Caring For The Body When Your Pet Is Gone

Man’s best friend escaped from his yard and was accidentally run over by a passing car.

The kitty you got from the humane society just last week ran out through an open door the same day you got him. A few days later you found him under the house with a horrible cat fight wound, dehydrated and hypothermic. The infection took over his entire body, and he died.

Or, maybe, the dog your parents got the year you were born finally expired from old age.

Now what?

The stages of grieving for a lost pet are generally widely available.

Today, however, we are talking about the mechanics of what one does when a pet passes away. “Fluffy was a respected family member. How do I honor that in the way I care for her body?”

The most commonly-used method of disposition of a pet’s body is burial, usually in the family home’s back yard.

Sometimes, however, there are reasons not to follow this traditional path. Some cities have local ordinances prohibiting the practice. You may have reservations about leaving a pet’s grave behind if your job is relocated. You may be living in a “starter house” and planning on moving soon. Still, backyard burial is a great option if it is available to you. Adults and children alike may wish to visit the gravesite. “Closure” may best be obtained by seeing a visual reminder of the pet’s departure, especially if the members make a family event out of assembling a grave marker. Whether a cross that says, “JoJo is with Jesus,” or a simple pile of stones, a marker makes a grave all the more meaningful.

Another type of burial site is a dedicated pet cemetery. With the rising cost of land, such facilities are becoming more rare, but when they are available and you can’t bury at home, they are a great option. Many offer perpetuity for the gravesite and maintenance for the site and marker. The cemetery owner may also offer caskets and other services.

Before Hurricane Katrina scattered friends and neighbors to the four corners of the earth, I had a friend who performed pet burials for area veterinarians. His “cemetery” was less formal, simply an area in his pasture where he laid beloved four-legged family members to rest. There were no markers, there was no visitation and pet owners understood the land could be sold someday. Still, it was a beautiful site and for a reasonable fee A. J. would put his loving hands to work respectfully giving a resting place to any species.

I wish we still had such a service. Almost anyone could afford the A. J’s fee and I was always comfortable handing patients over to A. J.

Sadly, A. J. himself has passed on, too.

Many families like to have a service for deceased pets. The ceremony can be coordinated with your religious beliefs, with Bible verses read, or celebrate your family heritage. When Katie Sioux passed away after a long illness, her family performed American Indian rites in keeping with Katie’s Mom’s native American background. The day we had to let Katie Sioux go we talked about the ceremony and how each member of the family would participate. It was very meaningful for me, as I knew it was going to be for the family.

While I know of no “human” funeral homes that provide burial services or operate pet cemeteries, many do offer beautiful wooden or metal caskets for pets, and the prices are astonishingly affordable. Contact our own Riemann Family Funeral Homes to inquire about available pet caskets.

Alternatively, you can build your own, anything from a simple wooden box to fancy caskets, the plans for which you can download from the Internet for free.

Pet cremation is a wonderful option and one I’ve taken advantage of many times over the years thanks to the loving care of the local Lechnir family. As I write this my desk here at work is dotted with a variety of jars and urns containing the ashes of pets who have gone on. Most pet crematories offer custom urns in a variety of price levels.

Regardless of the reason you’ve lost your pet, feel free to call your pet’s doctor for advice regarding his final resting place.

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