Residential pet burial is illegal in Beaumont, Texas, so the local landfill used to be the only option for pet remains. But
it wasn't an option many pet owners cherished. So Dr. Kelley Kays built a crematory into Dowlen Road Veterinary Center. And
while she says offering the service is a labor of love, it's also profitable.
Other local veterinarians send cremation work to Dr. Kelley Kays because brochures make it clear it's a separate business.
The practice's cost for the cremation system in 1996 was about $25,000. While Dr. Kays spent $10,000 to overhaul the machine
in 2004, she estimates that, other than that expense, she's spent less than $500 per year on repairs. The gas bill runs about
$900 a month.
Using the system is easy, and training was provided when the machine was installed. Cremation duties require a full-time position.
"It's not a bad job," says office manager Donna Rivers. "We keep deceased pets bagged in the freezer until cremation. One
difficulty is lifting them. They can weigh up to 175 pounds."
Dowlen Road Veterinary Center charges $30 to $180 per cremation, depending on the size of the animal and whether the owner
wants the pet's remains returned. Nonreturns are less expensive because more than one pet can be cremated at a time. Dr. Kays
also offers other services for remembrance, like a clay imprint of a pet's paw. Her team members receive a commission on
remembrance items they sell.
The clinic also performs cremations for other practices. The employee in charge of cremations picks up animals from other
practices, cremates the pets, and, when requested, returns the remains in an urn. Because Dr. Kays gives local veterinarians
a discount and encourages them to charge the full retail price, referring veterinarians make $15 on each private-return cremation.
"Initially, area veterinarians were concerned that we would use our cremation services to promote our practice to their clients,"
says Dr. Kays. "To overcome this, we call the service 'Faithful Companions.' Other practices' clients never know that cremations
were associated with us."
Dr. Kays lists the service in the phone book, and when she first began offering cremation, she advertised on local TV stations.
But since the veterinarian who offers the service at the time of the pet's death is the main client contact, Dr. Kays and
her team now spread the word through local practitioners, keeping brochures stocked in the other practices.
The biggest challenge Dr. Kays faced when getting the service underway was obtaining a permit. During the process, local officials
held a public hearing to allow neighbors to express their concerns. While this wasn't a problem then, Dr. Kays thinks more
residents would object now. "When we applied there were no houses nearby—now the practice is in an upscale residential area,"
Dr. Kays says neighbors who've never visited a crematory don't understand how clean it is. "People are repulsed at the thought
of odors and flies, but that just isn't a problem," she says. The unit is odorless and uses a smoke-free smokestack, which
is camouflaged with an aluminum chimney.
The business of proper, respectful pet cremation shows no signs of declining. Dr. Kays says the practice's former average
of two to three cremations a day has climbed to nine. Gross revenue from the service has increased from $42,000 a year in
2003 to more than $100,000 in 2006.