My sister Tasha must have been about seven years old when she suffered her first family bereavement. This was not of the human kind; however it was still someone who mattered very much to her. He was at the time her best friend; they after all shared a bedroom. He was her goldfish “Luca”. Luca’s death was at the time a devastating moment in her life, it was exasperated by the somewhat melodramatic and archaic funeral arrangement which made reference to him being “returned to the sea” and “goldfish heaven” and that “big goldfish bowl in the Atlantic”.
This as you can imagine simply meant that Luca was to be flushed rather unceremoniously down the toilet. For the next couple of weeks she was rather unenarmoured with the prospect of using that vessel for any other deposits. It seemed to her somewhat disrespectful to say the least.
But this does in fact bring us to the rather emotive issue of what to do when a loved one, namely a pet does pass away.
For many pet owners the loss of their pet, who in truth is much more than a simple companion, is an extremely painful experience. With Britain being a nation of animal lovers it is perhaps no surprise that we have about 8 million domestic cats, 7 million domestic dogs and about 30 million goldfish in the country. This does not of course account for all the hamsters, guinea pigs or pet iguanas which we keep. But as with Luca’s demise consideration has to be given to the very delicate matter of what happens when our pet dies.
Of the estimated 1.5 million pet dogs and cats that die each year in the U.K., about 300,000 are buried in garden graves at home; 1,000 are buried in pet cemeteries; 100,000 are individually cremated; and the remainder are disposed of as clinical waste. This may not be the most pleasant or dignified final resting place for a beloved pet.
So what is the best thing to do when that family friend passes away?
This is not as you would imagine a new dilemma. Records show that as far back as 1000BC our ancestors considered how best to say good bye to their pets. Funeral ceremonies were commonly held for animals and the Egyptians enshrined an area of land adjacent to the River Nile for the burial of their animals.
Even our own Duchess of Bedford built a resplendent Corinthian columned temple for her Pekinese Wuzzy, Che Foo. The cat was further honoured and undoubtedly remembered by its effigy being cast in bronze. It stands with six elaborately carved Corinthian columns encircling the monument linked by benches supported by lion's feet. In addition to this memorial the Duchess expressed the views of millions of pet owners at the loss of their loved one with an entry in her diary declaring “My little Che Foo died. He has been my constant companion for over 11 years and a more faithful and devoted one I shall never have.”
When your pet dies you will need to decide whether to bury or cremate the remains. In cases, such as terminal illness, where death has been long-expected, it is a good idea to plan how to dispose of your pet's remains in advance.
Probably the most famous pet cemetery in Britain is the Victorian site in Hyde Park, which between 1880 and 1915 buried 300 dogs in graves as a memorial for their upper class owners. Today pet cemeteries have been built far and wide, and in this country reputable pet cemeteries are governed by the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria, which guarantees that all pets buried in APPCC cemeteries are in identifiable plots for which their owners have visiting rights. The cost of such burials in pet cemeteries range in value and quality, not to mention the size of pet, from between £180 and £400. It is also likely that you will be charged an annual maintenance fee for the plot.
There are in addition about 40 pet crematoriums in Britain and the reputable ones are also governed by the APPCC. The largest of which is the Cambridge Pet Crematorium (01763 208295) which has over twenty years of experience in pet cremation and bereavement care. They cater for companion animals, pets and horses. The cost of such cremations range in value and quality from between £60 and £150. Crematoriums should also provide the owner with the opportunity to take away the ashes for a final more private resting place or allow the ashes to be scattered in a special place within their Garden of Remembrance.
So what if you chose to bury your pet in the garden? What does the law say on this subject?
Perhaps the most attractive option for pet owners is to bury ones pet in their garden. The rules state that a pet owner can in general terms bury their pet in the garden of the domestic property where the pet lived so long as it is not within the definition of hazardous waste. It is uncommon for either a dog or a cat to be classified as such so as to raise a concern for the council. However if in doubt enquire of the local authority.
The Environment Agency recommends that graves should be more than 250 metres from any well or borehole, 10 metres from ponds or streams and 1.5 metres from underground pipes and cables. Animals buried in fields should be 250 metres from any human-consumption water supply, 30 metres from any other spring and 10 metres from any field drain.
It is also a good idea to ensure that there is about three feet of soil between the top of the casket and the ground; as this will prevent other animals digging up the grave. The last thing you want is to go into the garden the next day and find that foxes have attacked the grave. As such it is always a good idea to place a temporary paving slab over the grave to offer further protection. Once buried, you are not allowed by law to exhume the animal. Many people include a memento such as a favourite toy, blanket or photos with your pet's remains. It is also nice to mark the grave with a small plaque or a single rose.
A loss of a pet is an incredibly emotive situation. But preparation and consideration can make that loss that little bit easier to countenance.