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Published: 10:31, December 01, 2023 | Updated: 16:34, December 07, 2023
Furry farewells
By Chai Hua
Published:10:31, December 01, 2023 Updated:16:34, December 07, 2023 By Chai Hua

Pet morticians have risen to the occasion as the pet industry booms. Market players say the business has been driven by a growing sense of respect and reverence among pet owners for their departed animals. Chai Hua reports from Hong Kong.

Lo Chi-lam, a pet mortician in Hong Kong, grooms a pet before performing a memorial ritual. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The thriving pet industry has created a rare breed of professionals and entrepreneurs — pet morticians. The emergence of this unusual career exemplifies the potential and value of emotion-driven businesses.

Apart from pet food and toys, the demand for personalized cremation and memorial services for pets has soared among owners who would like to see their furry companions depart with dignity and love. According to data from global accounting firm PwC, the Chinese pet business was valued at 131 billion yuan ($18.41 billion) in 2021, increasing at an impressive annual growth rate of 18 percent since 2019, with growing numbers of families, particularly in major cities, turning to pets for companionship, solace and pleasure.

A pet mortician specializes in tending to departed pets, meticulously trimming their nails, grooming their fur, tidying up waste and bathing them before cremation or burial to ensure that they bid farewell to their owners in the cleanest and most beautiful state possible.

“It’s an honor helping to give owners’ beloved pets a wonderful final journey as most people would often find themselves overwhelmed and distraught after a pet passes away,” says Lo Chi-lam, a pet mortician at Perfect Pet Services Group (PPSG) — a Hong Kong-based professional pet cremation and memorial services provider.

Lo says that in his work, he’s often moved by the intimate bonds sealed between owners and their beloved pets they consider to be a part of their families. A particular story that made a deep impression on him is of a dog that passed away after he had been with a family for more than two decades and grew up together with the child of the family; the young master was heartbroken. “Their lifelong friendship was so touching and I could not help shedding tears together with them,” he recalled. 

“To me, it’s more than just a job to earn money. It’s a heartfelt dedication to serving our clients, taking care of both pets and their owners,” says Lo. Each day, he performs rituals for more than a dozen pets, mainly cats and dogs, but also hamsters, chinchillas, turtles, lizards and even larger animals like horses. He can earn up to HK$30,000 ($3,845.16) a month.

Initially, Lo’s family didn’t understand his work. He had to explain that pets too, like human beings, deserve a dignified departure. In Hong Kong, owners can also send the remains of their pets to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, where the animals will be laid to rest in a specially designated landfill area. But, most of them prefer to have their pets buried or cremated individually.

‘All about respect’

“It’s all about respect. Regardless of whether it’s an animal or a human being, they all deserve to be treated with care and dignity in their final moments,” says Edmond Tang, who chose to cremate his two pets — a Labrador retriever named Blackie and a Dalmatian named Macro — individually, and still keeps their ashes at home. His special way of commemorating them is to customize handmade stuffed animals, capture the likeness of Blackie and Macro, and treasure them at home.

Besides pet morticians, the number of skilled artisans specializing in crafting pet memorial keepsakes has also been on the rise, catering to the desire of pet owners to preserve their memories. Artisans can produce a range of offerings, including personalized paw print jewelry, engraved memorial plaques, custom-made urns, and handcrafted paintings or sculptures to capture the unique essence of each cherished pet.

Calvin Yau, who founded PPSG, says the company has about 30 employees, including pet morticians and memorial makers, and has been hiring new staff.

“In Hong Kong, the number of pet owners has been rising, with a growing sense of respect and reverence towards pets. As a result, our business has been growing steadily.”

According to a survey report by the Census and Statistics Department, about 250,000 households in Hong Kong were keeping cats and dogs from October to December in 2010, representing 10.6 percent of all households in the city. 

More recently, a survey last year by Rakuten Insight showed around 35 percent of respondents in Hong Kong stated that they own at least one pet at the moment. 

Although pet morticians have existed in the local market for two decades, more diversified and customized services, such as religious rituals and bio-cremation services, have emerged in recent years.

Thus, Yau says, competition in the industry is fierce, with more players entering the market. He added that the capital threshold is relatively low. “With a startup capital of about HK$3 million, you’re in business.”

To provide more customized services, PPSG plans to apply a new technology utilizing artificial intelligence to recreate deceased pets in virtual reality. Their owners can even talk to them in the virtual world. 

However, there’re no relevant certification credentials for pet morticians and the industry lacks regulation. Some pet funeral companies in the SAR have reportedly sent the remains of pets to garbage dumps to reap bigger profits.

Vast potential

On the Chinese mainland, the pet mortician profession has just taken off, and the demand for these professionals has been mounting in recent years. In Zhaoqing, Guangdong province, four young entrepreneurs created a pet cremation and memorial service brand called Tianpet in 2019. Their operations have since expanded to 12 cities, with more than 100 employees.

Ding Xiaowei, general manager of the enterprise, is confident about the industry’s vast potential. “Pet funeral services have yet to establish a footing on the mainland. The market is immense, particularly with the changing perspectives of the younger generation towards pets,” he says, adding that the pet funeral industry has been growing steadily at a rate of about 5 percent annually since 2019.

Tianpet has around 30 pet morticians, most of them born in the 1990s, indicating that the younger generation is actively engaging, and has been pursuing careers, in the pet funeral business.

Ding says the pet funeral industry involves more than just morticians. The company is also expanding into the field of pet memorial products by collaborating with talented artisans and designers.

“The emotional market is, indeed, a focal point for various industries in the future,” he says.

Contact the writer at grace@chinadailyhk.com

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