RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Grief hung heavy inside the Richmond Heights home of Gina Destro the day she picked up the remains of her beloved New Foundland, Poobah, back in mid-January.
"He brought much joy to my life," she said.
Destro said goodbye for the last time to Poobah when age and illness told her it was time to let go. She said she knew the grieving process would be difficult, but she had no idea just how difficult it would turn out to be.
"Something really horrible has disrupted that process for me," she told Call For Action Reporter Lorrie Taylor.
Destro said she took her 130 pound friend to the Euclid Veterinary Clinic on Lakeland Boulevard to be euthanized. She made arrangements for a private cremation so that Poobah’s remains would not be mixed with other animals. She said she made it clear she wanted her dog’s ashes returned to her.
"It helps to bring closure," she said.
Destro told Taylor a small red tin was placed in her hands when she arrived at the clinic to take her dog home.
"It was so light, when I opened it up, Lorrie, a brown lunch bag," she said, as she removed the lid to reveal the contents.
Having cremated three New Foundlands in her life, Destro knew something was wrong.
"What did you do with the rest of his body?" she demanded.
Destro said an employee who claimed to have performed the cremation offered an explanation.
"Well, we disposed of it, do you know how many bags it would take to fill if I gave you all his ashes back?" she recalled him saying.
“It's not for them to decide,” she sobbed, “I would have brought a bag big enough!"
Destro said she cancelled the $228 check she used to pay for the cremation and Called For Action, asking Taylor to alert other pet owners to what had happened, that they might be spared a similar fate.
"I don't want anybody to have to go through what I did," she said.
Ohio law demands that pet crematories be separate from those used to cremate humans. There are no other laws that guarantee animals will be handled in a certain way.
"I honestly have never heard of only giving a portion of a pet back,” said Jenny Hummel, who oversees the Pet Division for Hummel Funeral Homes and Pet Services in Copley.
The Funeral Home is in its 115th year of operation and has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
"We use paint brushes to ensure we are giving back as much of the ashes as we possibly and physically can," said Hummel as she explained the painstaking way in which four-legged loved ones are handled.
Hummel wasn't the only professional from the crematory industry who expressed surprise by Destro's experience.
Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America, told Taylor she'd never heard of a customer being given a portion of their pet's ashes, that a customer paying for an individual cremation "should get all of the remains back."
Taylor paid a visit to the Euclid Veterinary Clinic to ask about the staff’s failure to send all of Poobah home.
Dr. Jagbir Kahlon said he was speaking on his employer’s behalf when he answered Taylor’s questions. Initially he confirmed that indeed, another employee had disposed of the New Foundland’s remains.
"That's a standard procedure followed,” said Dr. Kahlon. “We never give, like, the whole dog because if we cremate the dog the whole skeleton is a huge box, that's standard procedure, we always give small amount of the ashes."
A few minutes later, as Taylor sat waiting to talk with the veterinarian on duty the day Poobah was partially disposed of, Dr. Kahlon returned to the waiting room and offered a different explanation as to why most of the dog's remains appeared to be missing.
"I talked to the guy who does the cremation,” said Dr. Kahlon, “and he said the furnace was on for a long time, that's why the ashes from 130 pounds ended up in a smaller box."
A second employee chimed in with further explanation and said, "Six hours in a high pressure furnace."
The two appeared confused when pressed for an explanation as to why the story about Poobah’s remains had changed.
"I have no idea,” said the unnamed employee.
"Yea I don't know why he would say that,” insisted Dr. Kahlon, “but I just talked to him and he said, like, sometime he leave the furnace, like, on for a longer time, and that's what it ends up in a smaller box."
Taylor responded, "It seems a bit strange that he would tell the owner one story and you would confirm that, in fact, you only give out partial samples and now all of a sudden it's a high pressure furnace that reduces a 130 pound dog down to a sandwich bag."
"Um, hum, it's pretty possible," said the veterinarian.
John Bayliff, a funeral director of more than 50 years and owner of Bayliff and Son Pet Crematory in Cridersville, Ohio, disputed Kahlon’s explanation. Bayliff is also a board member from the Cremation Association of North America.
"You can cremate bone fragments for a week and they won't change,” he told Taylor.
The Call For Action reporter had her own doubts as she listened to Dr. Kahlon’s explanation.
"It seems a little hard to believe," she said.
"I don't think so, it’s just possible," he responded.
Poobah's owner wasn’t buying the explanation either.
“I don't deserve this and nobody else should have to,” Destro said.