(This article appeared previously on Vetstreet.com.)
Saying goodbye to a family pet is never easy. On top of immense grief, owners face difficult decisions about what to do with their pet’s remains. Every pet/owner relationship is unique, and every pet owner has his or her own desires when it comes to memorializing a beloved pet.
Ed Martin, president and director of Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y., understands more than most how important it is to offer compassion, kindness and respect to pet owners dealing with the death of a pet. “The loss of a pet can be just as emotional and distressing as the loss of a human family member,” Martin says. “Owners just want to say farewell in the way that is most appropriate for them.”
That’s where aftercare service providers come in.
What Is Pet Aftercare?
Pet aftercare pertains to the physical handling of a pet’s remains after death. An important part of aftercare services is allowing pet owners to say goodbye in a loving and respectful way that commemorates their time spent together and honors cherished memories. That’s why some aftercare service providers coordinate memorial services and provide grief support as part of their offerings.
The loss of a pet can be just as emotional and distressing as the loss of a human family member.
— Ed Martin, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery
Ultimately, says Martin, “aftercare celebrates the relationship owners have had with their pets and provides care and support for families during this difficult time.”
There are well over 600 pet aftercare facilities in the United States today — including cemeteries, crematories and funeral homes — up from just a handful 10 years ago. The options for memorializing a pet who has passed fall into two major categories: cremation and burial. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement provides a comprehensive geographic list of pet cemeteries and crematories by state.
There are three types of cremation: communal, individual and private.
- In communal cremation, a pet is cremated along with other deceased pets, with the ashes commonly scattered on the crematory grounds or a nearby designated area.
- Individual cremation involves segregating pets inside the cremation unit so their ashes stay separated.
- With private cremation, the pet is the only animal in the cremation unit.
With both individual and private cremation, the pet’s ashes are returned to the owner in an urn or another container, depending on the owner’s preference. Specialty urns can be reflective of the owner’s style, imprinted with the pet’s paw print or personalized and made to look like the pet.
Cremation services are often handled directly through veterinarians, who contract with local crematories. The cremation service picks up the pet from the veterinary hospital, performs the cremation and returns the remains of individually cremated pets to the hospital.
Cremation is by far the most common method of handling a pet’s remains. Costs depend on the size of the pet and which type of cremation the owner chooses. Cremation costs usually range from about $200 to $400.
“Burying a pet is very similar to burying a human,” Martin says. Pets are cleaned, placed in a casket and brought to a viewing room, where owners can say a final goodbye before the casket is carried to the burial plot. “We try to provide the best service we can for our clients,” says Martin. “We want them to feel better when they leave Hartsdale than when they arrived.”
Established in 1896 and housed on more than five acres, Hartsdale is the oldest operating pet cemetery in the world. It is the final resting place for about 80,000 animals, including everything from rabbits, ferrets and birds to gerbils, hamsters, snakes and even a lion cub.
Burial costs depend on the size of the pet, the location of the plot and the type of casket and grave marker selected. Costs usually range from $1,500 to about $2,000.
Some owners may prefer to bury their pet in their backyard or somewhere else close to them, but this isn’t always the best option for legal, environmental and other reasons. Owners who want to pursue a home burial should talk with their veterinarians.
Factors to Consider
There are a number of factors involved in choosing how to memorialize a deceased pet. As when a person dies, deciding how to handle a pet’s remains is an individual decision. “Budget is a factor,” Martin says. “But it’s certainly not the only factor.”
According to Martin, some pet owners choose cremation simply because it’s their preference. “Others choose cremation because it’s the less expensive option,” he says, “especially for pet owners who have already expended a great deal of money in caring for a sick pet.”
Sometimes the decision is influenced by family or religious custom. Some pet owners want to have the funeral experience for their pets. Others find comfort in having their pet’s remains at home with them.
“Whatever decision owners make is the right one for them,” Martin says. “By providing respectful, caring and compassionate aftercare services, we allow pet owners to concentrate on what matters most— grieving for their beloved pet.”
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