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The death of a pet can often be just as difficult a loss as any close loved one. And the choice of what to do with the remains, be it pet cremation or pet burial, is just as personal of a choice.
Before you get too far in the process, it’s a good idea to make certain that your pet has truly passed. Reptiles and amphibians often hibernate and may only be sleeping, so take proper precautions be it mammal, bird or reptile to make certain you aren’t burying your pet prematurely. In mammals the body will begin to stiffen from rigor mortis between 10 minutes and 3 hours after death, so this would be a fairly certain sign that you can begin considering how best to lay the remains to rest. If you are uncertain at all, call your local veterinarian.
Whichever path you choose when laying your pet’s remains to rest, don’t be surprised if you experience some feelings of grief over your loss. Take a few moments to talk about your memories of the pet with fellow family members…this will help the grieving process begin. Talking about the pet will be especially important if there are children in the home. Having a memorial service and encouraging your child to draw a picture or note for the pet may help them in the process. The ASPCA has some thoughtful tips on helping your children when a family pet dies. It can also help to read together some pet loss quotes, poems, and more to honor your furry friend.
When considering a burial, if you have your own property, a backyard burial can be a touching option. Be mindful when handling the remains as decomposition has already begun. You may want to wear protective gloves and clothing as you wrap the body neatly in a clean sheet. When the pet passes, their muscles will loosen and may begin to seep fluids, so neatly wrapping the body will help contain this during the burial process. It’s also a good way to begin the process of saying goodbye. Don’t eat or drink anything during this process if you’re handling the body, and be sure to wash your hands and clothes when done.
If you choose to bury your pet in the backyard, check to make sure there aren’t any local ordinances against it and make certain that there aren’t any utility wires or pipes in the ground before you dig. The hole should be at least two or three feet deep depending on the size of the animal. Don’t put the pet in anything that isn’t bio-degradable, so no plastics – natural materials are the best for burials.
There will be a small mound of dirt left once the remains have been laid and the hole has been filled. You may wish to make a memorial of some sort to mark the remains. It would also be wise to record the location of the remains for yourself and for future owners of the property, in the case that you move and the new owners choose to disturb the area.
For some of us, a pet cremation might be a more practical and satisfying option. A simple search online for “Pet Cremation” should lend a number of local options. Whoever you hire, the attendant should prepare the remains of your pet individually, and have the remains placed in a bag in a simple cardboard box or tin so that you can place them in an urn, or scatter them. There are a lot of options out there for pet urns, from the simple to ornate and in varying sizes… from a small locket for fish remains to a large urn for a horse.
If you live in an apartment or rental, a backyard pet burial might not be an option. There is more than likely a pet cemetery within driving distance, if not closer by. Pet cemeteries can facilitate a burial plot for a fee usually with an extra annual care fee to keep up the plot.
Deciding what path you choose, remembering your pet is the most important part of the grieving process. If the options feel overwhelming, don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member to help you along the way; it shouldn’t be a lonely process. Recall warm memories of your pet along the way, and when you feel that you’ve had enough time, don’t be afraid to welcome another pet into your life.