“Is this my pet?” According to Nick Padlo, CEO of the nationwide pet loss and memorialization service the Pet Loss Center, this is the most frequent question clients ask when they receive their dead pet’s ashes.
And why wouldn’t it be? Having a pet die can be a painful, heartbreaking process. Between consulting with a veterinarian regarding euthanization or final payments, deciding between aftercare options, and seeking comfort and consolation, the experience for pet owners can be overwhelming. To help give “pet parents,” as Padlo and center co-founder Coleen Ellis call them, and vets peace of mind, the two developed a Web-based software that tracks every step of a dead pet’s trek, from pickup to drop off. Yes, pet owner, that is indeed your Fido.
Though most pet aftercare services and crematoriums have their own tracking systems, they’re sometimes done through antiquated means of pen and paper. Unable to handle high volumes of clients, these services can be susceptible to human error, Padlo said. In looking for a customizable tracking solution that also uses technology to increase security, Padlo and Ellis decided to create their own called Trusted Journey.
“At the time of loss, you have an emotional pet parent who’s asking for something, and you have a veterinary professional who’s now having to record all that information, but also trying to be there for the pet parent, and then you have a crematory operator who’s interpreting that information if it’s handwritten,” Padlo told the Daily Dot. “And so by having a system where everything is printed out and clear, you prevent the risk for an accidentally checked box, or a misspelling of a word, or a misinterpretation of what someone wants.”
After sketching out the steps of the pet workflow process, Padlo and Ellis began developing the software in October 2014 with Dallas-based FlowTrac, a company specialized in tracking. The product launched in the fall, and is used at all five pet loss center locations—three in Texas and two in Florida.
In the nearly $60-billion pet industry, the transparency and security provided by the software is more than necessary. Even with the gains human aftercare has made in the last decade, the pet industry is still catching up. From local news stations to the podcast Freakonomics, news outlets across the United States have executed their own investigations and sting operations into suspicious pet aftercare practices, with the findings typically being a breach of ethics and broken trust.
Although groups such as the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories and the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance have begun to take matters into their own hands, no amount of ethical pledges can help prevent an honest mistake, such as when a shelter in Regina, Canada accidentally sent a cat’s body to the landfill instead of the crematorium in 2007; or when the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, ended a euthanizing service and forgot to tell the city’s vets and crematorium, proceeding to dump pet’s bodies in a landfill for more than a month in 2014. With Trusted Journey, technology aims to be that guardrail to protect veterinarians, pets, and their owners.
As for the software itself, this is how it works: When a pet dies, the veterinarian logs into the software’s Web portal and creates a service order with the pet’s name, death date, and the pet owner’s contact information and aftercare wishes. After the order is saved, a Trusted Journey info sheet is printed at the vet’s office with a barcode assigned to that specific pet, plus barcodes for each designated process (fur clipping, paw printing, nose printing, cremation, etc.), and the pet’s information is dispatched to the relationship manager (the driver, basically) via their customer care tablet, which lets them know the pet needs to be picked up.
When the manager arrives, they scan the pet’s barcode with a wireless Bluetooth scanner, put the pet in a body bag, and then zip tie the protected barcode info sheet to the body bag. For each process, the caretaker will scan the pet’s barcode, then the process barcode. When the process is scanned in, the time and date are recorded on the pet’s file, which a vet can check through the online portal. The same process is used if a pet owner brings their pet into the facility.
“Until the pet’s [cremated ashes] are returned to the veterinarian, the veterinarian knows where that pet is at all times, and if a pet parent ever has any questions, they can just ask,” Padlo said.
If the caretaker accidentally skips over a step or scans the wrong barcode, the software will notify the caretaker. It’s kind of like a ramped up Domino’s pizza tracker, if you had spent decades of your formative years with a personal meat lovers pie and wanted to give it a dignified send off to the big pizza box in the sky.
“I think that having the Trusted Journey system in place… makes the whole process more transparent, and with transparency comes the requirement that you’re honest, because you can’t hide,” Padlo said about the software’s ability to prevent unethical behavior. “For us, we would do [pet aftercare] the same way regardless, but Trusted Journey provides a level of transparency for both veterinarians and pet parents that… can verify to them that we’re doing the ethical, right thing.”
Padlo and Ellis are finishing up the process of rolling out the software to the center’s veterinary partners. The team already has several inquiries from other pet aftercare services wanting to license the software, and plans to make it available for licensing sometime in the second half of this year. While the software doesn’t have the option for pet owners to view the records on their own devices, Padlo said he would rather a pet parent seek help from the facility than obsessively watch their phone for updates.
“If a pet parent is worried about where their pet is, we would love them to call us, because it gives us an opportunity to make sure they’re doing OK and to help them,” Padlo said. “We don’t want them to worry, checking every 10 minutes to see where their pet is. We’d rather them reach out, that way we can provide them with some sort of assurance… because they may need more help than just knowing.”
Photo via Sachin Sandhu/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)