A greener way to say goodbye to your pet

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - KARIN BRULLIARD

Na­cho

Na­cho (above), our 11-year-old Shih Tzu, is all dressed up and ready for Hal­loween. He will be greet­ing all the chil­dren as Nemo the clown­fish-dog! WHAT hap­pens to Fido af­ter he dies?

Yes, of course, all dogs go to heaven. Their bod­ies, how­ever, are an­other mat­ter. And when deal­ing with those, pet own­ers have op­tions aplenty: cre­ma­tion, burial at a pet ceme­tery, taxi­dermy, even freeze-dry­ing or turn­ing their ashes into syn­thetic di­a­monds.

Now comes an­other: com­post­ing. A start-up in Wash­ing­ton state, Rooted Pet, says its new ser­vice is some­thing the “pet af­ter­care space” has been lack­ing — and one own­ers can feel good about. Let­ting kitty de­com­pose in a mix­ture of or­ganic mat­ter uses less en­ergy than fir­ing up a cre­ma­tion oven, re­quires less land than a grave­yard and is a poignant, dust-to-dust type of process, gen­eral man­ager Paul Tschet­ter says.

With cre­ma­tion, “you’re quite lit­er­ally vapour­iz­ing the soft tis­sues... it’s pul­ver­ized and put in a cute box and given back,” said Tschet­ter, whose firm is lo­cated out­side Olympia, Wash. “I feel like we’re ad­ding more mean­ing back into this whole death process.”

This could be a men­tal hur­dle for many griev­ing pet own­ers, but Tschet­ter is prob­a­bly onto some­thing. The US$67-bil­lion pet in­dus­try in­cludes a grow­ing af­ter­care seg­ment cater­ing to own­ers who, af­ter spend­ing lots keep­ing an­i­mals they con­sider fam­ily mem­bers happy and alive, are will­ing to go to ex­tra lengths when the pets die. More than 700 pet ceme­ter­ies and cre­ma­to­ri­ums in the United States are one tes­ta­ment to the de­mand.

“If you’re in this busi­ness right now,” Tom Flynn, the pres­i­dent of Hill­crestF­lynn Pet Fu­neral Home and Cre­ma­tory in Her­mitage, Pa., told Bloomberg Busi­ness­week in 2012, “you’re just sail­ing with the wind right at your back.”

Tschet­ter de­scribes him­self as a “se­rial en­tre­pre­neur,” who, along with a friend who had years of ex­pe­ri­ence in waste man­age­ment and com­post­ing, re­al­ized a few years ago that there might be room for new ideas in this mar­ket. Com­post­ing an­i­mal car­casses, they knew, is far from un­usual — it’s the method many farms use to dis­pose of de­ceased live­stock, and it’s how some states now con­tend with road­kill.

Do­nated farm an­i­mals, as well as some col­lected road­kill, were what Rooted used as “test sub­jects” for their com­post­ing sys­tem, Tschet­ter said.

The sys­tem is based at his busi­ness part­ner’s farm, but it’s all in­doors, which helps the com­pany avoid some reg­u­la­tory hur­dles that would come along with com­post­ing bod­ies out­side. Pet car­casses are placed in box­like “pods” with wood chips and other or­ganic mat­ter, Tschet­ter said. Six to eight weeks later, the cock­tail has mor­phed into rich soil that looks, smells and feels like any other com­post, he said.

“We’re lit­er­ally tak­ing what hap­pens in na­ture and speed­ing it up,” he said, re­fer­ring to the de­com­po­si­tion that would oc­cur if you buried your pooch in the back­yard (which many ju­ris­dic­tions do not al­low). But, he ac­knowl­edged, “it’s a newer thing and it’s go­ing to weird some peo­ple out.”

Given the one-cu­bic-yard size of the pods, the com­pany for now can only ac­cept an­i­mals weigh­ing up to

100 pounds, Tschet­ter said; so far it has com­posted mostly dogs and cats, but also a few birds and a snake. But that might change. Rooted pre­sented at a re­cent vet­eri­nary con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton state last month, and Tschet­ter said the re­sponse from area vet­eri­nar­i­ans — who will be the pri­mary go-be­tweens link­ing pet own­ers to the com­post­ing busi­ness — has been “over­whelm­ing.”

Peo­ple who de­cide com­post­ing their dead pet is right for them can choose from sev­eral end prod­ucts. Let Rooted keep the com­post and it will use it on its farm or on a tree-plant­ing project. Get your com­posted pet back (alone or, for a lower price, mixed with other pets), and you can use it to nour­ish a new tree in your yard. If that seems a bit too hands-on, Rooted can send you a house­plant grow­ing in com­post cre­ated from your beloved an­i­mal’s re­mains.

It would be, Tschet­ter said, a “liv­ing me­mo­rial.”

BOB FU­GATE

Chi Chi can walk and run with her cus­tom pros­thetic legs and is now a ther­apy dog, vis­it­ing a vet­er­ans cen­tre, an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity and spe­cial-needs stu­dents at an ele­men­tary school.

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