Far too often the question of what will happen to a pet’s body after it dies is left too long as an afterthought. Families commonly don’t discuss the issue until they face the sad fact of the demise of their fur-ever friend, and then, in the confusion (not to mention emotion) of the moment, they make a decision that is not in the best interest of assuring the pet’s legacy is as dignified as possible. The pet’s body is neglected – or at least not treated in a manner that might have been in keeping with the family’s emotional needs – and feelings of regret are sometimes experienced.
To help you avoid such an unfortunate scenario, and encourage all pet owners to spend a little time thinking about and discussing their memorial plans for their beloved animal friends, we offer the following words about just what commonly happens to a pet’s body after it dies.
Leaving a Pet with a Veterinarian
For many pet parents whose loss of a furry friend catches them off guard, the most reasonable idea for what to do with the body of their pet may seem to be just leaving the remains with a veterinarian. From an emotional perspective, this may seem to be the best choice – until the pet owner stops to consider that a veterinarian’s office cannot simply make an animal’s body magically disappear. No, there are three main ways by which a deceased pet’s remains are typically disposed in our modern culture, and we discuss each of these the sections below. They all have their pros and cons in terms of how a pet owner may feel about using them in any particular case, and, given the emotional involvement that a typical owner has with a pet, it is probably best to choose the method carefully. It would be a shame to reduce an entire life-time of memories to an uncomfortable mental image of what happened to a pet’s body after it died. Rather, the best way to memorialize a companion animal in a manner befitting its great legacy would be to assure that its remains are handled in a befitting manner. So, a wise pet owner will not simply leave the choice of how a pet’s body is disposed to the charge of his veterinarian’s staff. Rather, he or she will take an active role in deciding how the decisions are made and carried out.
Those who make this decision on their own, rather than simply leaving the matter to the veterinarian will find that a veterinarian’s office is usually set up to support whatever choice they make. The office staff may have a particular method that they recommend, one that is most convenient for them (hence, the one they will use when a client leaves a pet body with them), but they will usually be able to offer great help to a client no matter which method is chosen. So now we are ready to discuss each of the three main methods.
Cremation is the method that is most common today for disposing of a deceased pet’s body. This is probably because it is the most convenient and it leaves pet owners plenty of options for memorializing their beloved, faithful friend. Cremation can usually, in today’s world, be arranged very routinely through a veterinarian’s office. In fact, the veterinarian will often have a contract with a cremation company and will be able to arrange for the entire service seamlessly, even sending along a bill in his or her own name (though most vet clinics are not set up to do cremations on their premises). Pet owners that have cremated a pet will usually receive the remains in an elegant urn returned by the company within a day or two of the pet’s death, and then they can do with the remains as they please. Many owners will transfer the remains to a specially made urn that they purchase themselves, usually from an online retailer. Either the new urn or the one that is provided by the veterinarian office can usually be placed in a display location in any home as a decades-long reminder of the memories the pet brought to a family. Meanwhile, some pet owners are understandably squeamish about displaying a pet’s cremation urn in their home (from a variety of reasons, whether they be cultural, spiritual or just superstitious). These people may opt to scatter the ashes over some special place outdoors such as a back yard garden or a spot where a pet liked to roam and play. And, finally, a companion animal’s remains can be distributed into a number of smaller containers such as pet keepsake cremation urns or even pet cremation jewelry, and these pieces can be divided among several members of the family who can do with them as they wish. This option is often a good one for families who had varying experiences with a pet and cannot necessarily decide upon one way in which to memorialize their special friend.
Burial of a pet is perhaps the next most common thing that happens to a pet’s body after it dies. This can be a very simple, routine affair, not necessarily even involving a casket – though pet caskets are readily available. So long as a hole is three feet deep, there is little concern, from a sanitation perspective, about how a pet’s body is buried. There are some legal concerns that pet parents will likely want to consider, however – especially if they are interested in using a casket and, perhaps, installing a pet headstone which can also be purchased, quite readily from many online retailers that specialize in pet memorial products. These legal concerns mainly involved the use of property to bury a pet. Local zoning ordinances vary from locale to locale, and a veterinarian’s office in any particular city will likely have up-to-date information about where pet burials are legal, from a city’s perspective. (If not, of course, a city hall is always a great source for this information, too.) But, that does not address the land-owner’s concerns, of course. Ultimately, what happens on a property is the responsibility of the person’s whose name is on the legal deed to the land. No pet burial should be conducted unless that person approves of it first and foremost. Armed with the land owner’s approval, a family can then proceed to find out whether its plans for a pet burial are appropriate by other legal measures.
Animal rendering is probably the least exercised option by pet owners today (we say “probably” because there are few reliable statistics kept on this topic), but, nevertheless, it is commonly used by municipal governments and even veterinarians needing a quick and sanitary way to dispose of stray animals who happen to be of no particular emotional value to any family. The practice is somewhat controversial due to the perceived lack of dignity it shines upon animals, and some companies that offer the service are hesitant to speak about it openly and publicly – though it generally is a legal (and even a useful) service.
In general, rendering involves the processing of an animal’s body – usually en masse with many other bodies – into materials and substances that are useful in all sorts of commercial products. Of particular note (and concern for some critics of the practice) is that rendering can sometimes be used to make some of the ingredients in pet food. While there is little reason for concern that some of the products produced in rendering plants end up as part of commercial products sold for human consumption, there are people who make that claim, and it is perhaps true that some such illicit material ends up, on occasion, in human food.
Whatever the case, generally speaking, even very brief descriptions on the internet today (often written by people involved in the rendering plant industry itself) of what happens in a rendering plant are often offer images that are as upsetting and unsettling as can be found. (The famous Upton Sinclair novel “The Jungle” which helped bring on great reforms in the meat industry due to its graphic portrayal of what happened in the meat making processes of the 1920’s perhaps needs to be revised, this time with a focus on what happens to the bodies of, supposedly once loveable, cats and dogs and other domestic animals, in rendering plants.) While we have no reason to suspect that the men and women who manage and operate animal rendering plants have anything but the most helpful and most worthy of intentions, we recommend that pet owners work diligently to assure that their beloved pets bodies do not end up in such places where they will be anonymously processed into any number of products that – while useful to m