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Gone But Not Forgotten: Perspectives on Pet Loss

August 1, 2009 by Tails Magazine in August 2009, Pet Loss with 0 Comments

By Melissa Wiley

Dog Photo

Losing a pet can be as crushing as adopting a furry loved one is heartwarming. That being said, you are not alone. Millions of grieving pet guardians across the country are experiencing the same unfathomable emotions—and turning to some tried and true methods to usher in the healing a little faster.

Pet Cemeteries

Consecrating your pet’s memory through the burial ritual can serve as a rite of healing in itself. Pet cemeteries and crematoriums provide hallowed grounds specifically for pets. Pet cemeteries typically offer full burial and cremation services as well as a wide selection of pet caskets and urns, not to mention garden memorials and cremation jewelry that you can keep for a lifetime, at home or on yourself. Some pet cemeteries even facilitate transportation of your deceased pet’s body from your house to the funeral home and offer in-home veterinary services for those guardians who have made the wrenching decision to euthanize their pet to curtail a life of suffering. A sizeable proportion of veterinary clinics and humane societies also operate pet cemeteries and crematories.

Before deciding on Chewy’s final resting place, however, verify that the cemetery site occupies “dedicated land,” meaning that the property deed explicitly states that the land will always be used as a pet cemetery regardless of ownership. Bill Remkus of Hinsdale Animal Cemetery (PetCemetery.org), which is located just outside Chicago, stresses that pet guardians need to do their homework before selecting a cemetery or crematory. Over the course of the Hinsdale Animal Cemetery’s approximately 50 years in business, Remkus has witnessed an exponential increase in the number of pet cremations—and a concomitant amount of fraudulent crematories. “You want to be able to witness your pet’s cremation for no extra charge,” says Remkus. “Make sure you ask a lot of questions. There are a lot of good pet cemeteries out there, but you do have to weed through some bad ones.” Legitimate, caring pet cemeteries like Hinsdale Animal Cemetery also display sensitivity and cater memorial services to pet guardians of varying religions and spiritualities. Remkus additionally notes that the cost of consecrating your pet’s remains at a pet cemetery is often much lower than people typically expect, averaging about $500.

Aerial Ash Scattering

If putting Rover six feet under just feels like too weighty of a business to you, then you might consider giving your pet a send-off in the sky. Although most companies that release human ashes from above would not be averse to doing the same for those of your pet, Jackie Tatelbaum, founder and commercial pilot for Angels Wings Funeral Flights, Inc. (AngelsWingsFuneralFlights.com), feels that pets deserve their own carrier among the clouds. “Since many of us have enjoyed our happiest days outdoors with our animal companion, what could be a more fitting way to say farewell? With that in mind, I have made it my personal mission to guide grieving pet [guardians] from that lonely place of sorrow toward a beautiful memory and sense of closure,” muses Tatelbaum about her work. Angels Wings scatters pet ashes from heavenly heights over a destination of your choosing. Although the company, based out of Tempe, AZ, conducts its own aerial ash scattering solely in Arizona, Angels Wings partners with providers of the service in other states and in Europe to distribute your pet’s remains over out-of-state locales. Once the ashes have been released, Angels Wings mails you a certificate commemorating the event that lists the date, time, latitude, and longitude at which Fifi took her final flight, after which, says Tatelbaum, “each beautiful sunset can be seen as a living memorial to our departed friend.”

Shared Resting Places

As increasing numbers of pet guardians are asking for their pets to be treated like a member of the family, in life and beyond, many funeral homes previously devoted exclusively to people are becoming more accommodating and resisting four-footed discrimination. If your community doesn’t have its own cemetery dedicated solely to animals, the resting place of your forebearers may surprise you and allow your pet’s remains to rest in an adjoining plot to your own for an eternity. And owing to increased citizen demand, more and more states are weighing legislation to make this type of everlasting companionship legal. Regardless of the precise nature of the burial arrangements, however, your local funeral parlor may be willing to host a memorial service for Fido or Fluffy, allowing you to gain a public sense of closure and community in the presence of loved ones.

Coping Strategies

No matter how you fittingly you memorialize your pet, saying goodbye once and for all to your treasured four-footed companion means processing painful emotions. Natalie Femino, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in animal-related bereavement, among other stress-related issues, empathetically acknowledges, “Grief is universal, but there seems to be an aspect of dealing with the loss of a pet that, for many reasons, is more intense [than coping with the loss of a human being] for a majority of people.”

Verbalizing your feelings, whether to a friend, family member, or trusted professional, typically marks the first step in coping with their tremendous, and potentially debilitating, power. Often, however, guardians can feel a nagging sense of doubt that their keen sense of loss over their pet possesses less validity than grief associated with the loss of a human companion. To help individuals overcome this sense of lack of entitlement to their feelings—in addition to coping with the emotions themselves inherent in loss—counselors specializing in the growing field of pet bereavement are available to guide your emotional recovery. Like any other counselors, pet-bereavement counselors offer a sympathetic ear as well as an objective perspective, assisting you in finding ways to move forward, whole and self-aware.

Reminiscing on why she chose to enter the field of pet-bereavement counseling more than 20 years ago, Femino remarks, “There was clearly a need in the area of pet loss, but not much support available. It is not generally known or acknowledged to be an area important enough for which to seek counseling, and people tend to minimize or excuse their feelings of grief for an animal.” Consequently, a significant part of pet-bereavement counselors’ practice entails validating mourning pet guardians’ feelings and educating them about further support resources. Opening yourself up to the ready sympathy around you from friends, family, professionals, and, yes, other animals, is central to processing the pain and moving beyond it. “Grief itself cannot be [undergone] alone,” says Femino. “We all need to share our grief and loss and be witnessed and heard in the process in order to move forward and transcend the loss.”

Remembering Rover: Keepsakes and books to commemorate our animal companions

Memorials:

The Pet Memorial Set
AntalProducts.com
This kit includes a double-walled corrugated burial casket, memorial marker, ceremony booklet, and bereavement certificate.

Create Your Own Pet Memorial
ArtPetMemorials.com
This set offers a cute way to display mementos of your pet—such as his or her collar, pictures, favorite toy, etc.

Floramorial for Pets
CremationSolutions.com
This memorial provides potting soil from Fido’s ashes that can be used to grow a plant in his memory.

SoulBursts
SoulBursts.com
Your pet’s ashes are fused into beautiful hand-blown glass forms. Glass urns are also available.

Ashes to Glass
AshesToGlass.com
Glass artists place Fido’s ashes within glass beads that can be worn as a necklace.

DNA2Diamonds
DNA2Diamonds.com
Genuine, GIA-certified diamonds are made from carbon extracted from a lock of your pet’s hair.

Peternity.com
The site offers a variety of products to help memorialize your pet, as well as grief resources, online pet memorials, and more.

Literature:

Saying Goodbye to Your Angel Animals: Finding Comfort after Losing Your Pet
By Allen and Linda Anderson
(New World Library)

Dog Blessings: Poems, Prose, and Prayers Celebrating Our Relationship with Dogs
By June Cotner
(New World Library)

Pet Prayers & Blessings: Ceremonies & Celebrations to Share with the Animals You Love
By Laurie Sue Brockway and Victor Fuhrman
(Sterling)

My First Cat: Writers and Artists Remember
Compiled by Michelle Lovric
(Chicago Review Press)

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