When a much-loved dog passes away, the practicalities still have to be faced and dealt with. Karen Bush advises.
Once your dog’s spirit has passed on, you’ll need to decide what to do with his physical remains.
Discussing this with your family before it ever becomes a reality will ensure you are all in agreement, and don’t make a hasty decision while in an emotional and distraught state, which might be regretted later.
It will also make it easier to set in place in advance any necessary arrangements for when the time finally comes to say farewell.
There are a number of after-care options; your choice will depend on practical and financial considerations as well as on personal preferences and spiritual beliefs.
Although options include taxidermy and freeze-drying, the most popular choices for owners are either cremation or burial.
Most veterinary practices will use the services of one particular pet crematorium, which will collect your pet’s remains from the practice. The services offered can vary considerably, so you may like to ask in advance which crematorium is used, so you can check it out and satisfy yourself that it meets your own standards and requirements. Alternatively, you can arrange for your pet to be cremated at
a private pet crematoria of your own choice; this can give you more control, and may give greater peace of mind, but may be more expensive.
If you opt to have your pet cremated, the next decision is whether to have an individual or communal cremation. In an individual cremation, your pet’s body is cremated individually, and you can ask to have his ashes returned to you. In a communal cremation, his body is cremated along with others; sometimes the ashes are scattered in a garden of remembrance, or you may be able to ask for token ashes to be returned to you — but bear in mind they may or may not be from your own dog. Whichever service you choose, make sure your vet, or the private crematoria you’ve selected yourself, are informed of your decision.
If ashes are being returned to you, they may be delivered to your vet, who will notify you when they are ready to be collected — usually around a fortnight later; some crematoria may arrange to deliver them directly to your home.
● Your veterinary practice may be able to keep your pet’s remains in a cold room for a short period following euthanasia if you need a little extra time to make private arrangements. Alternatively, if it’s only going to be for a day or overnight, you may prefer to keep your pet at home; this should be in a cool room, with a few puppy pads beneath him.
Consider the options for you and your dog in advance.
If you would prefer to bury your friend, you can do so at home. Wrap him in something breathable and biodegradable such as a towel or sheet; alternatively you can buy a special coffin to place your pet in if you wish. You can find suppliers online offering a variety of materials ranging from solid wood to eco-friendly cardboard, willow, bamboo, and jute options.
There is some legislation that applies to home burial:
● You must own, not rent, the land where your pet is buried. Neither can you bury him in a public place, such as a park, or even at a friend’s home.
● Your pet must not be buried near any water sources.
● There must be a minimum of two feet of earth above your pet in heavy soils, and three feet in lighter soils.
● Your pet’s remains must not be hazardous to human health, although this is a very rare occurrence.
When choosing the perfect spot, avoid picking a place that may be excavated in the future, such as a flower bed. Once your pet has been lowered into position, last farewells made, and the grave filled in, place rocks, stone, or concrete slabs, or a heavy plant pot on top. This will deter other pets or wildlife in the garden from disturbing your companion’s resting place.
If it isn’t possible to bury your pet at home, an alternative is to use a registered pet cemetery; your vet may have details of these or you can search online. Make sure you visit in advance to check that you are happy with it; some are similar to human cemeteries with plots and headstones, while others offer more rustic surroundings, perhaps with a tree or shrub planted on top. Ask about maintenance fees, visiting times, whether you can erect a small memorial if you wish, and whether there are any restrictions. Pet cemeteries do sometimes go out of business, so you should also enquire as to what will happen.
● Current UK legislation allows you to bury your pet in the garden of the house where he lived; if you have more than one property then technically it should be the address he was resident at when he died. This is something of a grey area however, and unlikely to be pursued.
● Find your nearest pet cemetery or pet crematorium by visiting the website of The Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria at www.appcc.org.uk
Interring your pet’s body in your garden may seem the perfect final gesture, but can have consequences in the future if you decide to move. It’s only fair to warn new owners in case they plan any major changes, but they may not be happy about the prospect of finding bony pet remains in the garden while gardening, especially if more than one pet has been laid to rest there. You may also find the thought of your dog possibly being disturbed distressing; and of course, you will no longer be able to visit your pet’s last resting place.
● Pet exhumation services do exist, should you move house and don’t want to leave your pet’s remains behind, but recovering them may not be possible if he was cremated or if plants have spread their roots and grown out over the top of his resting place; depending on soil type and the amount of time that has passed, there may not be much by way of physical remains to recover anyway.
Some owners choose to bury their dog at home.
Ashes — keeping or scattering?
For some people, keeping the physical remains of their pet close by can be a source of comfort, and most crematoria offer a range of urns and caskets to keep the ashes safe. If planning to scatter the ashes, you could opt for a scatter tube instead; as well as being a less expensive option, many are surprisingly attractive.
Many crematoria also have gardens of remembrance where ashes can be scattered, or you could arrange to do this at a dedicated pet cemetery. Alternatively, you may want to make provision for your own remains to be interred when the time comes, together with those of your dog. Although there are no laws as yet which state that you cannot be buried with the ashes of your pet, local authorities may refuse permission in cemeteries which they own and manage. However, there are many ‘green’ woodland sites where this is not an issue (although check beforehand) and there are even a few combined human/pet cemeteries around the country now.
● You do not need permission to scatter ashes from a single cremation on your own land but if you want to scatter them on someone else’s land you should seek permission from the landowner.
Scatter tubes for scattering ashes.
Should there be a post-mortem?
Many owners are uncomfortable with the thought of their pet’s remains undergoing an invasive procedure, and after all, it won’t bring him back, and usually the only after-care option following it is cremation.
If your pet had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or died of old age, a post-mortem may not be appropriate anyway; if, however, the cause of illness was unknown, it may provide more information and for some owners can reassure them that the decision to help their pet pass was the right one to take. Although you should discuss with your vet whether there will be any useful knowledge to be gained, it is your personal decision to make; the cost is usually paid by you and there is always the possibility that it may prove inconclusive.
● Whatever your eventual decision, it is always worth remembering the compassionate and wise words of writer Ben Hur Lampman, which are just as true nearly a century on as when he first penned them: “the one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.” Our beloved companions never truly leave us.