laugh. I’m not convinced, I don’t know if what’s in the (very nice) wooden container is my pet’s ashes. I’m going to call the cremation company tomorrow and get them to figure out what the hell happened.

That’s unsettling enough, but a week later the vet called Matthew and introduced new doubts about the identity of his box o’ ashes.

The vet called yesterday evening and left a message to return the call, which I did this afternoon. The conversation went something like this:

– We have your pet’s ashes.
Oh good, then I guess I should give back the ashes you gave me over a week ago.
– Let me talk to the office manager.

*on hold*

– OK, it actually was a computer notification that we have the new paperwork for your pet, with the correct last name.
And the correct first name?
– What do you mean?
The owner’s name was changed to someone I don’t know, which invalidates the claim that I have my pet’s remains.
– Let me talk to the office manager.

*on hold*

– OK, yes, the crematory sent the right paperwork. You have your pet’s remains and this is just the right certificate.
Alright I’ll be there in a few minutes.

So I show up with the cardboard box containing the wooden “urn” with my pet’s ashes, with the old “Amanda Chronister” certificate. They hand me an envelope containing [a certificate].

We had a conversation which didn’t really add anything, other than the shifting story of where the name change came from. I repeated the cremation company’s claim that someone from the vet office called and requested the name change, but that no one from the vet office knows who made the call or why they would change the name to someone who wasn’t even a client there. The desk worker said that no one from the office called the cremation company to make the change, that in general they don’t really have any contact like that.

Really? Because my mother was told the same story, that someone from this office called and initiated the name change. That’s what she was told, and that’s what I was told a few hours later.
– Let me go get the office manager.

*waiting in the lobby*

– OK, she’s busy running medical equipment but here’s a carbon copy of the pickup sheet, and this is the only document we have and it says that Spike W was picked up.

*I look at it but it has a bunch of short-hand writing*

Is there any other chain of custody documents? There was also a computer printout I saw last time I was here that had my cat’s weight, condition, etc.

*looks but can’t find it*

…Look, how am I supposed to put any confidence in this piece of paper? The old certificate is basically trash at this point because it’s the wrong name for what you say are the right ashes. Now I have the right name, but how does this prove that these are the right remains?

– I don’t know.

Now even less convinced that he was being given the full story, Matthew decided to call the cremation company to find out just exactly how the process is supposed to work. If you ever wanted to know what goes into the cremation of a pet, here ya go:

All this did was convince me to call the cremation company. I was transferred to someone who knew about my issue.

Apparently their process works like this:

  • The vet office (1) notifies the cremation company (2) through a computer system that they have the body of a pet to be picked up. The cremation company sends a truck out, the truck driver (3) has an office worker sign a pickup sheet, which gets split into three carbon copies for all the parties so far.

  • The pet comes to the cremation center and if there’s a note for individual cremation, the pet’s information (which comes from the computer system) is printed on a “toe tag” which goes with the body to its own cremation rack. The pet is cremated while the toe tag sits outside, the ashes and the tag are reunited and stay together until the remains are packaged.

  • Yhe certificate, cardboard box sticker and a computer printout for the vet to go with the cardboard box are printed using the pet’s information which comes from the computer system, and the toe tag is destroyed. The box comes back to the vet, they keep the computer printout, and I get the box, certificate, and remains.

Someone, either from the vet office or the cremation company must have gone in and changed the name in the computer system, because somebody, somewhere called and told someone else to change the owner’s name to a person no one knows for some reason. The person I was talking to used the words “computer glitch” when we discussed how the name change happened.

I called the vet office back. They do use a computer system (so no one ever called to make the name change; another revision) to notify the cremation company that they have bodies to be picked up, and they supply the cremation company with names and pet information, but they said it was impossible that they made the change because they’ve never heard the name “Amanda Chronister” before.

Matthew adds that he’s actually okay living with the possibility that he may not have his cat’s ashes. He’d just like an honest, straightforward answer at this point:

Still, its the principle of the thing, and if they claim that these are my pets ashes and can’t back up that claim, I’ll call them out on it and want to know the truth. I might not have my pet’s ashes, and at this point, I think I’m okay with that.

But then they would be lying to me, and I won’t accept that.

He says his vet is withholding payment to the crematorium while they investigate.

(Photo: fischerhuder)