Every once in a while a heartbroken parent will post a query to the dog parents’ WhatsApp group I am on about where and how to conduct their pet’s last rites. It breaks my heart to think how difficult it must be for the dog’s humans to worry about the logistics of giving their family member a dignified farewell while coping with and mourning its loss.
In all of Navi Mumbai and Panvel, where I live, there are no crematorium centres or morgues for any animals, and that makes it so much harder. This is true for cities and districts across the country. Even in a city like Mumbai, there are only two places to cremate animals. One is at the Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals, in Parel, central Mumbai, and another opened in Malad in September. “I have had so many pet parents appeal to me to help open a crematorium centre for pets,” says senior police inspector Sudhir Kudalkar, an animal lover instrumental in opening the centre in Malad. “We have so many pet dogs and cats in the city and the number is only growing. It was high time we got another crematorium centre. Though we need many more,” he adds.
While the Parel crematorium accepts animals from anywhere in the city, the one in Malad is reserved for only those with a pet certificate from Mumbai’s governing body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is not given to pets living under other local administration bodies such as Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation or Panvel Municipal Corporation.
In other cities too, the situation is no better. In Kolkata, there is about two crematoriums, but both run by private, charitable trusts. Bengaluru has only one government-run crematorium in Peenya, in the north of the fast-expanding city, which is far away from many residential areas in south Bengaluru. The city is also said to have about two privately-run crematoriums. Delhi, according to activists there, has six, again run by private trusts. Some of these though are operational for just seven to eight months a year.
In Mumbai, the cremation service in a natural gas chamber is free in Malad, but it costs about Rs.4,000 or more, depending on the animal’s size, to get your pet cremated at the Parel centre. “And not everyone, especially community dog feeders can afford the sum for each dog they have to say goodbye to,” says Utpal Khot, an animal activist and a representative of the Animal Welfare Board of India residing in Navi Mumbai. Some human crematoriums also allow animals, but whether an animal is accepted or not often depends on the mood of the crematorium’s caretaker. “We had such a hard time finding a place for my 14-year-old dog Toddy,” says Manish Gupta. “Toddy passed away at night and the Parel centre, the only one then in the city, doesn’t operate at that hour. “We had no idea what to do with the body for the entire night. Plus, the longer we saw him in that state, the more difficult it got for all of us, especially my eight-year-old son who kept asking Toddy to wake up. It was one of the most difficult times for our family.”
Like Gupta, many families have experienced such an ordeal, which is downright inhumane. The lack of proper last-rite infrastructure for animals in major metro cities in the country forces most pet parents and animal activists to take the illegal route. “It’s sad but true that we usually bury our dogs and cats in a secluded, vacant space,” says an animal activist from Panvel. “We dig a hole ourselves, place the body inside and cover it with mud and rock salt so it quickly decomposes, and then place a large rock on it so no other animals can dig a hole there,” she adds.
At times dead cows and buffaloes have also been found unattended in a ground or a field. “That is so unhygienic and hazardous for other animals and people living in the area,” adds the Panvel-based activist. “Only if there were enough morgues or crematoriums dedicated to animals, none of this would happen.”
Add to that, the emotional stress and pain of dealing with the fact that one has to sneak in their dead pet to its final resting place. “This way it’s not even possible to visit your pet or pay your respects to him after he is gone,” says Vaishali Raut, a parent of a senior dog. “Hence, whenever the day comes, I’ll be taking my dog to my farmhouse,” she says.
That’s what Gupta finally did too. He appealed to a friend who also loved Toddy to let him rest at his farmhouse. “We drove him to the farmhouse at night and said our final goodbyes. We also planted a tree there and go visit him often,” adds Gupta.
That’s really the best arrangement available for most pet parents. But what about those like me who do not own a farmhouse or have access to any other? Why does it have to be so hard for pet parents to give a deserving farewell to their babies?
However, Kudalkar and Khot tell me that many more crematoriums are being planned in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and elsewhere. All one can do is hope that these are built soon and that other cities also get more pet crematoriums for the sake of the animals, and their human parents. Everybody deserves closure and to leave this world with dignity and love.
Riddhi Doshi is an independent journalist, a first-time pet parent and a Kathak student.