Memorializing Your Dog

No one wants to face these decisions, but as dog owners, it’s a part of life. It’s much easier to make these decisions while you’re not faced with overwhelming grief. Whether you have to put your dog to sleep or if he dies at home, you have several options for taking care of the remains and memorializing your furry family member.

Cremation

Memory of dog
There are several options for taking care of the remains and memorializing your furry family member.

Perhaps the most basic decision you will face is whether or not you want to cremate your dog. Check with your vet to determine if the crematorium cares for each pet individually or if multiple animals are cremated at once. This is particularly important if you want your dog’s ashes back to bury or display on your mantle. It will be much cheaper if they burn several animals at one time, but you will receive a mixture of ashes of all the pets, rather than just your dog’s cremains.

The cost of pet cremation depends on your dog’s size and ranges from about $100 to as much as $350. Different crematories offer different services, so be sure to ask about what’s included. They may pick up your dog and deliver the ashes afterwards, or they may require that you or your vet do the transportation. They may inter the ashes for you at their site or at a nearby pet cemetery, or they may bill extra for that service. Some even offer pet bereavement support groups if you need a little extra TLC while you’re grieving your loss.

Your dog’s ashes will likely be returned to you in a simple plastic bag or cardboard box. The crematorium may have urns for sale or you may wish to purchase one on your own. They are for sale online or even at many department stores in the home furnishings area. You might also consider other options such as a decorative tin, many of which come with pet designs. If you will be burying the cremains, you may opt for a simple shoebox rather than putting a lot of expense into something you won’t be able to appreciate after it’s buried.

Should you keep your pet’s remains?

Whether or not you decide to cremate your dog, you will have to decide whether to have the dog’s remains returned to you or to have the vet or crematorium dispose of them.

If you have to put your dog down, your vet will likely give you the option of taking the remains with you, having them buried in a communal grave, or buying a specific plot in a pet cemetery if one is nearby. While you’re pre-planning, check online or ask your vet to find out if there is a pet cemetery in your area.

The cheapest option, at least initially, is to take the remains with you, but then you will need to find and pay for a way to dispose of them after you get the remains home.

If you want to bury your dog’s remains, many municipalities require that your dog be placed within the confines of an established pet cemetery. Check with your city or township and ask to see the referenced law in writing. Many officials think “there must be a law somewhere,” when in fact there may not be. Even if there is such a law in your area, enforcement is often spotty.

Ash scattering may be similarly regulated if you want to dispose of your dog’s ashes over a favorite lake or hiking spot.

Purchasing a lot at a cemetery adds to your cost, whether you use the spot to bury remains or ashes. In many cases, pet cemeteries offer communal burying, where several animals are buried on the grounds, without identification of individual locations. Many animals may be buried in the same site, rather than digging separate graves for each pet.

Other Options

Sometimes, it’s too much to imagine your life without ever seeing your dog again. If that’s the case, you might opt to have a taxidermist preserve your dog. To stuff an animal, the skin is first removed and treated with chemicals. The skin is then stretched around a framework mannequin made of either polyurethane, or wood, wool, and wire. The taxidermist may purchase a pre-made mannequin or may make his own, in which case he might be able to customize the pose to your specifications. The original eyes cannot be preserved, so glass eyes are placed in the eye sockets using modeling clay to hold them in place. The end result can be quite lifelike!

Similarly, you may choose to have your pet cryogenically preserved (freeze-dried).

Some veterinary schools accept the donation of animal corpses on which their students to practice necropsy techniques. Different schools may restrict the donations by size, weight, or date of death (i.e., the corpse must be fresh). Usually, you are required to provide for the transportation of the dog’s remains which can be a logistical nightmare if the veterinary school isn’t close-by.

Grieving

Regardless of the choices you make for disposing of the dog’s remains, don’t forget that you will need to take care of yourself and your family at the same time. Everyone deals with grief differently, and each member of your family will cycle through the stages of grief at a different rate. Grieving a pet is no different than the experience we all go through when we lose any family member, although it is not uncommon to “get over” a pet death more quickly than a human loss.

Dog having fun
Remember the good times! Memories are often all we have.

Most people will go through a period of shock, then denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before getting to the point of acceptance that the dog is actually gone and not coming back. These stages are circular and repetitive, and one stage may overlap another.

There is no one “right way” to grieve or one “right time” to get through it and move on. It’s important that you and your family members be allowed to both grieve and express their grief. Repressing these feelings can cause physical symptoms and can even lead to overwhelming anger and guilt about the loss.

It’s particularly important that you allow your children to have a chance to say good-bye to the dog in a way that is meaningful and age-appropriate. Help your children identify their feelings over the loss and let them know they are not alone. A memorial service can help everyone remember the good times they shared with the dog and come to terms with the loss.

You may want to purchase a memory stone, either for the cemetery or for your yard to help you memorialize the animal. The stone does not have to mark the spot of burial, but can be used as a way of celebrating the dog’s important spot in the life of your family. There are commercially available stones that express a poetic sentiment, available in many different mail-order catalogs. You might prefer a professionally-made memorial, which can be purchased from any monument maker for human graves. Or, you might choose to create a stone yourself. Many therapists point to the healing that can come from designing and painting your own memorial stone.

However you choose to grieve and memorialize your pet, rest assured you are not alone. There are many online support groups who can help you through these times that feel simply unbearable. Visit PetLoss.com http://www.petloss.com/ or the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. http://aplb.org/index.php

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