How to Know if a Pet Crematory is Worthy of Your Trust

Losing a pet is one of the hardest emotional challenges an animal lover will ever experience. At the very moment we’re most distraught, we have to make end of life decisions that would be tough at the best of times. Along with medical decisions, including whether it’s time for euthanasia, we have to decide what to do with our beloved pet’s last remains.

For most of us, that decision will be cremation. But how can we know which cremation company to entrust with this task?

At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, Dr. Mary Gardner and Dr. Dani McVety advised their fellow veterinarians on how to tell the good from the bad in the pet crematory field – advice that will also help pet owners make their own choice or evaluate the recommendation of their veterinarian. For pet owners, if at all possible, do this in advance of any need.

Here are their tips:

  1. Call 4-5 large local clinics and find out what crematory they use.
  2. Use Google to identify the largest pet cremation services in your community.
  3. Contact some or all of the crematories and inquire as to available services as well as prices. Use this as an opportunity to judge their customer service.
  4. Visit the crematory. Many pet owners might want to skip this step, but it’s essential for veterinarians.

Their advice to veterinarians: “You should feel confident that once the pet has left your facility, they are treated with honor, respect, and that the private cremations are indeed the same pet.”

About 70 percent of pet owners choose cremation, with the remaining 30 percent opting for home burial. Depending on the time of year and whether the region is rural or urban, cremation numbers can hit 90 percent or higher.


Cremations can be communal or private. When a crematory describes a cremation as “private,” this should mean that there is only one body at a time in the cremation chamber at a time. However, if this is important to you, be sure to ask them to define what they mean by “private,” as some services instead use a metal divider between individual pets in a single chamber.

Other questions to ask include what the price includes, such as a basic urn, and what upgrades are offered. Some cremation services will call a simple plastic box an “urn,” which may feel misleading to many people. Additional services can include paw prints, certificates, photo urns, and more.

Some crematories will offer viewings, visitations, and memorial services, and also offer witnessed cremations for pet owners who wish to be absolutely certain the remains are those of their pet.

What happens to your pet’s remains after cremation? They can be returned to the veterinary clinic for pickup, delivered to you at home by UPS, FedEx, or the postal service, or you can pick them up. Some offer burial in an on-site or other community pet cemetery, and others offer a service that spreads the ashes. In recent years there have been a number of scandals where human ashes have been stockpiled in storage instead of scattered, however, so this is a choice where trust has to be well and truly earned if the ceremony can’t be witnessed.

What if your pet passes away at home? If the pet is euthanized by a visiting veterinarian, they probably offer transport to the cremation facility. Other crematories offer pickup at private residences, or you may need to bring the deceased pet to your veterinarian’s office or even to the crematory. If you have a pet in hospice care, these are important questions to ask the supervising veterinarian as early in the process as possible, as not knowing what to do with your pet’s body, especially if he or she is a large dog, will only make a distressing time much more difficult.

There is not a lot that can ease our pain when a pet leaves this life, but there’s no reason that the worry you were ripped off, your pet’s remains were treated disrespectfully, or that you were forced to deal with difficult decisions in the midst of grief should add to your pain. Open a conversation with your veterinarian at your next visit, and do some research in advance of need. It will only be harder if you delay.

Should Dog Housemates Be Present for Euthanasia?

Should A Dog Housemate Be Present for Euthanasia of a Companion?

Performing euthanasia is one of the most important things veterinarians can perform to alleviate suffering in dogs. Frequently, clients want to know whether they should bring the dog’s “housemates” (that is, the other furry members of the household) to the procedure. Is it beneficial if a dog or cat witnesses the death of their housemate? We will address this question below.
The choice to put an animal to sleep is often an animal lover’s last act of compassion for their dog. When everything has been done that can be done, and when our dogs are on the verge of suffering beyond our control, euthanasia is a kindness. In fact, the word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek phrase that actually means “good death.” Our dogs are our responsibility, and that includes giving them a peaceful and relatively pain-free life. Their natural demise is usually not going to involve naturally going to sleep and not waking up; unassisted death is rarely so serene. And if an animal is suffering, eventually we owners have to make the decision with their best interests in mind.

Grieving the loss of an animal companion, for most people, begins before the decision. Illness, mental decline, and bodily changes in our dogs signal the end. We see it, and sometimes, so do the other four-legged members of the household. They can frequently sense and perhaps even smell disease. They know something is not right, and they frequently act accordingly; sometimes they nurture the ill and sometimes they ignore them, but their awareness can be uncanny.

How Should Dog Housemates and Euthanasia Be Handled?

The question of whether dogs and cats should be present when a companion is being euthanized is more complicated than previously thought. I interviewed veterinarians and trainers for their experience and perspective. As with any care issue, there are benefits and drawbacks to every approach.

The Negative Aspects of Dog Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Most veterinarians I interviewed did not particularly embrace the idea of having dog and cat housemates around while putting their companion to sleep. In the home setting, trying to get a vein with a small needle is hard enough without having other animals walking through the scene and trying to see what is going on. One vet interviewed knows of a colleague who sustained a bad bite when the other dog in the house perceived him as hurting the patient. One trainer commented that it would be quite possible for housemates to be aggressive toward the doctor, given the circumstances. Another vet will allow the companions to be there but asks they be put in another room while the actual euthanasia takes place.

Bringing housemates to the veterinary office for euthanasia is not always as peaceful as one might hope. The vet trip can be unnerving in some animals and is more difficult logistically, and who is to say they will not connect the vet’s office with a bad experience (as many animals already do)? Many times, the companion dogs are stressed by the trip and smells of the office, making the events even more upsetting for the dog being euthanized.

The Positive Aspects of Dog Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Some veterinarians perform home euthanasia and do believe that having the housemates present is a good thing. A number of owners believe that witnessing the death eliminates any confusion the housemates might have about where their companion has gone, and propose that it could make the patient more comfortable to have more familiar presences surrounding them in their last moments.


How to Housemates React to a Dying or Deceased Dog Companion?

As they experience the sense of death, or perhaps because the patient has become peaceful, and also because they are often very aware of human emotional changes, animal housemates react in varied ways. Some of them sniff the body, some watch and wait, some cry or whine, and others simply walk away with little reaction. If you are extremely upset, your dog may react differently and be more nervous and upset themselves.

Grief in Dog Housemates

Animals mourn in their own ways. Elephants have been known to carry the bones of their departed herd companions for miles, swaying in grief. In my own household I have observed dogs and cats looking for their companions, wandering from room to room, or questioning me with their eyes. In my opinion, dogs are more demonstrative of this type of emotion than cats.

Helping Kids Say Goodbye to a Dog

Death can be difficult to children to understand and it can be equally difficult as an adult to know what to say or do to help a child say goodbye to a beloved dog. There are things you can do to help your child deal with dog loss and cope effectively. There are also things you should never do or say to a child when losing a dog.

One of my earliest memories is of standing on my grandmother's front porch as we greeted our family veterinarian, back in the days of house calls. The tone was somber, though I remember a laugh or two through tears. I remember the canine matriarch of the family, Holly, resting on a favorite blanket, as we all patted her to say our goodbyes. That Alaskan Malamute was a big part of my small world.

My daughter is about the same age that I was in this photo. Now, every morning, we descend the stairs to be greeted by our senior dog, Lyger.

lea goodbye to pets

My girl screeches with delight and he wags his back end. The two of them only know how to greet each other with the utmost enthusiasm. My gut worries about the day when it's time to say goodbye.

Clearly past the point where she won't notice if he's gone, but far too young to grasp the concept of death, I've been researching what we'll say when the day comes. Here's what I've gleaned:

Things Never to Do or Say to a Child Dealing with Dog Loss

Try to avoid causing your kid a need for therapy later in life:

  • Don't just try to replace the dog or distract the child with another animal or toy.
  • Don't tell your child that the dog “ran away” or “went to a farm.” This won't resolve their sadness and will only cause resentment when they inevitably figure out what really happened.
  • Avoid using phrases like “put to sleep,” unless you want to cause your kid to freak out at the idea of bedtime or anesthesia.
  • When the time comes, it's okay to cry in front of your child, but save the sobbing for a private moment, so that you don't pile fear on top of their sadness.

How to Have a Conversation With Your Child About Dog Loss:

  • Explain that your vet did everything they could to help, but that the dog was not going to feel better. Helping an animal die allows them to pass away peacefully without fear or pain.
  • If the dog died suddenly or as a result of an accident, explain the situation calmly and quietly, sharing only necessary information.
  • Let your child ask questions and answer them, but avoid giving more details or information than necessary. This will allow you to offer age appropriate information and comfort without bringing up new concerns.
  • Kids may not want to talk about the loss at first, feeling overwhelmed and sad. Encourage them to air their feelings or concerns when they're ready. Be prepared for the topic to come back up for weeks or months following the loss. This is part of the grief process.

Ways to Help Kids Cope with Dog Loss:

Read books about pet loss. Sometimes, just hearing that another child suffered a similar loss can put the young mind at ease. Sitting down quietly for a story can encourage your child to open up to you about her feelings and give her an opportunity to talk to you about good memories while she has your undivided attention. Your personal beliefs will play a big role in your approach or the story you choose, but I love the painted illustrations in Dog Heaven.

Create a Pet Memorial or Tribute With Your Child

A memorial service or burial ceremony for your dog may help older kids, but it may be too much when the wound feels too fresh. When your child is ready, get his or her involved in creating a fitting keepsake about your dog. Have her draw a picture or write a story about a happy memory with the dog. Create a picture frame or keepsake box with photos, trinkets, and special items. If your child wants to keep the dog's collar and a favorite toy close by, it might help her feel like they're not gone entirely. Scrapbooking or reminiscing about good memories about happier times will help both of you.

Saying Goodbye to Our Beloved Emmy Lou

Hoping with the Loss of a Dog

Caring for a deteriorating or critically ill pet, and watching that animal eventually die, can be devastating for the owners. The story that Bonnie Mader, co-founder of Pet Loss Support Hotline, tells may help you cope.

My husband, Jeff, and I recently said goodbye to Emmy Lou, a beautiful, red Australian shepherd that Jeff adopted before his 15-year-old son Evan was born. Emmy was Jeff’s first dog, and I shared the last 10 years of her life with Jeff, Evan and our seven cats.

Watching Emmy Age

As Emmy aged, it was hard to watch her grow frail, particularly after she had spent years living an energetic, playful life. In her last couple of years, she could no longer hear, her eyesight faded and her arthritis became crippling.

Jeff and I missed taking Emmy for walks and playing ball with her and, in many ways, we said goodbye to her in stages during those two years before her death. We talked about adopting another dog and agreed that we would wait until after her reign in our home had ended.

Emmy’s quality of life declined quickly during the first week of March. She became incontinent and when we assisted in helping her stand she appeared to grimace in pain. She stopped barking to let us know she needed to go outside. Jeff and I did all we could to keep her clean and dry. Even with our efforts, her bright personality was gone and she truly seemed miserable. We couldn’t stop time and she wasn’t going to get better.

On a Thursday we decided we’d spend one more weekend with her. I called my friend, veterinarian Cheryl Scott, and made arrangements to have her come to our home Monday morning to put Emmy down and help us say goodbye to her.

For a few hours that Saturday morning, I staffed a booth at a local pet fair to raise awareness about our Pet Loss Support Hotline and our new Program for Veterinary Family Practice. It was hard for me to see people walking around with their happy, healthy dogs. Emmy was constantly on my mind.

The New Puppy, Marshall

During the day, a man walked by holding a darling puppy named Marshall who’d been rescued from the pound and needed a home. I told the man about Emmy and that I wasn’t ready to adopt another pet yet.

However, I think he had some intuition about my vulnerability because he kept coming by my booth with Marshall, who had the cutest Emmy-like ears. With every stop he made I noticed that my defenses were weakening. I’m usually strong-willed, yet my vulnerability about losing Emmy was taking an internal toll that I was unaware of, and I became susceptible to this puppy who needed a home.

I decided that morning that the home he would have would be Jeff’s and mine.

The circumstances weren’t ideal, and I was concerned about surprising Jeff by showing up with a puppy we hadn’t planned to adopt. It was Emmy who seemed to tell us we were doing the right thing by bringing this puppy into our lives at this time.

When Emmy and Marshall met, Emmy wagged her tail. Jeff and I hadn’t seen her wag her tail in weeks. We hoped that perhaps this was a sign that she would “bounce back” and regain some quality of life.

Unfortunately, she didn’t and, on Monday morning, we kept our appointment with Dr. Scott.

Jeff and I sobbed as Cheryl, who also cried, gave Emmy a peaceful death outside in the morning sun on her favorite blanket. Marshall stayed quietly nearby until it was time for Jeff to pick up Emmy’s body and take her to where he had a grave ready for her in our backyard.

Marshall quickly became a much-loved family member. We couldn’t have predicted how meaningful it would be for us that Marshall shared our last weekend with Emmy.

Jeff and I are feeling very old trying to keep up with Marshall’s puppy energy. He’s about five-months-old now and already weighs 35 pounds. I swear that his feet doubled in size the week after he was with us.

We take him for walks every day and have met more of our neighbors in the past few weeks than we have in the past few years.

We’ll Never Forget Emmy

We’ll never forget Emmy. We talk about her often, reminiscing about her life with us. And already I find myself wondering how I’ll adjust to losing Marshall someday. That’s normal. After all, I’m still recovering from losing Emmy.

I’m up for the emotional risk involved in loving Marshall. He’s already brought so much joy into our lives. Jeff and I pride ourselves in being responsible “pet parents” and we feel good knowing that Marshall has a fine life with us.

All my former pets live on in my heart. But it’s Marshall’s turn to live in our home.

Do Dogs Grieve Their Owner’s Passing?

How Do Dogs Grieve Human Death?

Pets may also show signs of loss and mourning in ways that the family may not recognize. Although somewhat different, they do feel the loss of loved ones. Many have a significant degree of attachment to their owner that leads to anxiety and distress when even short-term separation is thrust upon them, let alone bereavement.

Perhaps, the most famous dog-grieving story of all time is that of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier owned by a Mr. John Gray of Edinburgh, Scotland. Mr. Gray passed away in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, Bobby was one of the conspicuous mourners. As time went by he never forgot his deceased master. Every day for the next 14 years until his own death in 1872, Bobby spent each night lying on his master’s grave come rain, hail, and snow. In honor of Bobby’s devotion, a statue and water fountain was erected to his memory in 1873.

Which Dogs Suffer from The Loss of Their Human Owner?

Dogs that have the hyper-attachment syndrome of separation anxiety are likely to be hard hit following their owners’ demise. Cardinal signs of this all-too-common condition, affecting up to 15 percent of dogs in the United States, are as follows:

  • A checkered history of earlier neglect or multiple owners
  • Excessive following behavior (“Velcro dogs”)
  • Pre-departure anxiety as owner prepares to leave
  • Barking, whining or howling immediately after the owner’s departure
  • Destructive behavior only in the owner’s absence (and often directed toward doors and windows)
  • House soiling only in the owner’s absence
  • Loss of appetite when the owner is gone
  • Depression/inactivity in the owner’s absence
  • Self-directed licking behavior in the owner’s absence (e.g. lick granuloma) or other repetitive, compulsive behavior
  • Excessive greeting behavior on the owner’s return

    A score of 5 out of 10 of the above possible signs confirms separation anxiety. Some dogs with separation anxiety are so bonded to one person that if that person leaves the dog with other people in a crowded room he will display full-blown signs of separation anxiety. Such a dog will not take well at all to his owner going away on a trip or, indeed, to the permanent separation caused by death. The dog will panic at first and will eventually become depressed. While we can’t ask a dog how he feels, we can (and do) sometimes see all the visible signs of depression in bereft dogs that we see in a recently bereaved or otherwise depressed person.

Clinical Signs of Mourning in Dogs

Here are some signs that dogs are mourning a human loss:

  • Lack of energy and interest
  • Absence of play
  • Listlessness/moping
  • Loss of appetite/anorexia
  • Reduced social interactions
  • Increased daytime sleeping
  • Nighttime restlessness/insomnia
  • Weight loss

    In people, post-bereavement depression following the death of a loved one usually begins to decrease. Sometimes it lasts 2 months, and sometimes it lasts longer, requiring medical or psychological help. The same is true in dogs. Some will eventually get over their loss and form new bonds whereas others enter a seemingly interminable funk. The latter cases present a therapeutic challenge.

Treatment of Dogs for Bereavement-related Depression

  • Where possible, allow time to heal the wounds and merely supply appropriate supportive therapy. Make sure the dog continues to eat and drink, even if this means assisted feeding of favorite foods.
  • Provide company during the daytime and at night. Have the dog sleep in the bedroom with his caretakers/remaining human/animal family.
  • Provide distractions during the day such as toys, delicious food treats, games, excursions and so on, so that the dog is gainfully employed and entertained. Some coaxing may be necessary.
  • Attempt to interest the dog in interacting with people or dogs. Sometimes a visitor dog to the house will stimulate the affected dog’s appetite and activity by a process known as social facilitation.
  • Daily exercise is extremely important as it has a calming, soothing, and mood elevating effect. Aerobic (running) exercise is best if this can be summoned.
  • Medication, as a last resort, in refractory cases. Human anti-depressants work well in this situation. Either older tricyclic anti-depressants like amitriptyline or imipramine, or more modern anti-depressants like fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®) and paroxetine (Paxil®) can be used. Each has its own unique advantages in terms of mood elevation and stabilization; and each has its own slightly different therapeutic profile and list of potential side effects. Remember, these drugs must be prescribed by a veterinarian – doses for humans are very different from what dogs are prescribed.

    Following acute loss of a closely bonded owner, dogs can suffer the pangs of separation anxiety or depression just as people do. The extent of the suffering is directly proportional to the strength of the bond with the owner and is a function of the dog’s reliance and perceived dependence on that person. Owners who feed into a dog’s intense dependence on them are more likely to have dogs that do not cope well when left alone for any reason. The emotional pain dogs feel on their owners death is an extension of, and extreme, protracted version of separation anxiety. While we all enjoy a close bond with our pets, and children for that matter, it is as well to prepare them to stand on their own four/two feet (respectively) so that they are not adrift should anything happen to us.


Can You Explain a Pet’s Death to Another Pet?

Can You Explain a Pet’s Death to Another Pet?

When a dog dies, owners often ask their veterinarian whether they should show the body to their other pets. They ask this in a sincere effort to help “explain” the finality of what has occurred to the surviving pets – to let them know why their buddy won’t be coming home.

Whether this is helpful is the subject of debate … and there is little evidence to support either view. On one hand, it may be argued that pets do not have the cognitive ability to understand the finality of death. Showing them a body would be like letting a 2-year-old see a deceased family member at a funeral – the consequences just don’t register. On the other hand, it can be argued that dogs and cats see death as we do, and that viewing a deceased companion does help to explain why that pet won’t be around in the future.

Does a “Viewing” Help Other Dogs Understand the Death of a Companion?

There are many anecdotal reports of pets grieving the loss of a deceased companion. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in her book The Hidden Life of Dogs, describes a dog that howled for the first time when it somehow sensed that its buddy was not returning following a final trip to the vet’s office. Howling is a long-distance communication and, in this case, may have been an attempt by the dog to communicate with a “lost soul.” It is possible that the dog may not have been so vexed if it had accompanied its buddy to the vet’s office and witnessed the final event.

In my own book, Dogs Behaving Badly, I describe a dog whose canine companion was put to sleep in its absence. The dog’s owners went out of their way to conceal the event and took the surviving dog away from home until his companion was not only dead but also buried. On returning home, the remaining dog frantically combed every inch of the house looking for his deceased companion until he finally went to the garden, where he immediately honed in on the dog’s well-camouflaged grave. There he sat for days, staring off into space with a far-away look. It was as if he knew what had happened, and maybe he did.

A veterinarian in England wrote to the journal of the British Veterinary Association, The Veterinary Record, explaining his opinion on this matter. This vet granted a woman client’s request to have her setter observe a companion dog’s body, following euthanasia. The woman believed that her dog was better able to accept the loss of his companion when shown the body. In his letter, the veterinarian stated that his own dogs did not seem affected by the death of a close canine companion.

Horse and donkey mares do better if they are allowed to spend time with a deceased foal than if the body is whisked away from them and is not available for inspection. If unable to inspect a dead foal, frantic equine moms may even dig up the foal’s remains from a shallow grave and seemingly reflect for a while before coming to terms with their loss.

Cognitive scientists are still wrestling with the concept that animals have self-awareness, let alone awareness of another creature’s mental or physical state. The weight of opinion today is that a “viewing” is not likely to help a pet to understand the death of a companion. While the argument continues, I think we should give our pets the benefit of the doubt and allow them to view a deceased companion, if we feel it might help.

For a pet that was closely bonded with another, displaying the deceased’s body may help the survivor accept the finality of the event – to bring “closure,” so to speak. When death separates a closely bonded animal from a loved one, whether a person or another pet, the pet may exhibit classical stages of grieving – becoming less active, eating less, sleeping fitfully, and generally appearing depressed.

Whether allowing pets to see a body for a last goodbye lessens the grief is not known. However, if the human experience is anything to go by, it may help some come to terms with what has transpired.


Things You May Not Know About Dog Death

Dog Death: 12 Things You May Not Know About

Below are some things that many dog lovers may not know about the death of dogs.

1. Dogs die with their eyes open. It takes active muscle control to close the eyes. (The same is true of humans.)

2. Many dogs “hide” when they are sick. This is a defensive mechanism to prevent predators from spotting them in a vulnerable state. They can often be ill for days or weeks before an owner may realize it.

3. Many dog owners think that when a pet goes off to “die” it is a peaceful death but many times (most times) it is not. Many dogs will suffer for hours or even days before they die.

4. When humans die, the sense of sight is the first to go and hearing is the last. The same is thought to be true for dogs.

5. Many dogs will continue to breathe and have muscle movements after their heart has stopped.

6. The oldest living dog documented was an Australian Cattle-dog named Bluey who was owned by Les Hall of Rochester, Victoria, Australia. Bluey was obtained as a puppy in 1910 and worked among cattle and sheep for nearly 20 years. He was put to sleep on November 14, 1939 at the age of 29 years, 5 months.

7. Dogs do not suffer from myocardial infarction (heart attack) as people do. In dogs, the term is typically used to either define a collapsing episode (more accurately termed as syncope or loss of consciousness) or to describe sudden death of an animal in terms that people can understand.

8. Humans are not the only species to bury their dead. Both chimpanzees and elephants have been observed covering the bodies of deceased members of their groups. Scientists have observed elephants gently touching the skulls and tusks of other elephants long after the bodies have decomposed.

9. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt believed that animals and people shared the afterlife so they wanted to be buried with the animals that shared their lives. Beloved pets were frequently mummified and placed into tombs with their owners.

10. Dogs get almost every disease that humans get including diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and cancer.

11. When our beloved dogs die many people choose to bury them nearby, in the backyard or garden. While this may bring us great comfort it may also be against the law. In many areas, government regulations prohibit this practice. So find out what is permitted in your area before you bury your dog.

12. Many dogs will mourn the loss of a companion dog although and some dogs get closure from seeing the body of a deceased companion dog. However, many dogs seem to not mourn or seek any closure from seeing a deceased companion.


Pet Loss: Dealing with the Loss of a Dog

Dealing with the Loss of Your Dog

The loss of any close friend can be devastating, and pets can be among our closest companions. A pet frequently provides unconditional love, emotional security, and loyalty. Routine activities with an animal companion often provide structure, fun, relaxation, and social contact in our daily lives. The death of a cherished pet can mean the loss of an entire lifestyle as well as a devoted companion. Lack of understanding and support from people around us can make this period even more difficult.

Be Prepared

In some instances the death of a pet can be anticipated; the animal may be very old or suffering from an extended illness. Other pet owners may face a sudden loss – the result of an accident or short-term illness. Things that will need to be considered with a gravely ill or seriously injured animal include the pet’s quality of life, emotional and financial cost, and when or if euthanasia should be considered. It is best to have contemplated these difficult matters beforehand.

Accept and Express Your Feelings

It is important to understand that grief is a personal experience and there are no right or wrong ways to feel it. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge what you are feeling and somehow release it. Try writing your thoughts down in a journal. A good long cry can help, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to your friends or a counselor.

You’re Not Alone: Pet Loss Support

Seek out support. Well-meaning friends who don’t understand the bond between you and your pet may say, “He was only a dog.” Others may encourage you to “get another one,” as if your lifelong companion could be easily replaced. This can make expression of your pain even harder. It is important to realize that you are not alone. A support group can act as a wonderful resource for consolation and affirmation.

Do What You Can to Ease the Pain of Losing a Dog

Share your thoughts and feelings with others. Talk. Write. Many people find comfort in rituals, like paying their final respects with a brief service or setting up a small memorial with photos and objects that had significance in the pet’s life, such as a collar bowl, or toy. It’s important to set aside time to think about the good times and remember to pay extra attention to surviving pets. They may need consolation during this difficult period too.

Special Friendships, Special Concerns

The death of a long-time companion can be particularly painful for those who shared a unique relationship with their pet. This includes anyone whose pet was the sole or primary companion, or who was either physically or emotionally dependent upon their pet. Children, the elderly, and handicapped pet owners often have unique bonds with companion animals and may need special attention and support when a pet dies.

Recognizing the tasks of grief can give you landmarks on the path to resolution, and help you recognize that your feelings are normal. The term “task” is used rather than “stage” to avoid giving the impression that grief is something marked by well-defined milestones. The mourner should not feel that he or she must follow some pre-set list, each lasting a determined period of time.

Remember that the grieving process for each individual is as unique as each lost relationship. There is no set pattern or time period for recovery, but there are some general patterns.

Denial. Most people will experience a period of denial, refusing to believe the pet is dying or has died. Denial is usually strongest when there is little time for acceptance, such as with an accident or short-term illness.

Bargaining. For pets facing imminent death, many people will try to make a deal with God, themselves, or even the pet, in a desperate attempt to deter fate.

Anger. In frustration, anger may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including friends, family, veterinarians, and even the pet owner himself.

Guilt. Guilt is probably the most common emotion resulting from the death of a companion animal. As the pet’s primary caretaker, all decisions regarding care are the owner’s responsibility. When a pet dies, the owner often feels guilty about actions taken or not taken, even about things that happened before the pet became ill. The most attentive caretaker may feel he or she should have somehow done more. But we all do our best with the information, knowledge, and resources available to us. It is important to try not to second-guess the decisions you made along the way, and to remember that you tried to act in your pet’s best interest.

Is It Legal To Bury My Dog in the Backyard?

Is It Legal To Bury Your Dog in Your Yard?

When a pet passes away, many owners find comfort in burying their beloved friend nearby. A home burial in the backyard or other nearby location ensures that the site can be easily visited and tended to. When coping with the loss of a pet, few owners think about whether their actions might be against the law. Surprisingly, many regions do have regulations that limit or even forbid using your yard as a pet’s final resting place.

Why Would it be Illegal to Bury a Dog in Your Yard?

Such regulations are generally created because of health and environmental concerns. Laws might regulate how deep the grave must be and what materials can be buried with the pet. Deeper graves protect humans and other animals from disease, since they are further from the surface and less likely to be unearthed. Using only approved materials for your pet’s burial means a lower risk of soil and water contamination from degrading metals and plastics. In an environmental context, home burials can affect the purity and safety of water supplies. When any organic material breaks down, it can deposit nutrients into nearby soil and water. Any diseases that the animal had might also be transferred. When animals are buried too close to local reservoirs, lakes or other sources of water, it increases the risk of water contamination.

The first major legal hurdle in a home burial is determining whether the property in question belongs to the pet owner. If the owner rents the property, there is often little chance that a home burial would be allowed without the property owner’s permission. Some renters may feel comfortable asking their landlord for consent, especially if they are long-term tenants. If the property owner denies permission and the renter proceeds with the burial anyway, it can mean eviction or even legal repercussions.

The Law About Burying Pets in the Yard

Once you have sorted out the property ownership issue, it’s time to move on to the law books. Laws on pet burials are often vague and vary between regions. When considering a home burial, check on local restrictions as they are rarely the same between locales. Your county’s Board of Health or Animal Control agency is a good place to start looking for information. Many laws do not make a distinction between a small pet such as a dog or cat and larger animals such as cows and horses. For example, municipal code in Los Angeles, California states “no person shall bury an animal or fowl in the City except in an established cemetery.”

It is noteworthy, however, that many owners and even officials admit these restrictions are followed infrequently at best. In fact, these types of regulations might receive so little attention that officials themselves might not know the extent of the law. Although the laws might be on the books they are rarely enforced, especially in sparsely populated areas.

Home Dog Burial – What to Do

It is important for those who have decided on home burial to respect and abide by all restrictions.

Depending on your locale, the rules vary. To determine home burial laws in your area, call your city or county health department. This department seems to govern most of the animal disposal regulations. As an alternative source of information, your local mayor’s office might be able to advise you as to which department to contact. The animal control office might also know. In our research, we have found that the best starting place is to search online for municipal codes in your city.

In addition, experts recommend treating the burial site as you would any other excavation project. Call ahead to ensure that there are no gas, electric or water lines in the area that may be damaged by the digging.

Other Options for Dog Burial

In light of these and other concerns, home burials are not always an option. Instead, some pet lovers choose to explore other methods to safely and legally handle the pet’s remains. Your veterinarian can provide you with information on methods such as cremation or burial in a designated pet cemetery.

The loss of a pet can be a heartbreaking experience. Researching local pet burial laws is probably one of the last things on your mind. The fact that the laws are often vague and rarely enforced can further complicate the issue. Whether you bury your pet at home or select a non-burial option, a memorial to a beloved animal friend can help grieving owners heal and move on.

An Interview with a Pet Loss Counselor

Understanding The Role of a Pet Loss Counselor

Jane Nathanson, a consultant to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital for grief counseling for the loss of a pet, speaks about her work.

PetPlace: What does your role with pet owners involve?

Nathanson: I’m a consultant to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Angell’s mother organization) assisting with client issues about approaching loss and coping with loss of a pet. I provide direct telephone consulting to individuals who are seeking information, guidance and support. I also conduct group programs as well as professional in-service training for issues like how to communicate effectively with clients who are going through stressful situations.

PetPlace: What problems do grieving pet owners struggle with?

Nathanson: Of course, there’s the unique aspect in veterinary medicine of having to decide on euthanasia. This is extremely troubling for many people – whether this is their moral right to intervene in this way. I try to help them find their own sense of what is right for them and their animal.

After an animal has died, an individual’s grief is often fraught with what you might call a desire to rewrite the script. They think: I shouldn’t have put him down, or I put him down too soon, or I waited too long – anything to take back the time, to reverse the decision. That’s a very natural guilty response that can occur in people who are grieving. It’s usually your most conscientious animal caregivers who go through the most intense periods of feeling guilty.

We feel more responsible with regard to the medical treatment of our animals. We’re much more involved with the actual dying and death than we are with human loss. With human loss, it’s almost as if the medical establishment and the funeral system all enter the action. But with our animals, we’re it. We are so much in that decision-making role. We have far more control over our animals. Often that’s quite awesome for people. We go along quite well with it, up until the animal dies or is dying. Then it strikes you: My goodness, who am I to make this decision?

PetPlace: Friends often encourage those who’ve recently lost a pet to get another. Your thoughts?

Nathanson: If we’re talking about people who consider their animals like members of their family, then each animal represents a unique, irreplaceable relationship. But I encourage people when they’re grieving to look at what brought them to opening their hearts and homes to this animal. What is it about the “dogness” of the dog or the “catness” of the cat? It’s not a consolation to say, “Well, you can have others.” But it is a reality that those of us who like to be in the company of animals can enjoy the essence of an animal again by eventually building another relationship.