Confessions of an animal undertaker
Ever wondered what it would be like to drive a truck from one vet hospital to another picking up black bags full of dead animals? Perhaps you'll think me a tad macabre, but I often do.
What must go through the mind of the Led Zepplin-playing, unmarked-truck-driving man as he hoists the bags, empties the freezers and ensures that everything is labeled for the correct kind of disposal? And how about the other guy at the facility who receives the bags, sorts them and fires up the incinerators?
Do they think, “Hey, we’ve got cool jobs bringing people peace through the remains of their loved ones”? Or do they silently hope no one will ever ask what it is they do for a living?
If the truth is anything like my imagination, the answer is an honest “both.” But because my imagination may be lacking, I thought I’d try to find out.
I happen to know that, relative to other entry-level positions in animal health, these jobs require less up-front experience and pay more than most any other. $11-$12 for driving a nice truck (yes, they’re nice vehicles). But this isn’t exactly what most people consider a “job helping animals.” It’s not even a “people job” by most standards.
Yet based on the joviality and effusiveness that met my curiosity, you’d think these low-paid wage-earners were hospitality-industry employees. In fact, all three of my regular animal undertakers agreed to be interviewed (as long as their names were not mentioned) for this post.
The gist of my questions: Do you like your job? What’s the best and worst thing about it? Do you feel like you’re helping animals?...people? And...do you tell anyone what you REALLY do?
As to the last question first: Uniformly, they explained that while their families might know, their friends were in the dark. “I drive a truck. That’s it as far as my friends are concerned. Why gross them out?”
And it’s true, most people don’t want to hear about what goes on behind the scenes in animal disposal. In fact, when it came time to answer what they liked the least, they all mentioned deliveries of body parts to the dump. Now, these are not the animal bodies themselves, rather some of the other animal pieces produced by vet hospitals (after amputations and abortions, for example).
But the best part? All three young males mentioned that they like interacting with veterinary staff, checking out the [live] patients and the “freedom” of driving around the city in a cool truck.
Helping animals and humans? Sure. That’s why they’re extra careful about labeling the bodies and double-checking to see which ones are designated “private” and which ones “communal.” But that’s not what drove them to take a job driving animal bodies to the crematorium and parts to the dump. Though they all love pets, they seem to feel like they’re missing out by hauling away the dead ones.
“Sort of,” was the answer I was given by one. “If there were a better paying job in a hospital I’d take it. But then I probably wouldn’t have as much time to study.” Apparently, this job is more flexible than you might think. They have slow days and down-time. And two of the three undertakers I queried were students. None of them considered this a long-term job, though one already had been granted some managerial duties and a raise.
I guess it’s not surprising that animal undertaker isn’t a career track job (not unless you're this UK woman). Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note that all of them take the position seriously. They understand that a lot is riding on these remains and that pet owners care deeply about how they’re handled...and it shows.