What Happens During Pet Funerals?

Pet Funerals are Important to People which have a Dying Dog or Cat

Television situational comedies often include a death of a pet and the ensuing pet funeral. On the shows, the body of the pet – whether it be a cat, dog, bird or even goldfish – is usually portrayed as being on display in some sort of inexpensive cardboard box while adult characters parade to the front of a small audience of mourners and share their nice, fun, comforting memories. In many cases, the joke of the show is in the fact that the speakers often thought of the animal as a significant annoyance, but are able to hide their apparent happiness at the death in order to be a comfort to another character or two (usual children) for whom the death is a traumatic, painful experience. Laugh tracks always get a work out during these scenes.

These shows raise the question: what happens during a real pet funeral. Are the television versions accurate?

Well, the answer to that question varies. But, in general, real pet funerals can look very similar to a television version. Or they can be completely different. The fact is, there is no right or wrong way to conduct a pet funeral. But, the good news is there is plenty of support for pet owners, no matter what they decide to do after the death of a precious, beloved friend.

Birth of the Pet Funeral Industry

For many, the idea of staging a pet funeral that is almost as elaborate as one would organize for a deceased person is, perhaps, a little much. But some psychologists, veterinarians, and other experts in the area of grief over the loss of a pet, say it could be healthy. It all depends upon the wishes – and perhaps the financial resources – of the pet owner, over course.

But it may be comforting to know that most large cities today have at least one establishment that calls itself a Pet Funeral Home. These places have staff members who will meet with a family to set up whatever services are desired, from body preparation – an abbreviated version of embalming is offered by many of these places – to caskets and cremation urns, to a viewing ceremony to a full-fledge funeral service in a functioning chapel. (Some customers have even been known to conduct their pet funerals in a church’s sanctuary.)

The woman who is largely given credit for starting the, now significantly sizeable, pet funeral industry has told many reporters over the years that she did so after spending several years working for both a veterinarian and a funeral home. Through those experiences she saw that neither industry was set up to help families grieving over the loss of a pet, and she realized that there was a significant market for such a service. Her maiden voyage into this industry proved to be such a success that she has since sold the first pet funeral home she set up and now focuses all of her time, exclusively, to helping others who want to build similar businesses in their own cities.

While this pioneer in the pet funeral business admits that many people still think her customers are somewhat strange, or maybe even misguided, in devoting significant amounts of money and other resources to the memorial of a pet, the woman says her efforts are very worthwhile for many families – particularly those with children who, she says, are far too often simply told that their beloved friend ran away while they were at school. Such stories do little to promote a healthy grieving process for a child and can, in the end, prove to be a traumatic detriment to a child’s emotional development.

Critics of pet funeral homes or pet cemeteries raise similar concerns of those raised by consumer activist who keep close watch of the human funeral industry: cost is definitely a concern. Consumers are advised to keep close check on their emotions when they begin working with a pet funeral home. Paying more than a family can afford for a pet funeral service is one good way to introduce real trauma into the life of a family.

How Veterinarians Can Help

The woman who began the pet funeral business has been known to be critical on occasion of veterinarians she says have an overall callous attitude toward the death of their clients’ pets. What goes on behind the scenes in many veterinarians office when a pet owner leaves a dog or cat’s body to be disposed of by the staff can be much more disturbing than one might assume. Yes, it’s true, many critics have said: some veterinarian offices do actually dispose of their patient’s bodies in the same dumpster as their other office trash. Still other stories abound, claiming that animal carcasses heartlessly sold to “rendering plants” by veterinarians end up being used for everything from pet food to soap to gelatin to clothing in developing countries.

Despite these accusations, however, most veterinarians can offer their clients compassionate, wise advice, upon request, for what to do with a body of their beloved pet and how to create a meaningful, emotionally healthy memorial. While it is true that most veterinarians are not formally trained in the area of grief counseling over the loss of a pet, most all of them have sufficient real-life experience to share that can be of great help in one’s time of need.

Though statistics are hard to come by, it seems that most pet deaths that are attended to by a veterinarian result, today, in the cremation of the deceased pet. Cremation is seen as the most healthy and responsible choice for disposing a pet’s body because it helps a family avoid the awkward problem (discussed below) of providing a dignified burial place. Once a pet owner has ashes of his or her beloved friend, he can simply set them on a table – often in the very simply-but-dignified urn provided by the veterinarian’s office – accompanied by a few treasured photographs, and invite close friends to his house to pay proper, dignified, homage to the treasured friend in memorial service held in a single afternoon. The owner would then be, of course, free to spread the ashes over whatever location he or she prefers (laws against scattering pet ashes are almost non-existent) or keep them in the urn that can be displayed as a treasured heirloom for many years to come. If the truth were known, it would probably reveal that this is the most common formula for a pet funeral that pet owners follow today. Unfortunately, it seems, no government agency or private institution today collects anything other than anecdotal data on this topic, so anyone looking to do the “popular” thing when it comes time to perhaps plan a pet funeral, will simply have to rely upon some guess work.

Can You Bury A Pet In Your Back Yard

When thinking of a pet funeral, a pet owner’s thoughts will almost naturally go to this question of whether it is legal to bury a pet in one’s back yard. Most legal analysts will agree that, while governments do not impose any laws outlawing the practice, many contractual, and common sense, obligations might prohibit it.

In general, one can rest assured that he or she will not be arrested or fined (at least by a governmental entity) for the act of burying a pet in a household residence’s back yard. But he or she may run into other legal problems if he is not the land owner or does not have the landlord’s permission. In general, experts warn, it is not a good idea to bury a pet on the property of a home one is renting. There have been cases, in fact, when landlords have sued former resident’s even years after they had moved for breach of a lease contract upon discovering a pet’s remains buried on the property.

Even if a property owner is tempted to bury his or beloved friend on property he owns, it is always advisable to consider the possible long term consequences on property value. Experts in real estate estimate that, if potential buyers know that a pet has been buried on a piece of property – especially in an urban setting. This does not so much apply to rural areas – the eventual offers from the buyer are often $20, 000 – $25,000 less than what they might otherwise have been. (This makes burying a pet on a piece of property even more potentially expensive than owning a live pet: realtors often advise their clients to remove all signs of a live pet from the house while it is on the market because offers generally go down by about $10,000 when buyers suspect a pet – even a well behaved one – has been living in the home. )

So the bottom line in answering this question about whether a back yard burial of a furry friend is legal is this: yes, it is probably legal. But it may not be advisable. For best results, it might be wise to consider back yard burial to be done privately, with only a few people knowing the location (or even the existence) of the grave site. Of course doing this would mean that a full fledge public funeral – complete with a grave site ceremony – would be impractical.

But, as the aforementioned expert in pet funerals would point out, that’s just a sign that hiring a full-service pet funeral home – which will likely maintain or at least be affiliated with a pet cemetery – might be a wise move indeed.

Alternatives to a Full Funeral

But, as consumer advocates, grief counselors, and other professionals might point out, a full-fledge pet funeral is hardly ever the only (or even the wisest) option. Plenty of alternative ideas exist for how to give your beloved pet a dignified, beautiful, inspiring memorial that can last for much more than one afternoon.

As we have already discussed, in cases of cremation, a pet’s remains are usually returned to a family in a stylish, dignified pet urn to be displayed at home as an heirloom for decades. But the pet funeral industry has also spawned a complimentary pet cremation urn industry that offers many more options than the urn the veterinarian can provide. Many families order one of these beautifully crafted, often personalized, urns and transfer their pets ashes to it before hosting a memorial ceremony centered around the new urn. It is worth noting that, while most veterinarians and pet funeral homes will be happy to offer clients a catalog with a wide selection of pet urns to choose from, many other retailers offer an even larger selection for a much lower price. Before accepting the choices offered by your veterinarian or pet funeral home, it is advisable that you do a search online for pet cremation urns and browse thoroughly through the choices that are available.

If a permanent grave site for a pet is not practical, for all the reasons we discuss above in the section about whether burial in a back yard is legal, a memorial grave marker for your dog or cat is always a wise secondary choice. Most retail establishments that offer pet cremation urns, pet cremation jewelry and other pet memorial products will also be able to assist in creating a beautiful memorial plaque that can be displayed – indoors or out – in a very special place that was important to the life of a pet. Many pet funerals have been known to revolve around a plaque of this sort and there are even a few public parks across the United States that, while not official pet cemeteries, are set up to support pets owners by allowing permanent display of memorials such as this.

These many other alternatives to a full pet funeral as is offered by a pet funeral home are important considerations from a variety of perspectives, the most important of which may be financial. We will close this article by repeating an admonition often heard from many experts who work with grieving pet owners: whatever you do in memory of your pet, please do not emotionally over spend money that you will later regret parting with.