How to say a respectful good-bye when your pet dies

I knew something very bad had happened when I listened to the message on my voice mail. “Please call me,” my friend pleaded, without a clue as to what had happened. I immediately dialed her number.

Sadly, her white-and-tabby cat, Napoleon, had been hit by a car that night and was killed instantly. He and his sister, Josephine, were humane society rescues that meant the world to my friend and her husband. Napoleon was the outgoing one, who would always greet visitors and the door and was up for a game of pounce at all hours, even after outgrowing his kitten period.

What my friend needed to know was how to dispose of her beloved cat. “I know he’s not in (the body),” she said, “but we don’t really want to put him in the garbage.”

When tragedy strikes our pets, we don’t always know what to do about such details. And not all cats and dogs live to ripe old ages and are gently put to sleep by a caring veterinarian. How many other people wouldn’t know what to do to give their pets a respectful good-bye? It’s a little morbid to discuss, but may be helpful when you’re grieving for your pet and don’t know what else to do.

Burial. This is not possible if you live in an apartment or are renting property. As well, many municipalities prohibit burial of a pet or have strict guidelines on where it is permitted. If you were considering burial, please call your local city government to find out what the laws are that govern your location as they can be different from place to place.

Private Cremation. This is when your pet is cremated individually and you are given the ashes to keep.
“We can give you a cardboard box if you plan to scatter the ashes, or an urn if you will keep the ashes at home,” says Ted Running of Riverside Pet Crematory in Albany, Ore. Prices start at $80 for small animals and go up according to your pet’s weight.

Mass Cremation. You can have your pet cremated and not get the ashes returned. Generally, several pets are cremated together and the ashes disposed of respectfully. This service starts at $30 and goes up according to your pet’s weight.

Vet Disposal. You can leave an animal with your veterinarian and they will arrange for its disposal. This can mean, if you do not choose cremation, that the body will go to rendering, which is a process where those remains are processed for use as fertilizer or other products. For some people, this idea makes them uncomfortable; for others, it is part of the circle of life. Ask if it would make a difference to you.

Humane Society Disposal. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to pay a fee to the local humane society for cremation or disposal services. Contact the shelter closest to you or from which you adopted your pet to learn more about costs and services.

If you take your pet to your vet or shelter for disposal, it makes handling easiest if you can place your pet’s remains in a plastic bag. Wrapping in towels, or for larger dogs sheets or blankets, are also acceptable.

If you have lost a pet and are grieving, please remember that it is normal to mourn our animal companions. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t feel the way you do or that “it was just a cat.” Seek out resources if you need more help, even counselors. Many grief counselors have the ability to help with human and pet loss alike.

PetLoss.com offers tribute pages, personal support and advice as well as resources like grief hotlines and counselors who specialize in pet bereavement. Many vet schools offer such hotlines, including Washington State University (where, until this year, Oregon State vets-in-training have gone for part of their schooling). At the Pet Loss Hotline at WSU you can find the current hours for when the phones are staffed. The WSU web site also lists common signs of grieving – it helps to know that others have gone through the same emotions that you are experiencing.