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Where Shall We Bury The Dog?
I recently read a newspaper article about a chap called Dave Eyely from Warwickshire that got me thinking about where I could bury my beloved dog, Poppy, once that sad day comes and she passes away.
Just before Easter, Dave’s four year old hamster, Rhino, “died” and he chose to bury him in a two foot deep hole near his garden shed. Imagine his shock when his neighbour rang him at work to say she’d found Rhino scampering around her garden! Dave checked the hole and it definitely was his hamster. Rhino had amazingly dug his way out of the garden tomb and back to life. This amusing miracle prompted me to delve deeper into our relationship with pets and how, practically, we deal with the death of a special and unique companion.
Humans and dogs have lived together for more than 330,000 years. Evidence of domesticated dogs living within early Stone Age villages and encampments has been found in Siberia and Belgium. They performed vital hunting, herding and protection tasks – very much like dogs of today. Likewise, cats have been part of human domestic life since early Egyptian times. The Egyptians worshiped cats for their power to hunt vermin and kill venomous snakes. They revered them to such an extent that they mummified their pets in the same way as humans, often including whole cat families consisting of mother and kittens as tomb offerings to the cat goddess Bast. For centuries we have nurtured our relationship with pets above all for companionship. It’s not just cats and dogs; birds, rodents, lizards and snakes are all kept as twenty-first century pets. In the UK today we live with around 8 million are cats and 8 million dogs and one in two British families owns a pet of some description.
It’s not surprising that in 2009 in the USA alone $10.3 billion was spent on pet supplies, we are not just a nation of pet lovers; we’re a whole world of them! Apart from the obvious expenditure on veterinary bills, food and the frivolous trend for jewel encrusted designer collars, bespoke frilly dresses and even wedding ceremonies for dogs, there is also a growing trend in bespoke pet burials.
It’s heartbreaking when a beloved pet dies. For some, it’s one of the most traumatic events a family can suffer. Children bought up with dogs and cats may never have known life without them and the death of a pet is often the first experience young people have of mortality. Grief is a normal emotion, one we are all aware of. Because the love we receive from our pets is unconditional and trusting it is often very difficult to deal with their loss. It’s important, therefore, for parents to understand how a child is coping emotionally with the death of a pet. Having a burial, memorial, or similar ceremony is one way to help. It can reinforce the importance of the pet's life by honoring the death event and children should be allowed to participate in whatever way is appropriate, perhaps helping mark the grave site, decorating the urn of ashes, or drawing pictures of happy times together with their pet, whatever fits with the closure ceremony. This allows the child to say goodbye in their own way.
So as well as preparing children to cope emotionally with the loss of a furry best friend, it’s also a good idea to think about the practicalities, so that when the time comes to ask “Where shall we bury the dog?” you have some idea of the options.
In the UK, pet owners can bury their own pets, provided that the animal is one normally kept as a pet, such as dogs and cats. Even if they are kept as pets, creatures such as sheep and goats, which are primarily farm animals cannot be buried, they must be disposed of by an approved route. Most vets offer a sympathetic disposal service for pets and use a registered waste carrier to dispose of dead animals. Vets also have a duty of care to make sure they are disposed of at a licensed animal crematorium or pet cemetery.
If you decide to bury your pet in the garden, there are local council guidelines, for example a grave for a dog must be at least 1.25 metres deep. One consideration is contamination of the water table; it’s a good idea then to contact your local council office for guidelines before burying pets yourself. Likewise, you can opt to lay your animal to rest in a special place, for example beside a favourite walk in the local woods. Make sure you check with the owner of the property first. This may be the Forestry Commission or the local council. Remember, if you do decide to bury your cat or dog in your own garden, do consider any future owners of the property. How would they feel digging up the remains of a Great Dane?
When deciding on a private burial, it’s a good idea to purchase a suitable container. Again, your vet can help with this, or there are a number of companies who specialise in pet caskets. You can lay your beloved pussy or much loved spaniel to rest in a wide variety of coffins, from fully biodegradable, muslin lined willow to hand carved oak, with silk shroud and a pillow for their head. Coffins can be adorned with brass or ceramic plaques displaying pictures of the deceased or heartfelt messages from those left behind. If you do decide to bury your pet yourself, you can, of course, use a sturdy cardboard box, which is also fully biodegradable.
Rather than choosing a DIY pet funeral, you may prefer to use the services of a pet cemetery. Pet cemeteries are not a new idea. In 1899, the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques or Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals, opened its gates claiming to be the first animal necropolis in the world. Situated in North West Paris, it has a very exotic client list of monkeys, lions and even fish. Amongst the ornate monument urns and epitaphs there is a simply black marble plaque in memoriam of screen legend Rin Tin Tin, the original canine film star who died in 1932. The cemetery was classified an historical monument by the French government in 1987 and is still open today. Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory in New York also claims to be the oldest pet burial ground in the world.
It’s not just Europeans who venerate their pets when they die. The India Times recently ran an article sympathetically advertising the Kengeri pet cemetery, run by an organisation called People for Animals. The first exclusive pet cemetery in the India, it was created in 2005 and around 500 pets are buried there, including dogs, lovebirds, cats, rabbits and even a sheep. A permanent pet burial costs 15,000 rupees. An unmarked burial package will cost around 3,500 rupees, and the land is recycled once available vacant plots are exhausted.
A pet cemetery is even listed as the number two attraction in Holywell, North Wales on Tripadvisor.co.uk. It’s described as a “lovely place to rest your pets” and boasts a pet friendly (as long as they are well behaved) café where you can sample bara brith (Welsh bread) or fill up on a warming stew, with a chapel of rest and award winning gardens and grounds that are a tranquil haven from just a stones throw from the busy A55 road. In 2010 the cemetery won the award for the UK's best facility of its kind from the Memorial Awareness Board, run by the National Association of Memorial Masons. Visitors are actively encouraged, and the cemetery is open seven days a week.
In the UK, pet cemeteries and crematoria are regulated by the Animal by-Products Regulations of 2011 issued by DEFRA. This revised legislation means that pet cemeteries owners are defined as landfills operators and contravention of these rules can result in large fines and seizure of property. There is also an Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria that aims to set standards for its members. However, out of approximately 150 pet crematoria businesses in the UK, only 26 have joined their association to date.
In general, pet crematoria and cemeteries offer a full and sympathetic service. A good pet funeral provider offers pet collection, either from your home or your vet and will call you when the animal arrives. You can also take your pet to the crematorium and if you telephone ahead, many offer a same day service, which is often cheaper. Most establishments have “farewell” rooms, where staff lay your departed pet so you can say a private last goodbye.
Whether you choose to have your animal buried or cremated, like the site in Holywell, North Wales, pet cemeteries and crematoria are often located in peaceful, beautiful locations with walks and gardens that rival many human resting places. You can plant rose bushes in gardens of remembrance or erect memorials and tributes to your lost friend. They are tranquil places to visit and can give grieving pet owners the chance to meet and talk to others who have lost their companions.
Having your pet cremated also means you can take their ashes home, perhaps a simpler option to home burial. As already mentioned, you can have the remains turned into jewellery or you can choose from a huge variety of keepsake boxes or caskets, ranging from simple bamboo pouches to beautifully carved, hand finished mahogany statues representing the dead animal. For many people, it’s comforting to keep their pet nearby after they die, so a keepsake on the mantelpiece is the perfect choice for them.
Opt for cremation and you can even have your ginger cat turned into a diamond ring. Phoenix-Diamonds.com is an American company, operating in the UK who can turn “cremains” into diamonds. Apparently, these memorial diamonds made from human and animal remains are normally canary yellow, but it is possible to make ‘fancies’ which are blue, pink, red or green diamonds.
Finally, there is no right and wrong answer to the question, “when is the right time to find a new pet? “ It might help you and your family through the grieving process to think about getting a new dog or cat, or you may feel resentment to the idea. Don’t make a hasty decision. Think long and hard about why you want another pet and don’t think about it being a replacement for your lost animal. It’s a new relationship, involving different characters, time and place. On the practical side, if your animal died of a contagious disease, get rid of all bedding, housing, feeders etc just in case the infection can be transferred. If the idea of getting a new dog, for instance, is too painful but you miss the play or cuddle time with a dog, consider becoming a volunteer dog walker, or trainer. Contact your local animal sanctuary who will always be looking for volunteers. Remember when the time is right, you will be able to share your love with a new, carefully selected animal friend.
For me, when the day finally comes and our Staffordshire bull terrier, Poppy, leaves us, I know the whole family will be grief stricken. She is such a fundamental part of our lives. I also know that I will have her cremated and her ashes scattered in the sheltered corner of our garden where she sits every sunny morning, summer or winter, nose raised to the sky, eyes half closed, her lips curled in a “Staffy” smile, celebrating life.
"You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us."
(Robert Louis Stevenson)
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