Pet lovers who have lost animals close to them will tell you it is no easier than losing a human member of the family. When you look at Hong Kong's booming pet funeral business, there is no doubt that household pets play an important role in the lives of millions of people. Director of Professional Pet Funeral Service, Jacky Shum Ki-ho, said staff job descriptions ran from grief counsellors and labourers to skilled negotiators, all dealing with people who feel as if they have lost a relative. It is common for people to hold wakes for their pets. They want a full funeral service with the theme song from the Titanic playing in the background or Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You. They want their pets cremated and the ashes stored in urns or small caskets with a photo of their late pet on the lid. They have plaques made up for memorial walls with inscriptions such as, 'A loyal and loving companion, sadly missed' or 'In memory of Chloe, a purrfect friend'. Cremation time is anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours depending on the size of the animal. Furnaces reach temperatures of between 700 and 1,000 degrees Celsius. Some will invest an additional HK$500 to get a DNA sample taken from their pet which is condensed into white crystals and is stored in a pendant which can be worn around the owner's neck. Others will eventually ask to be cremated themselves when they die, and have their pet's ashes placed beside them. Mr Shum said his New Territories-based business, which started five years ago, conducted up to three funeral services a day; other operators reported more than 10 funerals a day on busy weekends. 'Many people in Hong Kong love their pets very much. When they die they want them to be treated as they would any loved one,' Mr Shum said. 'It is very important for them that the process is exactly how they want it.' In many countries pet owners choose to bury their animals in the backyard as a parting gesture. But in Hong Kong, smaller or non-existent backyards, and a trend towards keeping pets as soul mates after their children or partners have left, has contributed to the rise of the pet funeral industry. So too has the fact that many other forms of disposal are illegal. Goodbye Dear Pets Cremation Centre has been operating in Hong Kong for 14 years. The business offers a door-to-door retrieval service, funerals, cremation and has three pet cemeteries where people can purchase a plot for their pet's ashes and set up a memorial. Apple Tse Oi-ping, from the customer service department at Goodbye Dear Pets Cremation Centre, said many Hong Kong residents treated their pets like children. 'I think these days not many people are having big families, so their pets take on a special role,' Ms Tse said. 'This type of service is popular with all different types of people, from those who are more wealthy to ordinary people as well.' Some businesses offer just a cremation service, while others offer full religious funeral services and wakes. Charges vary, depending on the size of the animal and the type of package requested. Many start from about HK$1,000 and can reach HK$3,000 for large animals. It costs extra to secure a plot at one of Hong Kong's pet cemeteries or memorial halls. In most cases a fee is paid annually and the cost depends on the positioning and size. They start from as little as HK$100 a year, stretching up to HK$1,500. Competition in the industry is fierce. As night calls are a regular part of the business, most operators, including Hong Kong's Pet Hospice Care Service, have drivers on call 24 hours a day in an effort to ensure they provide the most convenient service. Others rely heavily on a network of contacts in veterinary clinics and pet shops, and almost all advertise in animal magazines and on websites. Staff members regularly sit with people for hours in the chapel or waiting room and pass the tissues while clients remember their pets. 'We do not provide a formal counselling service, but our staff talk to the clients and offer a shoulder to lean on,' Mr Shum said. 'The biggest concern in a business like this is finding the right people. We require staff who love animals very much and will always act in a professional manner with our clients and handle the corpse in a caring manner.' Staff wages, especially with drivers on call 24 hours a day, is one of the biggest costs. The high prices of petrol and fuel used in the cremation process are major issues for operators. Government regulations stipulate emission controls, the cremation process and the size of the combustor used.