Strictly speaking, the ancient Egyptians started it: Already thousands of years ago they embalmed sacred animals such as cats, falcons or crocodiles in elaborate ceremonies, mummified them and put them in sarcophagi. On her way to the afterlife, she accompanied Anubis, god of the rites of the dead and protector of the dead and god of the dead. Anubis continues to help today, albeit in a modern form: the animal burial provider of the same name is one of the largest in this area and, in addition to cremation, also offers death prevention, grief counseling for the bereaved, a virtual animal cemetery and numerous funeral products. If you are lucky, you can get one of the hand-painted “artist urns” for only 110 euros upwards or a silver commemorative pendant for 135 euros. Otherwise there are grave slabs, 3-D commemorative crystals and frames with individual paw prints as well as wooden animal coffins in five different sizes in the shop, whereby the largest version with 180 euros costs about as much as a simple plywood coffin for a person. The ashes of the beloved four-legged friend can even be pressed into diamonds, price on request.
Annual sales show that the extensive range of products and services is also in sufficient demand: The Federal Association of Animal Undertakers estimates it at 16 to 20 million euros. In addition, the number of funeral directors continues to grow, albeit slowly. There are currently around 160 animal undertakers in Germany, mostly small family businesses. In May 2020, the first animal crematorium in Saxony-Anhalt opened its doors, increasing the nationwide number of animal crematoriums to almost 30. “There are more animal burials every year,” says Martin Struck, who chairs the Federal Association of Animal Undertakers and has worked as an animal undertaker for decades.
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The pet as a family member
He sees the changed relationship between the owners and their non-human roommates as the main reason for the increasing demand: “In the past, a pet was a casual companion,” says Struck. The focus was on its function. For example, a dog used to be used exclusively as a watchdog, a cat as a mouse hunter and fur supplier. “Today the pet is considered another family member,” explains Struck. If they also grow up with children, there is an even closer bond. Simply leaving the animals at the vet after their death – as was customary in the past – who then hands them over to a recycler is now an option for very few owners. Instead, Martin Struck tells of elementary school children who burst into tears as soon as they understood that the beloved dog would no longer come home, of 80-year-olds, in whose apartment there was only silence and stillness without the pet, of one A pair of twins who grew up with a dog and where each twin takes half of their ashes to study after their death. “I’ve seen the strongest men cry,” says Struck.
In addition, the increasing number of pets in Germany is driving this development: While German households were still home to 31.6 million dogs, cats, small mammals and ornamental birds in 2016, in 2019 the figure was 34 million according to the Industry Association for Pet Supplies (IVH). Statistically speaking, an animal lives in almost every second household – in most of the cases in a family, as the survey commissioned by the IVH and the Central Association of Zoological Specialists in Germany found.
Numerous possibilities for the last rest
But what exactly happens after the darling has blessed the time? “The animal undertaker picks up the animal from home or the vet,” explains Martin Struck of the Federal Association of Animal Undertakers. Alternatively, you can take it to the undertaker yourself. In most cases, this has a so-called “room of silence”, where the owner can say goodbye to his pet. “Then he has to decide whether he wants to be buried or cremated in a special cemetery,” says Struck. There are now about 120 such cemeteries in Germany, where pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, rabbits, or birds and amphibians find their final resting place, either in a coffin or an urn. If you like, you can take the urn home with you and bury or scatter it in your own garden. It is also possible to work the ashes into a piece of crystal glass, press them into diamonds or have them set in an amulet. It becomes difficult with somewhat more special companions such as mini-pigs, goats or foxes: these are not pets and therefore must not be buried in this way. A special regulation applies to horses: While it has been permitted in other countries for a long time, horses have only been legally buried in Germany since 2017, in the form of cremation.
In order to be able to deal with all possibilities without time pressure, Martin Struck advises: “The owners should look for an undertaker during the animal’s lifetime and seek advice” – even if it is difficult.