The Final Farewell – Options After Your Pet Dies

cat_on_grave_cemetery

One of the reasons why I wrote Buckley’s Story was because I wanted to help others  who are faced with losing a beloved animal companion.   After losing Amber, and being faced with the devastating grief losing an animal companion brings yet again, it’s become even more important to me to share information that may help other grieving pet parents.

An article by John Grogan, the author of Marley and Me, titled Bringing Marley Home, really brought home to me how far reaching the decision of what to do with your pet’s remains can be.  If you’ve read the book or watched the movie, you may recall that Marley was buried in the Grogan family’s backyard.  Well, the Grogans moved to a new home recently, and the fact that Marley was buried at the old house nagged at them.  One moning, Grogan’s wife finally said what they’d all been thinking – Marley’s body needed to come to the new house with them.  At first, Grogan resisted.  The thought of exhuming Marley’s body sounded to him like something “those nutty dog people” would do.   But they decided to bring Marley “home.”  You can read the full article here.  The article convinced me that there’s a need to talk about this topic here in the Pet Loss Category.

A very personal decision

There are so many components to coping with losing a pet.  One that isn’t often talked about until a pet parent is faced with the decision is what to do with the pet’s body after death.  Most pet parents don’t want to think about this issue, but the time when it becomes an issue and when you’re in the throes of shock and grief is not the best time to think about it calmly and rationally.  It can often lead to a hasty decision that may result in regret later on.  It’s best to think about this difficult issue ahead of time.  Some people may think that’s morbid, but it really is part of being a responsible pet parent.  The decision what to do with a pet’s body is an individual one, and is guided by each person’s feelings about loss, death, and remembrance.  The ultimate goal of this decision is to find a way to preserve your pet’s memory in a way that feels right.

Burial

Home burial is an option chosen by many people as a way of keeping the pet’s body close.   People often choose a pet’s favorite location in the yard, and place a permanent marker as a memorial.  This could be a stone, a statue, or even a tree planted in the pet’s memory.  However, this may not be an option in some municipalities, so be sure to check your local ordinances.  You will also need to make sure that you dig a deep enough grave to ensure that the remains will not be disturbed.

As evidenced by Marley’s story above, this is probably only a good option if you know you’re not going to move, or if you’re sure that when you do move, you’ll either be able to leave your pet’s body behind, or go through what the Grogan family went through and exhume and move the body.

Another  burial option may be burial at a pet cemetery.  Most states have these, and some states have multiple locations.  The advantage of burial at a pet cemetary is that you won’t have to worry about your pet’s body being disturbed, or about what happens when you move.  Check your local listings for locations.

Cremation

Cremation is the most commonly chosen option for a pet’s body.  Some veterinarians offer this service, but most will contract it out to a crematorium that specializes in pets.  Usually, there are two options.  In a   group cremation, the pet’s ashes are cremated along with other pets, and the ashes are not returned to the owner.  In an individual cremation, the pet’s body is cremated by itself and ashes are returned to the owner.  Check with your veterinarian and/or local crematorium, there are sometimes various options even for individual cremations.  As those of you who read Buckley’s Story know, I was able to choose a witnessed cremation for Buckley, which meant I was able to be present for the actual cremation.  I needed that peace of mind to know that it was really her ashes that were being returned to me.  I choose the same option for Amber as well.

If you choose to have your pet’s ashes returned, what you do with them becomes  once again a very individual decision.  You may want to keep them in an urn in a special place in your home.  For some people, this is a way to bring the pet home one last time.   There are beautiful urns available, or you may already have a special container that is meaningful to you for this purpose.  Others may choose to scatter the ashes in a place where the pet loved to spend time, such as the backyard or a favorite park.  I keep my departed cats’ ashes on the dresser in my bedroom, and it brings me great comfort to see them there every day.  I also have a clause in my will that when my time comes, my ashes and those of any pets that have gone before me will be mingled together.

Memorial Service

Regardless of whether you choose burial or cremation, I think it’s important to have some sort of ritual or memorial service to mark a pet’s passing.  This can be something as simple as lighting a candle in the pet’s memory, or as elaborate as holding a full-fledged memorial service for family and friends.  Either way, a conscious marking of the occasion will go a long way towards helping you cope with the grieving process.

It is not easy to talk, or even think about, a pet’s death, but these are necessary decisions that are better made while you’re not in the throes of the initial devastating grief after losing a pet.

22 Comments on The Final Farewell – Options After Your Pet Dies

  1. Captain Bulldog
    October 31, 2017 at 9:41 pm (2 years ago)

    I see no mention here of a sea burial. This can be a very ceremonious way of saying goodbye to a furry loved one. Access to a suitable boat is obviously required, as is access to the ocean.

    Reply
  2. Fur Everywhere
    August 2, 2014 at 1:03 am (5 years ago)

    If you don’t mind me asking, how was it for you to attend your kitties’ cremations? I know I will get my babies cremated when their time comes, but I’d never heard about this option before.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 2, 2014 at 6:33 am (5 years ago)

      For me, it was important to be the one to be with Buckley’s body all the way to the actual oven, but I didn’t have the strength to watch her body being put inside the crematory. I said my good-byes just before that final step.

      Reply
  3. Veronica
    August 23, 2011 at 5:49 pm (8 years ago)

    Dear Briana, I am here because 5 days ago I need to have my 23 year old Kitty euthanized. The pain is unbelievable. In this process, I thought of my other animals that were rey to cross-over. One was my one and only dog ever, Daisy. We were locked together. She was mine and I was hers. A small brown and white cocker spaniel. One day I came home from school, I was age 17 and the minute i walked in the door my Mom said Daisy was going to the gas box. I went into shock. Daisy always loved the car and so readily jumped in and drove off with my Dad… to the Humane Society. I had no say. I cried for her almost daily, for years. And now, decades later, I still grieve for her and pray she did not suffer much in dying. I imagine she must have wondered where I was to save her. Why my parents did not take her to the vet to be euthanized? And btw, she was not sick. She became irritable after an injury. She did not have to be killed. R.I.P. My Daisy.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 23, 2011 at 9:08 pm (8 years ago)

      Veronica, I’m so sorry about your kitty. My heart goes out to you. It doesn’t matter how long they live, it’s just never long enough. Of course the pain of losing your kitty is going to bring back the memory of Daisy. I’m stunned that a parent could do something like that to a child’s beloved pet. Please know that you’re in my thoughts and prayers.

      Reply
      • Veronica
        August 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm (8 years ago)

        Thank You Ingrid. I am so pleased I found your web site. Informative and gives comfort and solace. Today I ordered your book , “Buckley’s Story.” I know it will help me in the beautiful memories and the grieving. I will be “individual witnessing” Kitty’s cremation this Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. I was told I could pet Kitty and even hold her. I don’t think I want to hold her. She was so soft and supple…now rigor mortis. But I will know what is right to do by Kitty when I am there. I will bring a white rose to go with her. I need to be with her to the end. There was something spiritual between us. I know, feel this. I held her during the euthanasia. and for 1 hour after. Her fur had smoothed out and she looked so beautiful and at peace. She is family. So I will see Kitty, pet her one last time. Then cremation and I take Kitty back *home <3

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          August 24, 2011 at 6:27 am (8 years ago)

          When you read my book, you’ll see that I also choose a witnessed cremation for Buckley. Like you, I needed to be with her until the end. It was difficult, but at the same time, an important part of my healing process. I wish you peace as you accompany your Kitty on this last part of her journey tomorrow.

          Reply
  4. Cam McAlpine
    March 12, 2011 at 5:30 am (8 years ago)

    I’m a Canadian living in China and our beloved cat Lily fell from the 15th floor of our building and was unfortunately still breathing we rushed her to the vet via taxi and had the dear animal put too sleep. We thought immediately about cremation but thanks to your article we decided upon burying her in our complex which has a beautiful garden. We have phoned the gardener and he will help bury her.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 12, 2011 at 6:54 am (8 years ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss Cam – it must have been such a shock to loose Lily so tragically. It sounds like she will have a lovely resting place, and I hope having her grave so close by will bring you some comfort in the days and weeks to come. You’re in my thoughts.

      Reply
  5. EVA DIAZ
    February 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm (8 years ago)

    I have always love animals.- Had to put to sleep my Boxer and my beloved Beagle.- But now that I am 67 – it seems so terribly hard. Last week I lost my beloved female cat “Sushi”.- She was 14. She started vomiting after she ate, bent backwards, and fell to the floor. I ran to hold her. I was crying, calling her name, I even tried mouth to mouth.- She was my my Baby. She slept with me. She could tell when I was sick, when I was sad. She could read my mind. Her beautiful big green eyes will always remain in my heart.- My husband took her away from me, to be cremated. GOD, forgive me, I know she was only an animal, but you made animals too.- SHE WAS MY OTHER BABY.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm (8 years ago)

      I’m so very sorry about your loss, Eva. It’s always devastating when we lose our babies, but it’s especially hard when it happens as suddenly as it did for you with Sushi. My heart goes out to you.

      Reply
  6. Briana
    November 8, 2010 at 8:01 pm (9 years ago)

    Yeah, she is Ingrid. Just knowing that I have someone to share the everyday stresses with it makes me feel “lighter.” Especially since I had no one at the time to tell me everything would be alright or anything it had hit me hard. But like a friend of mine said, “He’s happy wherever he is and he’ll always be close to you in spirit.”

    Reply
  7. Ingrid
    November 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm (9 years ago)

    I’m so sorry about your loss, Briana. It’s always hard to lose a pet, but it’s even harder when you don’t even know what happened. Grief is a journey, and anniversaries, like the month of September for you, always bring everything back. I’m glad you have Akira now, it sounds like she’s helping you with your healing process.

    Reply
  8. Briana
    November 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm (9 years ago)

    Reading these articles bring tears to my eyes. I never figured out what happened to my cat when I was 12 and it constantly breaks my heart to know that the only memory of him was begging my mom to let him stay in the house because I felt that something bad was going to happen that day. I’ve moved on now with my kitty Akira, but on the month of September it’s hard for me to forget his white furry face and baby blue eyes. It’s nice to know that even after 3 years I have someone to fill in the void now that he’s gone.

    Reply
  9. Ingrid
    June 27, 2010 at 7:45 am (9 years ago)

    I’m so sorry about Sparky, Lori – I know it’s still so fresh and raw. The hospital Amber was at sent home an imprint of her paws when I took her home so she could spend a few hours with me before my vet came to the house to euthanize her, and I treasure that keepsake, so I know what you mean.

    Be gentle with yourself during this difficult time.

    Reply
  10. Lori Hedgpeth (Psychotic State)
    June 27, 2010 at 7:01 am (9 years ago)

    Very well written and sensitive article, Ingrid. It is indeed a subject we pet parents must face at some time and as you said, it’s much easier to have a plan ready to go versus trying to make such a big decision during a time of grief.

    I have had my cats that have passed on cremated and their ashes are on my dresser, where I can see them and feel comforted knowing they are still physically with me. Also, like you, I have a clause in my will that instructs my cremains be mixed with theirs.

    I just lost my last cat (yesterday, in fact) and the vet was kind enough to make a little mold of Sparky’s paw for me. It’s a beautiful keepsake and I only wish I had thought to ask for molds of Mathis and Dylan when they went.

    Reply
  11. Ingrid
    June 26, 2010 at 5:29 pm (9 years ago)

    I know this is a difficult time for you, Margot – you’ve been in my thoughts. I love that you scattered Angel’s ashes at sea since she loved the beach. Be gentle with yourself during this time.

    Reply
  12. Margot Kinberg
    June 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm (9 years ago)

    Ingrid – Speaking as a pet parent who’s recently lost a beloved pet, I completely agree that it’s important to think about your options for what to do with your pet’s body before that sad day comes. I’m glad that we did. We were much better able to cope with the details of saying goodbye to our beloved Tibetan Terrier, Angel, because we’d decided beforehand what we wanted to do.
    I believe that whatever provides us comfort and helps us to remember our beloved friends with love is probably the right choice. For some folks, it’s keeping the urns, and that can be a beautiful reminder. Other folks prefer scattering ashes at sea; that’s what our choice was, as our Angel loved going to the beach. Still others want a burial, and that can be meaningful, too. It is a sad talk to have to have with family members, but I’m glad we did.

    Reply
  13. Ingrid
    June 26, 2010 at 11:17 am (9 years ago)

    Sorry to be so late in responding, Marg and Cindy. I think both your comments illustrate the fact that these choices will be different for each individual – and that’s why I think it’s so important to think about these things before we have to deal with them.

    Marg, I love the idea of spreading the ashes of your outside cats where they loved to be. I, too, have my urns in my bedroom, and it’s a comfort to me to have them there.

    Cindy, I love that you put an angel candle next to Noelle’s urn – how perfect.

    Reply
  14. Cindy
    June 25, 2010 at 10:45 am (9 years ago)

    I too was unaware that you could have a witnessed cremation but, like Marg, I don’t think I could do it either. It was hard enough having my sweet girl die in my arms. Where I had Noelle’s cremation performed they said that all their pet cremations were private and gave me signed paperwork. I’m choosing to take them at their word and think that the remains I received were only Noelle’s. I keep her urn (a heart with a paw print) next to her picture with an angel candle close by, since she was and is my angel. I love your idea of having your beloved pet’s ashes mixed in with yours at the end…what a nice way to go through time with them.

    Reply
  15. Marg
    June 25, 2010 at 7:57 am (9 years ago)

    I did not know about the witnessed cremation. That is a good idea but I don’t think I could do that. I would much rather remember them alive. But like you said, it is an individual choice. And it would be very comforting to know that it was your animal’s ashes. I do have mine cremated and I have spread the ones that totally lived outside and then I also have a stack of urns in my bedroom and it is really nice to have them there with all the wonderful little notes from t he vets etc. It is just nice to see them everyday as you said.
    Good post.

    Reply

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