Pet crematorium feeling the social isolation effects of COVID-19

By Chris Lewis | Mar. 18, 2021

There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on virtually every business in some way, but the pet cremation industry is having an especially hard time coping.

There are several industries that, even in the face of a global pandemic, must find a workaround in order to continue providing their services: grocery stores, gas stations, and healthcare are all essential services.

One business that many people do not often think about until they need to, however, is the pet crematorium.

Angel Paws, in Foxtrap, has had to make significant changes to its operations because of the pandemic.

Owner Michelle Alexander said that prior to COVID-19, interacting with a client was one of the bigger aspects of the job, with each client having an hour-long appointment where they were provided with an experience designed to be comforting and warm during a troubling time in their lives.

“We would greet them, sit in a room and have a chat with them about their pets, go over all of the details of a cremation,” she said. “We’d chat about our processes, and then of course we would talk with the family about their pet – just fun stories and memories, little anecdotes about what made their pet special to them. They’d go over all the little things their pets did. We’d be in there for an hour just chatting and making them feel comfortable, and we’re famous now for even crying with them.”

Alexander said such interactions would often become something of a bonding experience, even ending in a warm hug, a simple gesture that many people find comforting.

Compassion is key to the business, said Alexander.

“Whenever a pet arrives here, we always call the family to let them know their pet is here, we’ve got them tucked in, and they’re safe and sound here,” she said. “Because that’s what this business is built on. Kindness and compassion.”

Now, however, she fears the business may have lost some of that warmth through no fault of her or the employees. Alexander said the pandemic lockdown resulted in a total restructuring of their building and the operations.

The contactless returning of the pets is one of the biggest factors.

The return of a pet’s remains after cremation is often a very sad and vulnerable moment for their clients, said Alexander. The human touch that she and her staff offered had to be put aside during the Covid lockdowns.

“So what we’ve had to do now is install French doors, and some barriers, that allow for the contactless pickup of pets, with no physical interaction between people,” Alexander said. “We end up having to place their pet on a table in a little foyer, open the door for them, and then go back behind our French door where we can at least talk with them. We don’t actually interact with people anymore, though. Normally, we like to give people a hug or at least hold their hand and chat with them. Now, it’s all behind a French door. It’s devastating for us, to have to try and show that compassion through glass.”

Still, Alexander said they are trying to continue that level of compassion and care despite the barrier.

“I think as Newfoundlanders, we’re very hands-on people. And to not be able to have that connection with each other right now is just very hard,” said Alexander. “It’s hard to give someone a hug from six feet away. That’s something that felt so first-nature to us, but now we’re afraid to even give a handshake.”

Although Alexander said it is saddening to think about what a “new normal” might entail once the pandemic passes, she and her team are holding out hope that, through it all, they will once again be able to give out those all important hugs and gestures of compassion to their clientele.

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