Life

I Toured the Quiet Place Where Pets Go After They Die

And met an undertaker who helps bereaved owners say goodbye to their beloved pets.
September 16, 2021, 3:04am
I visited Sanctuary Pet Cremation, a pet funeral home in Lim Chu Kang, Singapore,that’s also a crematorium and columbarium
I visited Sanctuary Pet Cremation, a pet funeral home that’s also a crematorium and columbarium. Photo: Koh Ewe

Tucked in a farm resort, next to a deafening bird sanctuary, on the more rural side of Singapore is a quiet little funeral home.

The Tamagotchi Cemetery

On a Sunday afternoon, Foong Kin Meng showed me around his workplace, a slender gray building sitting at the end of a path lined with neatly trimmed bushes and patches of white gravel. As we chatted at the entrance, he had to pause our conversation several times to fend off curious passersby trying to explore the place. 

“Sorry, not open to public. There’s a pet funeral service,” he repeated to approaching guests who then mumbled confused apologies for having accidentally trespassed.

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I don’t blame these strangers, though. At first glance—or even after awkwardly prolonged staring—it’s easy to mistake the tranquil architecture of Sanctuary Pet Cremation for a public garden or cafe. 

A pet funeral home isn’t exactly something you see around the corner of every street.

Foong, who has been working as a pet undertaker for about a year, told me that he is mostly desensitized to the grief he brushes past on a daily basis. But it took him a while to adjust, and he still finds himself getting a little emotional every now and then.

“Especially when kids cry, I cannot take it,” he said.

“Especially when kids cry, I cannot take it.”

The occasional tear is all part of the job for Foong, who finds immense meaning in his work. The animal lover was a canine trainer in the military for five years before joining the pet funeral home last July, during the pandemic.

It can be painfully difficult to say goodbye to a longtime companion, even if it isn’t human. In fact, research has found that mourning a dog can be harder than mourning a person.

Over time, Foong came to see that these funeral services offer some closure and relief for bereaved pet owners. 

“I feel like I’ve done something good for them,” he said.

Hosting up to seven funeral services a day, Foong has dealt with his fair share of deceased pets. Besides favorites like dogs and cats, he has also seen a few hamsters and rabbits. In one of his more bizarre encounters, he held a funeral for an arowana, the notoriously prized pet fish.

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Unlike humans, deceased pets are usually not embalmed. This means that pet funerals are often held within a day of the pet’s passing. But for owners who aren’t ready to send their pets off just yet, Sanctuary Pet Cremation has a pet mortuary where the animals can be housed for two to three days.

According to Foong, preparing a deceased pet for its funeral is a pretty straightforward affair—a simple wiping down usually suffices. Perhaps the more tedious part, he said, is taking care of what he calls the “discharge.” When a pet dies, bodily fluids may leak from both ends of its body as the muscles relax. Foong’s job is to keep wiping until the pet is completely clean.

When the pet is officially funeral-ready, it is laid in a service hall for owners to say their last goodbyes. In the well-lit room, seven colors of the rainbow can be spotted along the funeral home’s roof, reminiscent of the fabled Rainbow Bridge where pets go after they die. According to Foong, the colors symbolize an “animal heaven.” 

The service hall of Sanctuary Pet Cremation, a pet funeral home, crematorium, and columbarium.

The colors of the rainbow line the roof of the service hall, where pet owners say their last goodbyes to their deceased pets.

A small table is set up with some flowers, coloring pens, and notepads. Owners can lay flowers on their pets and write farewell notes. Some even bring their pets’ favorite toys to cremate alongside them—all good as long as it doesn’t contain rubber or plastic.

When pet owners are done saying their goodbyes, a door opens up at the back of the hall and their pets are wheeled into a cremation machine. 

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Standing face to face with the cremation machine, I felt the heat (over 800 degrees Celsius, according to the display) radiating on my face as I bent down to peer into a small glass window. I couldn’t see anything but a blazing orange blur, but I realized that I was witnessing a beloved family dog being cremated.

In the distance, its family was sitting somberly in a small waiting room, some dabbing at their eyes with tissues.

Foong still remembers the first pet he helped to cremate: Peanut, a silky terrier and loyal companion who accompanied two teenage sisters into adulthood. The sisters came together to send Peanut off on its last journey, Foong recalled.

Stepping out of the cremation room, we arrived at the columbarium. According to Foong, most owners bring their pets’ ashes home. Some leave them in the columbarium, while a few choose to scatter them at sea. 

Little niches containing pet urns dot the columbarium wall, each personalized with items like dry treats, leashes, and toys. A photo of the pet is also encased in a wooden frame printed with its name, birth date, and death date. Some niches house multiple pets all belonging to the same family. 

As I toured the columbarium, I couldn’t help but notice: Most owners appear to favor the same location for their pets’ niches. While most of the shelf featured a reposeful scatter of urns, the highest positions at the center of the shelf was—in a grimmer sense—as crowded as a dog park on the weekend.

I couldn’t wrap my head around the uncanny preference; Foong said he didn’t know why either.

It might have something to do with, I’m guessing, the heavy significance of choosing the “best” resting place for their pet—a final act of service for a beloved companion after a dignified send-off to the Rainbow Bridge.

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