Pet Loss

What questions do I need to ask when looking for a place to help me with my pet’s final arrangements?

It’s important that the organization that you use has the same philosophy in how pets are treated as what you believe in. For instance, will you want to make sure that your pet’s body is not put into a trash bag but is picked up immediately? There will also be other service offerings that you will want to consider:

How and when will your pet’s body be picked up?
Will you have the opportunity for a memorial service or a visitation?
Is there a variety of memorialization items that you can choose from?
When will you get your pet’s cremains returned to you?

What’s really the right question to ask?

Many times the question asked when your pet dies is “Do you want the cremains returned to you?” But, is that really the right question for you and your family? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have been asked “How would you like your pet treated?”

Typically, when cremains are not returned to the family your pet is cremated in a group (Communal Cremation). But, even with the return of the cremains, your pet could be cremated by itself (Private Cremation), with a few others at the same time (Partitioned Cremation) or as a Communal Cremation (which is deemed to be unethical within the profession and potentially illegal). Having knowledge is having power. Ask about the process that your provider plans for your pet to make sure it is right for you and your family. Then YOU can tell them how you want your pet treated.

I suggest that your first statement to anyone in the pet after-care profession be “This is how I want my pet to be cremated (Private, Partitioned, Communal)” and the secondary statement would then be “I would/or would not like my pet’s cremains returned to me.”

In that way you will know exactly how your pet is to be treated and you can feel assured that it was treated with the dignity and respect it deserves.

What decisions will need to be made for my pet’s final arrangements?

The first question that you will have to ask yourself is do I want burial or cremation for my pet. There are some factors that will influence your decision; such as if you are going to bury your pet, where will the burial be? Some of the areas of consideration with this decision are:

Will this town/county/development allow pet burials?
Will you always live in this area or have access to this burial ground?
Do your religious preferences guide you in one way or another?
Did your pet like the outside or the inside? Will that influence your pet’s final resting place?

Lastly, if you are burying, there is also the opportunity to place your pet in a casket. Many people will use a casket to not only protect their pet’s body but to also protect the ground where the pet is buried.

I’m contemplating cremation for my pet. What do I need to know?

First of all, will you want the ashes returned? If no, then you will want to ask your pet death care service for a group, or communal, cremation. With this, pets will be cremated together with no body separation and no ash return to the pet owner. While many pet death care operations will scatter the ashes over a known area intended for that purpose, there are some organizations that will take the cremains to the landfill. Ask your pet death care provider what they do with the cremains.

If you are wanting the ashes of your pet returned to you, and you want to be assured that your pet’s body is the only one in the cremation machine, request a “private cremation” from your pet death care provider. With a private cremation, pets are cremated alone and are the only body within the cremation chamber. Pet parents will receive their pet’s cremains, and only their pet’s cremains. It’s important to verify with your pet death care provider that your pet is the only body in the cremation chamber during the cremation process.

Many pet death care providers will provide a tracking system for the cremation process of pets through the use of a “tag” with a unique number that will accompany the pet’s body. To ensure the safety, security and authentication of the cremation process, inquiring on this part of your pet death care provider’s policy will give you the peace of mind in knowing about the care of your pet’s mortal remains.

Are there other ways that pets are cremated?

Some pet death care providers will do what they call a “segregated” cremation. Others will call this process an individual cremation, a communal cremation with ash return, or separated cremation. This is where several pets will be placed into the cremation chamber with some form of separation. At the end of the cremation period each portion of ashes will be removed separately. A certain amount of mixing of ashes, or commingling, may occur due to the volatile nature of cremation.

While this process is being done, it’s vital that as a pet parent, you are asking for clarification on the type of cremation that is being done with your pet. All pet death care facilities should be very specific with what their practices are and you, as a pet parent, should be made aware of what you are receiving. It is your responsibility to ask questions.

What are other services that could help me memorialize my beloved pet?

Many families will also want to have that one last time to visit their pet after death, a visitation or wake, if you will. While this may seem like a trivial thing–or possibly something that you consider morbid and odd, this one last time with your pet is valuable time spent. A time to see your pet at peace. A time for your children to pay tribute by bringing in items that was special to your pet. A time to begin the grief journey and to say that final good-bye.  Many times, other friends, family members, and other pets in the household will want to have their final good-bye with your pet too. Pets touch so many people during their short lives with us. Allow those around you the opportunity to come together, pay their respects, and support each other.

As a family, we celebrated holidays with our pets and always had them as a part of our family rituals. Is it acceptable to do the rituals that are important to us with other deaths in our family for our pets?

Incorporating rituals into honoring your pet’s life is a beautiful way to pay tribute to the life that you shared together. Whether it be a visitation or a memorial service, these rituals are incredibly important in your grief journey and mourning process.

There are other rituals that you can incorporate into honoring your pet’s life.  They can look like:

Special readings
The planting of a tree/flower/bush
Rituals you and your pet did to say “I love you”
Scripture readings
A candle lighting tribute
A donation drive for a local shelter in memory of your pet
Reading of special poems and remembrances
Playing audio tapes of their meow/bark/chirp
Sharing videos of the pet and your family
Reading a eulogy to remember your pet’s life with your family

How do I choose the right memorialization product for my pet?

Making a decision on memorialization products is a personal process. This will be reflective of the life shared with your pet, your life style, your personal style, and those items that are reflective of your pet’s personality. It’s also important to take into consideration where your memorialization pieces will go in your home, or in your yard, and how you want the item to look, either blending in with your decor or making an individual statement. In addition, if you have a large pet family, consider a memorialization piece where all of the pets can be together.

Memorialization products that you might want to consider are:

Rocks or Garden Flagstones–personalized with your pet’s paw and special epitaph
Jewelry that would have the pet’s own paw print or nose print on it
An urn that is reflective of your decorating style
An eco-friendly urn for burial in a special location
An urn with paw prints to show your love of animals
A piece of art done to depict the pet’s personality
A personalized urn made to look like the pet
A frame to hold a cast of your pet’s paw print, nose print, and locket of hair
Locket jewelry to hold a bit of the pet’s ashes or hair
Memorial Note Cards

I want to make the personalization, or epitaph, on my pet’s memorialization pieces very special. Guide me in how to do this.

The personalization of your memorial pieces will truly make them as unique as your relationship was with your pet. From an inscription on an urn or jewelry piece to the saying on a rock or marker, your sentimental words will create a true reflection of the love that you have for your special pet. Hearing other friends and family member’s stories is certainly a wonderful way to reflectively pay tribute to your pet and get everyone involved in honoring their life. Consider thinking about your pet’s entire life, more than just their name and their birth/gotcha date and death date. Reflect on thoughts of your pet and–what makes you smile? Maybe it’s a nickname, or ALL of the nicknames! Or a saying that really sums up your pet, such as “My Little Peter Pan Mixed With Dennis the Menace.” It could possibly also be a piece of clip art that represents a love of your pet, such as a slice of pizza.
Be creative. Again, reflect on you and your pet and the life that you shared together. Create the memorialization and personalization of your pieces to best tell this story.

How do I choose an urn?

There are a variety of urns that are available. The type of urn you select will be an individual decision and one that will reflect the life that you shared with your pet. Urns are available in many sizes, materials, shapes, and colors.

In choosing an urn, there will be a few considerations. First of all, in choosing an urn you will want to think about the personality of your pet. Was your pet colorful, therefore, you would want a colorful piece. Or was your pet very feminine so a girly urn is what will let you honor your pet?

You will also want to certainly think about you and your home’s style. In considering an urn, where will the urn sit in your home? What will be around it? Will you want the urn to blend in or stand out?

And, lastly, do you have other pets where you will want to have a “family urn?” A beautiful option as your pets lived under one roof in life let them all reside together in death in a family urn.

Another option for you to consider is a keepsake urns. These are designed to hold a small amount of cremains or fur/hair clippings. A keepsake urn is also a perfect way to allow family and friends who also may want to have a remembrance of your pet.

Many families will also want to have a remembrance of their pet with them daily. Keepsake jewelry is the perfect vessel to hold a very small amount of cremains or fur/hair clippings. These pieces will come in many different shapes and sizes, in necklaces, bracelets, and in key chains.

What size urn do I need?

The weight of your pet will determine the size of urn that you will need.  For purposes of ordering, or choosing an urn, one cubic inch of urn will accommodate one pound of your pet. Therefore, if your pet weighed 30 pounds, then you will need a 30 cubic inch urn. Many families will choose an urn that is much larger, giving them room to hold the pet’s collar, leash, or favorite toy.