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"Pet Parents" and How to Honor a Deceased Pet

By John M. Stuart, MSW

 Honoring a deceased pet.

Photo: "Luna & Simba “ by Eli Duke

A family pet often expresses love whether its owner is happy or sad. Like people, furry companions eventually pass away. Their absence leaves a deep void in the life of their “pet parents.”

 How can a pet be remembered?

“Aftercare” is the umbrella term given to the decisions involved when a pet dies. According to Psychology Today (2011), more pet owners expect that the body of "man's best friend" be given a high level of respect and dignity. Crematory operators are doing more private pet cremations to ensure proper handling of the cremains.

If cremation is chosen, several options exist for memorializing the pet. Putting the ash remains in memorial urns for pets is one way. A pet’s name can be engraved on special pet urns for ashes. Certain urns are designed to hold photographs, providing a visual reminder. Displaying an urn in one’s home or wearing urn jewelry can also bring comfort.

Scattering pet ashes is another option to memorialize a pet. The animal’s ashes can be scattered in a place where it once loved to play or rest.

More often these days, pets are remembered with an actual memorial service. It is especially helpful when a pet has been euthanized. The event often includes photos, words of remembrances and the cremation urn for a pet.

In 2004, Coleen Ellis opened the first "pet only" funeral home known as Pet Angel Memorial Center, Inc.®  In the funeral and cremation industry, it is recognized as a pioneer in pet death care, and Ms. Ellis is recognized as the most well-known "pet funeral director." The mission is to provide animals with the same dignified care as a person after death. The organization also offers support to pet parents to cope with their loss.

Recently Ellis founded Pet Loss Professionals Alliance. This organization’s mission speaks to the growing awareness of losing a pet. The organization is “dedicated to the respectful and dignified treatment of those pets entrusted to us. We will do this through the creation of programs to profitably meet the changing needs of the pet death care industry and our process partners in the areas of cemeteries, crematories and pet loss facilities, as well as the creation of standards to willfully meet our customers [sic] expectations.”

How do I select the appropriate urn for my pet?

Memorial pet urns are designed in various shapes, sizes and colors. Knowing the approximate weight of the pet is helpful in determining the size of urn required. Keeping a portion of the cremains in a cremation keepsake is also a consideration.

The choice of an urn or memorial keepsake is a personalized reflection of a unique connection shared with the deceased pet. A symbolic urn such as the paw print urn or a statuary urn like the cozy cat urn can symbolize the life that made a positive imprint. Cremation urns for pets and memorial keepsakes anchor us to a much-loved pet that shared unconditional love and friendship.

When a pet dies

The death of pet can be emotionally devastating. There are those who may not validate feelings of sadness and who believe that losing a pet is insignificant. Seeking emotional support of family and friends who are fellow pet lovers during this difficult time of genuine bereavement can bring great comfort. Bereavement support is also provided by such organizations as the American Veterinary Medical Association.

John Michael Stuart, MSW has been a social worker since 1997. He has worked in nursing home, hospice and home health settings, including one of the nation's largest Social HMO demonstration projects where he coordinated care between physicians, patients and their families. John has had cerebral palsy since birth and has authored Perfect Circles, Redefining  Perfection. He is also a public speaker and currently works as a home health social worker in Las Vegas.

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