I REMEMBER reading that the ashes of 13 people whose remains had never been claimed from a funeral parlour were scattered on Loch Ness.

The decision to do this was made by undertakers after their exhaustive attempts to trace relatives had failed, although they were pleased to report that four other families had finally come forward when they heard of the plans.

The scattering ceremony was presided over by the Rev Douglas Clyne and a piper played a lament as the ashes were dispersed over the deep loch.

You might have been surprised about this. You may have been stunned that a loved one’s ashes could be left sitting lonely and overlooked in an undertaker’s store for up to 40 years. You may have been taken aback that families could ignore or forget or just relinquish their responsibility for a member of their clan after death. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t surprised at all. Both our surgeries are stacked high with unclaimed ashes of once dearly loved pets.

Shelves that could be better utilised helping the living are creaking under the weight of cremated animals in tasteful wooden caskets, biodegradable boxes, clocks and burial stones.

Each is carefully marked with the owner’ name and address. All bear the animal’s name, neatly inscribed, as the owner originally requested. Some are painted, others have brass plaques.

There are hamsters, rats, a budgie, numerous dogs and cats and a single guinea pig. All represent the confirmed wishes of the owners, made after careful, unhurried discussion, either at the time of death or euthanasia or in the days immediately after. With each is a copy of a form signed by the owner, clearly stating their requirements.

And then they were never collected. Oh we have made the phone calls and written the letters but they are still here.

There are reasons, of course.

Some are there because the owner, having satisfied their desire to avoid their pet being communally cremated and safe in the knowledge that we would not turf them out on the street, simply sought to avoid paying the cremation costs by never returning.

For this reason all owners of pets that are to be cremated with ashes returned now have to pay in advance. It’s a shame, isn’t it, how some individuals spoil it for the rest?

Others will just not have been able to bring themselves to collect their pet’s ashes. And I can understand that. The reality of driving home with that once loved dog sitting in an urn beside you on the passenger seat can be too much for some.

As for the rest? Who knows.

People get ill, they move away, things happen. Maybe after a while they thought we would have got rid of them. In the fullness of time we will have to. Logistically there is just not the space to keep them all forever.

But I don’t think we will make a trip to Loch Ness. There will not be a reverend or a piper. Just me, throwing them to the wind, wondering why and hoping they don’t feel too bad at having been forgotten.