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Water cremation and more: A new approach to end-of-life and deathcare for animal companions

End-of-life care and deathcare is something most people think about rarely, engaging with it only when necessary, then quickly tucking it away because it hurts so much. But I think about it all the time.


For me, it started after a wonderful decade spent with a “foster fail”. The grief I experienced when my soul dog died was unlike anything I’d ever endured before or since. When my elderly dog suddenly could no longer walk, I sat in the parking lot of an emergency vet clinic for four hours before we could bring him inside. I'd convinced myself "today is just a bad day” but I went home without my dog that day.


The experience haunted me. In the months that followed, in an attempt to alleviate my own suffering, I began learning everything I could about euthanasia guilt, disenfranchised grief, and cultural variations in deathcare. I became dissatisfied with the depth and breadth of services available in Anchorage, and with the harmful environmental impacts of the funeral industry in general. Knowing that I still have two other dogs at home and NEVER wanting to repeat my previous experience, I founded Flameless Cremation Services – Anchorage’s first water cremation facility.


Water cremation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, is an eco-friendly alternative to flame cremation. The process requires less energy and produces no carbon emissions. Many families find additional comfort in discovering water cremation is a less destructive process, preserving more cremated remains for the family to save, scatter, or bury. In addition to being more eco-friendly, I’ve been able to carefully craft the kinds of internal practices and policies that would have comforted me as a dog mom. Though I can never take away the hurt a family will experience when a beloved pet dies, I believe that improving the circumstances and logistics that are inevitably involved can alleviate suffering and enable us to find beauty in tragedy.


New in March 2023, I’ve proudly entered a collaborative effort with two other women-owned, Alaskan businesses to offer The Rainbow Bridge Sendoff. With the help of a mobile veterinarian ( 2 Tails Veterinary Services) and at a credentialed death doula (The Ritual Bough), this multidisciplinary effort enables us to provide on-site humane euthanasia, family guidance for memorial ceremonies and home funerals, followed by water cremation. This service allows us to cater to each family's specific needs and to pack as much meaning and beauty as we can into a situation which would otherwise be tragic and isolating. It also means families a single point of contact, receive a single bill, and never have to leave their home.


I operate with the understanding that every animal holds a unique place in the heart of their human guardian. And that our final acts on this earth shouldn’t pollute it further. I believe prioritizing transparency and communication is a step towards destigmatizing death, validating grief, and finding a beautiful way to honor the bond. Making the extra effort to build beauty around an otherwise tragic event makes it easier for our lasting memories to bring us joy instead of sorrow.

 

Written by: Rachel Bernhardt, Flameless Cremation Services







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