Pet Loss

She was a Christmas gift for my wife.

We named her Bella and she moved right into our hearts as animals have the tendency to do. Bella welcomed both our newborns home from the hospital, she broke out the welcome wagon every day I arrived home from work, she followed me up and down the rows as I cut the grass, and slumbered behind my chair when I worked in my office. True to her breed she loved retrieving tennis balls (two at a time, always two), swimming, and simply being outdoors. We got 9 ½ years before we had to put her down.

It was too short a time, but is it ever long enough with your pet?

Mega esophagus. Thankfully, it was short, and Bella made the decision for us. In retrospect, she’d probably been hiding the pain from us for months before we knew.

The vet came to the house and it was very peaceful. My wife and I held her in our arms as she died—just as we had almost a decade prior when we picked her up from the farm, a little ball of fluff.

The vet was kind and professional. When it was over he said, “I’ll give you a few moments and then I’ll be back in for the body.” I assured him that wouldn’t be necessary and sent him on his way. This is what I do for a living. This, if nothing else, I know how to do.

I went to Lowes for lumber and in a few hours had a nice little casket built with a dark walnut stain and half a tennis ball (green, of course, Bella wouldn’t entertain the notion of playing with another color) glued to the lid. In it I laid her doggie bed, and then her remains. Then I got to work digging. It was July. Ninety degrees. Dense clay soil. The exhausting labor felt good.

The kids got to see her. There were a lot of questions. We invited family to say goodbye. The kids put dog toys, and letters, and other things in the casket before I screwed the lid on. My father-in-law helped me carry her out back and everyone gathered shared a memory before we lowered her down. It was dignified, like Bella.

Yes, I miss our routine, the walks, the feedings, the welcome-home-Dad-tail-wagging, but it’s really the smaller moments I think I miss the most, her constant presence. They offer you their loyalty, and when the time comes we want to do right by them, despite the persistent nagging thought, did I do the right thing? But really what it boils down to is, we just don’t want to let our pets go. Though, when the times comes, something must be done.

I’ve shared my story, now I’ll offer guidance on what to do.

Burial or cremation?

o Burial

 The casket: If you know just enough about tools to be dangerous like me, you can build your own casket. If not call your local funeral home. They can order you a casket to fit your pet based on their size, often getting the delivery the next day. Some may even stock an appropriate size. You don’t even need a casket; you can just wrap your pet in a favorite blanket and bury him/her enshrouded.

 The burial space: Does your community have a pet cemetery? A quick internet search will resolve that. Do you want to bury your pet on your property? Check local and county ordinances and any applicable deed restrictions before proceeding. If you aren’t the property owner of where you want to bury your pet, make sure you secure permission (written permission would be best) before proceeding.

 The service: This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Read a poem. Sing or play a song. Share remembrances. The most meaningful services are sometimes organic.

o Cremation

 There are animal crematoriums in almost every community. A quick internet search will point you to the ones closest to you. If you want vetted organizations to handle your furry friend: contact your local funeral home for a referral, or your veterinarian. Oftentimes, your vet will have a contract with a trusted animal crematorium. If you have your animal put down at the vet’s office you can more-than-likely leave your pet for the vet to take care of the cremation. Make sure if you want a private cremation for your animal you express those wishes to your vet.

 Where do I buy an urn? You can buy a pet urn from your vet, a local animal crematorium, a local funeral director, or online. The sky is the limit when it comes to different pet urns.

 What do I do with the cremated remains?

• Burial: Burial of cremated remains is legal on private property. If you don’t own the private property, make sure to obtain permission (preferably written) prior to burying them.

• Scattering: The benefit to scattering cremated remains is you can do it over multiple locations. Did your pet like to spend time in the garden and swimming in your koi pond? Then you can scatter the cremated remains in both places. Like burial, scattering is permitted on private property. The scattering of cremated remains is permitted in the ocean as long as you’re more than three miles offshore.

• You can conduct a service while burying or scattering the cremated remains. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Read a poem. Sing or play a song. Share remembrances about your companion.

o Monuments

 Maybe you want to memorialize the spot where your pet is buried or (like in the case of scattering) simply have a marker memorializing him/her. There are lots of different ways to permanently memorialize your pet in a unique way: You can have your pets image engraved on the stone, have the stone cut in the shape of a paw or tennis ball, you have a QR code put on so a video of your pet plays when scanned.

• Call your local monument dealer for further ideas

• Look online

There are also memorial products/ideas out there to remember your pet:

• Have a pawprint or noseprint memorialized on a keychain or piece of jewelry:

• Have a custom portrait painted of your pet:

• Have a blanket made of a favorite picture:

• Make a mug, mousepad, photo keychain of a treasured photo:

• Make a gift in your pet’s name to the SPCA, Faithful Friends, or a local no-kill shelter.

Basically, what I tell people planning a human funeral is, “You can’t do it wrong.” You have to do what feels right for you, your family, and the situation. And I’m sure whatever you decide to do your faithful friend would agree with.