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.
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 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.
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.