Saying Goodbye When A Pet Dies

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Losing a pet is traumatic; commemorating the life of your beloved companion can bring some comfort. We look at the options for pet funerals.

Saying goodbye to a much-loved pet is part and parcel of being a pet owner, but that doesn’t make it any less heart-wrenching. Our pets are part of our families. They bring joy and comfort to us daily, lighting up our lives with their quirky personalities and unquestioning loyalty.

We share an intense bond with our pets, often for years. The loss of that bond, along with the end of the familiar, comfortable routine that goes hand in hand with looking after a pet, creates a huge void that’s impossible to fill.

And yet, there is a tendency to minimise our sadness when a pet dies. Perhaps we feel we shouldn’t show grief for an animal in the same way as we would for a person. Or, maybe we fear lack of support from people who just don’t get what it means to love a pet. While many people are sympathetic and supportive when they hear the sad news, a lingering sense of these social expectations can prevent pet owners from properly expressing how they feel.

Things are changing, however. Grief at the loss of a pet is increasingly being recognised rather than dismissed. In June 2019, the first ever pet remembrance service was held at the Unitarian Church in Dublin. The event was organised by Amanda Large, who lost her dog in 2017, and felt that a ceremony for pet owners to mark the loss of their beloved pets was important. Pete Wedderburn, the well-known tv and radio vet, and Linda Martin were among those who attended.

So, regardless of whether others understand your grief, some commemoration of your pet’s life is appropriate. After all, pets are much-loved members of the family, why wouldn’t we honour that? There are several choices for pet funerals, depending on your circumstances and personal preferences.

The final resting place of Eugenie and Princess at Powerscourt Estate in Co. Wicklow, where the Wingfield and Slazenger families laid their pets to rest for many years. It’s believed to be the largest private pet cemetery in Ireland. Photo by William Murphy.

A Home Burial

Legally, pets can be buried on private land as long as the grave is at least 1.25 metres deep and is not close to water (subject to local county council regulations). Laying your pet to rest in your garden can be a wonderful way for close family members to gather and say a proper goodbye; it may be particularly helpful for children.

You might like to mark the occasion with a small, informal ceremony. Your pet could be buried in his favourite blanket, or perhaps with a treasured toy. Lighting candles, sharing memories, displaying photos of your pet, saying a prayer or preparing a few words can help to bring closure and comfort.

You could even mark the grave by planting a tree or erecting a headstone, ensuring your pet’s memory is close by for years to come.

Cremation

If your pet is put to sleep by your vet, cremation will be offered as an option. Even if your pet dies at home, you can arrange a cremation if you wish. There are several pet crematoriums in Ireland which can be found with a quick google search. You can make the arrangements through your vet or visit the crematorium directly.

Staff at a crematorium realise that it’s a difficult time for pet owners. You can be assured of an understanding and respectful service. Some even offer a bereavement room where pet owners can say goodbye before the cremation.

Crematoriums offer both individual and communal cremations, so if you plan on keeping your pets ashes you should request an individual cremation. Some owners choose to bury their pet’s ashes, others keep them close by. Another option is to scatter them in a place that was special to you and your pet. With that in mind, crematoriums offer a wide range of caskets and urns:

  • Standard urns
  • Standard caskets
  • Scatter tubes are biodegradable tubes, made from mostly recycled materials and featuring beautiful designs. They’re easy to use if you’re scattering the ashes, but can also be buried intact. You can have the ashes separated into two or more tubes if several family members would like a token of remembrance.
  • Sculpted caskets look like cast metal ornaments and could occupy a special place in your house or garden as a beautiful and discrete reminder of your pet. There are many shapes and sizes to choose from, including many different breeds of dogs and cats, but also rabbits, guinea pigs and horses.
  • Paw print urns come in different sizes and are engraved with your pet’s paw or nose print. They can be used as a keepsake for a small quantity of ashes after you have scattered or buried the rest. They can also be used to divide ashes between family members.
  • Memory stones also hold a small quantity of ashes and are small enough to carry in your pocket or bag.
  • Photo frames contain your pet’s ashes in a small box behind the image.
  • Urn candle holders are a beautiful memento and can be engraved with your pet’s nose or paw print as well as an inscription.

Brownie the Town Dog was a stray that the city of Daytona Beach in Florida took to their hearts. When he died in 1954, the Mayor gave a eulogy at his funeral which 75 people attended. In 2018, a new memorial was placed at his grave. Photo by Eddie Jams.

Taxidermy

If you choose this option, it’s important to find a reputable and experienced practitioner who can properly recreate your pet’s appearance. Taxidermy is expensive and it’s not for everyone – some owners prefer to remember their pet as he was in life. Nevertheless, if you think it’s for you, it’s important to keep your pet in a cool place for about six hours after he dies, then wrap the body in plastic to eliminate the air and put it in a freezer.

Other Ways To Remember Your Pet

While a burial or cremation is a healthy part of the grieving process, pet funerals don’t appeal to everyone. There are other ways to remember your pet that can have a more long-term impact. Making a photo book of your pet can bring back many happy memories of the good times you had together.

Alternatively, you could volunteer at a local animal shelter or make a small monthly donation. A memorial tattoo is another possibility, although perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea. Plus, many crematoriums offer jewellery and other keepsakes engraved with your pet’s paw or nose print, so you can keep them close to
your heart forever.

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