Walmart is making a major change to its pet cremation policy, and it’s sparking a debate about how best to handle a global trend of pet deaths.
The retailer announced on Thursday that it will no longer accept pet cremations for the first two months of 2019, though it will allow cremations up to the end of the year.
The move is part of a broader effort by the retailer to address the growing number of pets in its stores.
In 2016, Wal-Mart had about 15,000 pet cremated annually, and last year, it reported that it had about 9,500 pet cremates in the U.S. That’s a rise of nearly 50% since 2017, according to a Walmart spokesperson.
Pet cremation is not a new idea in Walmart, but it has become increasingly popular as a way to preserve animals for later consumption.
In recent years, some big retailers like Wal-mart and Target have embraced cremation.
Last year, Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, even said that Wal-marts were planning to do away with pet cremating in 2018.
But the move has sparked a wave of criticism from animal lovers, who are calling it a “dog and cat cremation.”
Critics say Wal-Marts should focus on humane alternatives like pet adoption, which is still allowed at the store.
“Walmart is not doing the right thing by their customers,” wrote Lauren Smith of PETA in a post on Twitter.
“It’s clear they want to be the only animal-friendly grocery store in the country.
If they don’t, the public will see that.”
Walmart’s decision to end pet cremators is a major shift for the retailer.
Previously, Walmarts allowed pet cremator services through the end for some animals, like cats, but not others.
The company also announced that it would no longer allow cremators to be placed on its outdoor patio, which was also used for pet crematories, and the store will no long be accepting pet crematees from outside its stores or in its online marketplace.
“We’re making this change to help us reduce the number of pet crematoriums, which are a waste of time and money,” the company wrote on Twitter, saying that the move would help to “avoid unnecessary suffering” of pets.
It’s unclear how many pets Walmart cremated this year.
The company didn’t say how many, or how many pet crematers it had, though the company previously said it had cremated more than 1,000 animals in the past year.
Walmart spokesperson Lisa Wohlstetter told CNNMoney that the change to the policy will help “make Walmart a better place for our customers and our employees.”
Walmarts decision to allow cremation services in its outdoor parking lot, where pet crematory facilities are located, comes as other major retailers have become more proactive about pet-friendly practices.
In 2016, the retailer banned pet cremations at its corporate headquarters, but that decision was overturned by the courts.
Wal-Mart is also rolling out a program called Pet Friendly in its retail stores, where employees will wear collars and wear earplugs to prevent pets from hearing the sounds of pet casket opening and closing.
The retail giant has also become more welcoming to pets with the company’s $20 pet credit card.
The card is also available to all employees.
Walmart says that the credit card helps the company avoid overbilling for pet care and euthanasia, and that it’s the only credit card that provides the option of pet adoption.