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April 24, 2017

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Grieving owners facing law of the jungle with pets

GUAI Guai, an abandoned dog saved and raised for three years by animal-rescue volunteer Candy Dai, has been given a lavish funeral.

“From our first encounter, she attached herself to me,” Dai said. “I wanted to give her a proper farewell.”

Shanghai Shiyou, a pet cremation and funeral service provider in the Pudong New Area, handled the arrangements. Before cremation, the dog’s body was laid on a flowerbed. There was chanting, and some of Guai Guai’s favorite toys were burned.

“The ceremony was comforting to me,” said Dai, who paid more than 1,000 yuan (US$147) for the service.

In a society where pet ownership is rising and many pets are treated like family members, there is a growing demand for pet funerals and interment. However, there are no regulations pertaining to private businesses providing such services, forcing them to operate in a gray area.

“I have never heard of such a business, and we certainly have not licensed any business like that,” an official surnamed Zhang at the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau told Shanghai Daily. “Pet funeral services are not recognized by any business standards in China.”

The city’s civil affairs authorities gave a similar answer.

“Pets are not in our management jurisdiction,” said Gao Jianhua, director of the funeral and interment department at Shanghai’s Civil Affairs Bureau. “We only regulate cemeteries and funeral services for humans.”

Without any oversight, concerns arise about the propriety of businesses offering pet cremations. The only place in Shanghai official designated to handle pet remains is the Animal Harmless Treatment Center, which is affiliated to the Agriculture Commission. It charges 5 yuan to dispose of a pet. No funerals provided. The center is in Fengxian District and has two collection spots in the Xuhui and Jing’an districts.

“Private, illegal agencies that secretly operate pet cremation businesses are not up to standard,” Zhang Weijian, director of the center, told Shanghai Daily. “Any site undertaking pet cremation should undergo an environmental assessment. Some pets die of infectious diseases, and pathogenic microorganisms could be spread to humans without proper disinfecting and quarantine procedures.”

Zhang said some services operating in the gray zone charge several thousand yuan for pet cremation, which is unreasonably high.

“They are taking advantage of mournful pet owners and cashing in on their grief,” he said.

The center was first established to dispose of animal remains in major incidents, like the one where dead pigs were found floating in Huangpu River.

It began undertaking pet cremation for the public several years ago. Last year, more than 18,000 pets were cremated, including cats, dogs, mice, rabbits and birds. That compared with 1,514 in 2010.

But many pet owners aren’t aware of the center’s service, and into the breach step private operators.

Shiyou was established in 2010 and has become one of Shanghai's largest pet funeral service providers. It claims to have arranged farewell ceremonies for nearly 10,000 pets, and has more than 100 pets buried in its cemetery.

It charges 200 yuan for each cremation, if the ashes are not requested by owners. The fee to bury the ashes under a tree is 9,800 yuan. Shiyou has a 10-year lease to use the land. What happens when that period is up is anybody’s guess.

The location of the cemetery is secret. A worker who answered the phone said only people who had pets buried there were allowed the visit.

“You will never find it without our guide,” she said.

However, a Shanghai Daily reporter managed to find the cemetery on a covert visit to the Group 23 area in Haishen Village in Pudong, based on online clues. The site was hidden deep inside the village on land that reportedly belongs to a villager.

It was clear that the reporter was unwelcome. A woman who pretended to be a guide intentionally misled her and said no visit was possible without Shiyou’s explicit approval. A Shiyou worker flatly told the reporter that visits were not welcomed and she should leave.

The ashes of the pets are buried under orange trees. Shiyou organizes a fruit-picking event at the grove every year for people with pets buried there. It’s not known if the fruit is safe to eat.

Shiyou said it won’t compensate pet owners if the burial site is eventually taken over and developed by authorities in the future.


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