COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Losing a pet is never easy. For many, their dogs are part of the family. Figuring out what to do with their remains isn't easy either, and that's why many will turn to pet cremation services. Some pet owners, however, say those services have made losing their beloved dogs even worse.
13 Investigates has learned of allegations that a local pet cremation business, that promises to provide services with "dignity and respect," hasn't been living up to its claims. Rather, some pet owners say their dog's remains were stuck in "disturbing conditions" and even went missing.
Jeremy DeWall's dog Thomas passed away in late June 2022. He chose to have Thomas cremated at Lasting Paws Pet Memorial Services, something he had done with several of his dogs in the past.
The most recent experience with Lasting Paws, however, was nothing like what Jeremy had experienced before. Now, he told 13 Investigates that he will never go back there again.
Jeremy's dog passed suddenly at a Colorado Springs veterinarian's office. From there, Thomas was taken to Lasting Paws for cremation.
Jeremy said he was told the process would take up to two weeks.
After two weeks had come and gone and he had heard nothing, and Jeremy called the facility to see what the delay was. While on the phone, Jeremy was told they did not know when his dog would be cremated and he would have to be patient.
Unsatisfied with the response, Jeremy went to Lasting Paws, located on Karen Lane on the northeast side of town. When he got there, Jeremy told 13 Investigates that he noticed something strange about what appeared to be the actual building where the cremations were performed.
“When I got there, to the right is the primary building which you go into. [...] On the left is a kind of semi-circular metal building and the door was completely open," Jeremy said.
Jeremy walked further to get a closer look.
“There was a pile of black and blue bags that were literally ten feet out plus from the outside of this building and piled up a good teen feet plus.”
Jeremy said he thought that was strange, but continued inside. Once in the business, he asked when Thomas would be cremated and returned to him.
An employee eventually admitted they were far behind on their cremations and had even run out of cold storage to keep the animals in up until the point of cremation.
Jeremy recorded his conversation at Lasting Paws and shared the audio tapes with 13 Investigates.
In the recording, Jeremy asked, "So the dogs are not in cold storage?”
The employee responded, "Not all of them."
Jeremey also spoke with the then-manager of Lasting Paws.
In another recorded conversation between Jeremy and the manager, Jeremy said, "I saw piles of animals along the wall and it was black bags and blue bags [...] That’s not dignified that’s not the way you treat someone's loved one and it’s certainly not legal."
The manager responded, "No, it’s not right by any means.”
Since the recorded conversations, 13 Investigates learned that the manager he spoke to no longer works there.
13 Investigates reached out to Lasting Paws for comment on if animals were being improperly stored. The company said the expectation they set with customers is that pets "remain in cold storage while at our Care Center until they are being prepared for the cremation service."
However, the recorded tapes with Lasting Paws employees seem to indicate that did not happen for a period of time. When asked about that, Lasting Paws management would not answer our question as to whether or not what Jeremy was told was true.
Similar allegations in Canada
Lasting Paws is owned by Gateway Services Inc., based out of Canada. 13 Investigates learned other facilities owned by Gateway Services Inc. have had customer complaints.
We spoke with a woman who took her pet to be cremated at a crematorium owned by Gateway in 2017.
Tracey Irving took her dog, Tucker, to Gateway Pet Memorial in Guelph Ontario.
Tracey said the staff was rude, even crass, making jokes about her other pets who were still alive, saying they'd die soon and need to be cremated too at Gateway.
Tracey echoed Jeremy's complaints, saying the company took much longer than she was told to get her Tucker's ashes back and completely lacked communication with her. She said they didn't answer their phones and never returned her calls.
Finally, similarly to Jeremy, she received what she was told were her beloved dog's ashes. Tracey, however, said that doesn't believe she was given back Tucker.
Tracey said the staff told her they were nowhere near being done with her pet's cremation. However, after complaining to the business, thirty minutes later she was told her pet was ready.
Tracey believes there is no way they cremated her dog that quickly.
Another Canadian customer of Gateway Pet Memorial Services said he never received his dog's ashes at all. Rick Roberts was told the company had lost his pet.
Roberts was told Gateway had lost track of his pet, despite their tracking system.
"I have yet to receive any explanation of where or how they screwed up. I really believe they are covering something up but assure me they are not," Rick said.
To this day, Rick doesn't have his pet's ashes or a clear answer from the company.
Company responds to unsettling allegations
In a statement to KRDO, Lasting Paws Pet Memorial Services said,
“We take all customer service inquiries very seriously. Working in our business and as pet parents ourselves, we understand a pet’s end-of-life is a very sensitive and emotional time for each family. We make every effort to return pets back to their families as soon as possible. Return times can vary depending on the complexity of services requested. Unfortunately, as with most businesses throughout the United States, we experienced a labor shortage here in Colorado Springs, causing some service delays. Upon learning of the delays in Colorado Springs, our company took immediate action to resolve the situation. Fortunately, we have hired additional staff, and with the installation of new equipment, we have been operating at expected service levels for weeks now, meaning the prior delays have been resolved. Moving forward, we will continue to closely monitor operations to quickly address any delays, and we have implemented an improved communication process allowing us to better inform our customers of any potential delays.”
Lasting Paws did not answer our questions about Gateway Services Inc. as a whole.
Zero to no regulations
13 Investigates learned that the pet aftercare industry has little state oversight with no federal oversight. Unlike the human cremation industry, it's a virtually unregulated industry.
There is one organization that acts as somewhat of an ethics board for the pet aftercare business. The International Association Of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC) is a non-profit "dedicated to advancing the standards, ethics, and professionalism of pet cemeteries and crematories around the world."
They have a code of ethics by which they advise pet crematories to operate by around the world.
IAOPCC also offers an accreditation program that businesses can apply for and undergo a vetting process to earn the accreditation.
“We’re the only association that has any type of accreditation for pet aftercare," Donna Shugart-Bethune, the executive director of the IAOPCC, said.
“That means that they’re really willing to kind of go through the process of examining their facility. Determining what practices and procedures need to be put into place that maybe they’re not currently practicing. So they’re basically elevating the standards of their operations and their facility.”
While Lasting Paws is not accredited by the IAOPCC, the company told 13 Investigates they plan to pursue accreditation from the organization.
"Unfortunately in our industry, because of the industry itself the biggest factor for a pet parent or a veterinarian is that trust that you're getting your beloved pet baby's remains back," Shugart-Bethune said.