Steps to dog heaven
I am of the opinion that only wealthy sentimental idiots in California take their dead dog or cat to a pet crematorium. The kind of rich people in that Mandarin Oriental advertisement where they claim Fluffikins would be welcome to bunker up with you in your hotel room. Well maybe they let super-wealthy guests do this in MO in America, but not, I suspect, in good old MO Hong Kong. It was tempting to march in to Connaught Road HQ with Dog Xiaoping on a lead to check-in, but I never did. And now I never will, because he toppled off his perch last Wednesday.
This brings me back to pet crematoriums. Life styles of the Rich and Famous-type TV shows would suggest these places are pure sickly saccharine. I would have agreed, until they said hound died, unexpectedly, while under sedation, at the vet, during a minor procedure.
The phone call about cremation options followed the one apologising for his sudden demise. All very matter-of-fact and Hong Kong. Choices were: cremation, not individual, ashes not returned. Individual cremation: ashes returned, or not. A couple of thousand dollars and Xiaoping would come home in a jar with his photo on the front. I said yes, thinking ashes could be scattered later, still in shock from his untimely departure.
But there was more. Did I wish to attend the cremation? Attend? Certainly not. The place: “Goodbye Dear,” was in a Kwai Chung industrial building. But the sight of a sobbing helper at home made me relent and decide we should go. Friends warned it would be grim. Helper was prepared to sacrifice Sunday afternoon to see her bristly charge of 11 years head off to doggy heaven, so it seemed justified, sort of. The industrial building was indeed grim from outside, but inside, more pleasant than any local human equivalent. Granted, there was a distinct whiff of ash, but it was dignified and peaceful. Photos of grateful customers lined the walls.
Several Chinese families sat in circles around their departed pets in a hall, mourning silently or vocally, as appropriate. Goodbye Dear’s Estella Leung asked did I want flowers to cover the (thankfully) very frozen corpse. $400. Yes please, lots. We were led to a quiet private room (extra $200), where Xiaoping lay in doggy state, reposing in what resembled a large baking tray. He didn’t look like he was about to chase off after a cat–but after the judicious addition of several carnations, he looked pretty good. I had declined the services of the doggy embalmer to “beautify” him. Once we had equipped with everything for his last journey: dog biscuits, rawhide chew, squeaky toy and letters from daughter and Grandma–it was time. We bawled, a lot. We said goodbye and thanks. It was oddly cathartic. But first, asked Estella, did I require a DNA pendant?
This involved converting a doggy DNA sample–hair, bone fragment or saliva–into a locket or pendant. These guys had thought of everything. She produced trays of tiny phials of coloured liquid DNA in a silver clasp ($600); small silver lockets–dog’s photo one side, piece of hair or bone fragment on the other; $800. The result was, really rather tasteful. I laughed inwardly as I agreed to the locket–if for no other reason than if technology ever makes cloning a reality, I want Dog Xiaoping back. He was a great hound: a Doctor Dog who visited hospitals and helped primary school children to overcome their animal terrors.
A man with sharp scissors and a plastic bag appeared and swiftly chopped of a bit of bristly sharp fur. The last commercial hurdle had been cleared. It was time to wheel him off to the hereafter. Trying to banish visions of gas ovens in Dachau concentration camp, we trooped around the corner. For humans, the actual cremation is discreetly curtained, but not for dogs. Xiaoping’s tray was deftly hoisted into the oven like a giant pizza. My attention was drawn to the tray’s number–for later proof that these were the correct ashes. I was invited to press three green buttons on the side of the scalding metal casing and the deed was done.
Would we wait for the ashes, asked Estella, as we passed a lounge full of slumbering people. It would take two hours–one for burning, one for ashes to cool. Home delivery seemed preferable. As we left, another grieving family sobbed around a tiny Beijing pooch curled up in its little bed. “Gets very busy on Sundays,” said Estella. Were we all ridiculous to be carrying on like this over dead pets? Probably, but like those other families, I didn’t care. It won’t bring him back, but it was worth every cent. Anna.firstname.lastname@example.org