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Care of Your Pet's Body

Facing the death of one's pet is sad and stressful, and having to decide what to do with the body often adds to that stress. That's why it's best to explore options available for the final care of your pet's body before his death. If your pet dies before you can make arrangements, most veterinary hospitals can keep your pet's body for a few days while you consider your options. Unpleasant as this subject may seem, peace of mind comes in knowing exactly what will become of your pet's remains and making the choice that feels right.

Can I bury my pet in a cemetery?

You can bury your pet in a cemetery created specifically for beloved pets. Pet cemeteries offer a wide range of burial and cremation choices to fit your needs. They perform the duties and services of both a funeral home and cemetery. To locate one, look in the Yellow Pages under "Pet Cemeteries & Crematories." Veterinary clinics and humane societies may also operate pet cemeteries and crematories.

Before choosing a pet cemetery, check to make sure the cemetery sits on "dedicated land." To do this, verify with the cemetery manager that the cemetery's property deed states that the land will always remain a pet cemetery regardless of ownership. Standards set by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries (800-952-5541) can guide your selection.

How do cemeteries bury pets?

Pets can be buried either in a private plot or in a communal plot. In a private burial, a pet's remains are separately prepared and placed in an individual grave site, crypt, or mausoleum. In a common or communal burial, a pet is buried in the same plot with other deceased pets. Cemeteries that do not provide individual gravestones for pets buried in a communal plot often provide a memorial wall affixed with plaques honoring those pets.

What does cremation entail?

Cremation has become a popular and practical option for handling the bodies of deceased pets. Cremated remains, called "cremains," look like sand-like particles or small pebbles with larger chips of bone. These may be placed in a small urn which you can keep close by and take with you if you move. Cremains can also be buried or scattered in a special section of land set aside by a cemetery. Depending on local government regulations, you can also scatter or bury cremains in a meaningful place, perhaps under a tree planted to memorialize your pet.

Before selecting an animal crematory, find out the cremation procedures. Many animal crematories do mass cremations and then divide the ashes. What this means is that if you don't request an individual cremation, you may receive the cremains of other pets in addition to those of your own.

Is home burial an option?

Check with your city or county government to see whether burying pets in yards is legal in your area. If you choose to bury your pet at home, put the body in a heavy-duty plastic bag, encase it in a secure receptacle such as a wood or metal box, and bury it at least three feet deep. This helps prevent other animals from being attracted by the scent and digging at the grave site. Home burials allow caregivers to be near their pet's remains, but this option may not be suitable if you move frequently.

What is rendering?

Rendering factories process animal bodies (usually those of livestock but sometimes those of companion animals) into products such as tallow and fertilizer. Some pet caregivers, viewing their pet's spirit as distinct from the body, choose to have their pet's body rendered so the remains can be put to further use. Your local animal care and control agency or veterinarian should be able to advise you on the availability of this option in your community.

Remember, regardless of which method you ultimately select to handle your pet's body, your pet will always be close to your heart.

Copyright © 2001 The Humane Society of the United States All rights reserved.

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