Watch CBS News

Call Kurtis Investigates: Grieving pet owners say they didn't get their pets' ashes back

Grieving pet owners say they didn't get their pets' ashes back
Grieving pet owners say they didn't get their pets' ashes back 03:45

SACRAMENTO -- When Lisa Melendez came home in December, she discovered 80-pound Roscoe barely alive. She thinks the 8-year-old suffered a seizure. He passed away moments later.

"He always wanted cuddles. He wanted to cuddle with you. He was a really good dog," she remembers.

She brought him to the Sacramento Pet Crematory on Gerber Road and remembers what the worker said as he wheeled Rosco away on a gurney: "Oh, don't worry. He'll be taken care of. No worries."

Despite paying $481 to cremate Roscoe and return him in a rainbow urn engraved with his name, she never heard from them again. It appears they went out of business.

"How could they do something like this?" she asked.

A memorial box sits on her mantle awaiting his ashes.

"I just want to know what happened to him. You know, I want to make sure that he wasn't just thrown into a trash can or something like that. I want to make sure that he was actually cremated somewhere at some time," Melendez said. "Or if, if they still have his body frozen somewhere, I would like it back. I mean, I just don't want to know he's in a landfill somewhere, just decomposing out there."

The state regulates crematoriums for people. But, we've learned there is zero oversight for pet crematoriums; anyone can run a pet cremation business.

Hillarie Levy, who lives outside Los Angeles, says a different crematory switched up her dog's ashes in 2017. She only knew about it because the ashes she got back weighed twice as much as her smaller dog's, who died a year earlier.

"They didn't even have the wherewithal to even measure it properly, like a certain size," Levy said. "It was like they dug a cup into a bunch of ashes and stuck into a box, and I didn't get the correct ashes."

She pushed the State Veterinary Board and individual lawmakers to regulate pet crematories to require cameras and inspections.  The idea went nowhere.

"The staff I spoke to said, 'Yeah, this is so important. I hope something is done,' but then nothing is ever done," Levy said.

We reached out to the Sacramento Pet Crematory several times. Owner Tammy Leung eventually got back to us, saying she temporarily closed the business for her safety surrounding a personal issue. She insisted Roscoe was cremated and then agreed to deliver his ashes to Lisa and give her a full refund, saying it was the right thing to do.

Leung told me Roscoe was the only cremated pet she had not returned.

Lisa says she'll always question if the ashes she now has truly belong to Rosco.

"This type of business is supposed to be there for people that are in mourning, you know, that are at a sad point in their life and they're taking advantage of them," Lisa said.

DNA is destroyed in cremation, so it's tough to prove if you got your pet back. 

Levy sued the crematory and won based on the weight of her dog's ashes. She says if you want to make sure you get your own pets' ashes back, either do a witness cremation or just bury your pet dog in your yard. Check with your local government to see if you need a permit.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.