The death of a pet isn't something we want to think about, let alone plan for. But sometimes, our companions pass abruptly or unexpectedly, and that's when it's important to know how to say goodbye properly. From handling the body to deciding on a burial option, here are the things you should consider:
My pet passed away at home. Now what?
If you haven't decided what to do with the the body, experts suggest placing it in a freezer. "If the animal is too big to fit, or you're just not comfortable doing that, you can wrap it securely in a plastic garbage bag overnight," says Sandra DeFeo, Executive Director of the New York Humane Society. "Just keep in mind, as soon as the animal dies, the body will start to decompose and eventually smell."
Senior Director of Counseling Services at the ASPCA, Dr. Stephanie LaFarge agrees that "the best thing you can do is keep the body chilled. Keep it as cool as possible."
While the idea of having a dead pet in your home may be tough to stomach, LaFarge assures us that it's not a health hazard. "For the first twenty-four hours, even if you do nothing with the body, medically speaking, it won't hurt you."
The death of a pet at home can have an enormous impact on children who may be "terrified" by the image of their dead pet, LaFarge says. To help "soften" the transition from seeing a beloved animal pass from life to death, she suggests "arranging" the pet's body so they look comfortable. It can be as simple as placing a favorite toy next to the body, or wrapping it in a blanket. "It's healthy for family members and other pets to have some experience of the body," she explains.
When it comes to your other pets, LaFarge explains that it's important to for them to become acquainted with the body. "It's essential for their adjustment to have a way of recognizing death as a permanent condition," she says. "They will do a lot less searching and wandering for the missing animal if they've seen the body."
Burial vs. cremation
Many of us with pets consider them members of the family, so it's no surprise that many of us opt for burial or cremation after they die.
The easiest route is often burying a pet in a backyard or nearby park, but DeFeo warns that "other animals can dig the body up. Also, some parks aren't zoned for pet burial." If you would like to bury your pet, DeFeo suggests seeking a pet cemetery.
In some cases, burying outside the boundaries of a pet cemetery or not on your own property is usually illegal, LaFarge warns. If you opt to bury your pet legally, "the rule of thumb is that you need to dig a grave at least four feet deep and then scatter the animals body with lime," to speed up the decomposition process.
According to According to Ed Martin, Jr., Director of the New York Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory, burying a pet very much "mimics a human situation." Things to consider include:
- Location of burial. Choosing and purchasing a plot to bury your pet can range anywhere between $700 for a small plot to as much as $2,500 for a larger plot.
- Casket. Casket prices vary greatly, depending on size and style. For example a small casket for a cat made out of plywood may cost about $275, where as one made of oak could cost about $600.
- Interment Fee. Fee charged for opening and closing grave. (Avg. cost: $400 - $600)
- Maintenance Fee. Upkeep of the cemetery (i.e.. grass-cutting, raking) that can cost an average of $50 a month.
LaFarge says most people cremate their pets through their veterinarian, working with a crematorium or pet cemetery. According to Martin, the different cremation options include:
- Communal cremation. The least expensive option in which the pet's remains are cremated with other pets. No ashes are returned. (Avg. cost: $125 — $186)
- Individual cremation. The pet is cremated in a completely separate tray, apart from other animals. Ashes are returned to pet-owner in an urn. (Avg. cost: $270 — $318). For an increased cost (between $380 and $430), pet owners may be present to take the ashes home in a decorative tin on the same day.
LaFarge says whatever you choose to do with your pet's remains depends on how much you're willing to spend and how creative you are willing to be with your efforts.
Here are some examples in which pet-owners have made saying "goodbye" to their pet more personal:
- Taxidermy. The skin of the animal is removed and shaped over a mold.
- Freeze-dry. The organs are removed and the body is completely dehydrated. (A process that can take many months.)
- Jewelry. Companies such as LifeGem.com create custom jewelry made from your pet's ashes or lock of hair. LaFarge says "Some people do this so they can have the pet 'on their body' so to speak."
- Bullets. Cremated ashes are placed in live bullets. According to MyHolySmoke.com, it's a way to "honor your deceased loved one by giving or sharing with him or her one more round of clay targets, one last bird hunt, or one last stalk hunt."
- Commemorative Tattoo. A small portion of the ashes are sterilized and incorporated with the tattoo ink.
- Space Burial. Celestis.com offers memorial space flights, in which your pets ashes can be launched into orbit for a very generous fee.
- Cloning. There are services that will clone your pet. However it's very expensive and there are no guarantees the clone will look or act the same as the original animal.