The death of a pet can be a traumatic experience for any family, especially when children are involved. The question of what to do when a pet dies is not an easy one and, in today’s fast paced world, most families do not give it much thought even until the time comes. So, what is the best way to help a family experience healthy grieving over the loss of a pet? Should a death be thought of, and even spoken of, as a disappearance? Should a replacement pet be found immediately? Should a funeral of some sort be held? What is the best thing to do with the deceased pet’s body?
All of these are tough questions that cannot be answered in detail in a short article such as this one, but they deserve at least a cursory glance nevertheless. And that is what we intend to do in the rest of this article.
Deciding the best course of action for what to do when a pet dies requires, first, that a good analysis of the situation be at hand. There are three main scenarios that should be considered when contemplating this question, each with their own set of recommendations and ideas. We will discuss these scenarios below. They are what to do when a pet dies in a home, what to do when a pet dies at a veterinarian’s office, and what to do when a pet simply disappears. Wise pet owners will treat each of these scenarios differently and will, perhaps, have a plan in place before a death for just how to react to each of these situations should they occur. Here are some of our ideas below.
What to do when a pet dies in a home?
When a pet dies at home, it is often an unexpected occasion – perhaps as the result of an accident. This requires the special touch of a person who can think on his or her feet. The first thing to consider when a pet dies in a home is the nature of the death. Often it may be the case that a pet’s body has been mutilated, such as would be the case in the event of a car accident or an attack from another animal. Many people have been known, in such cases, to simply conduct a quick burial, more or less immediately. This may be a morbid experience, and it is probably best from an emotional perspective that children not be involved if possible. (If a child was a witness to the death, then it may be advisable to consult a professional fairly quickly. If a private counselor is a regular part of the child’s life, then an adult would do well to give him or her a call more or less immediately. Otherwise, it is probably advisable to consult the child’s school to talk to a counselor there and, perhaps, arrange for a meeting as soon as possible. It is very important to not underestimate the traumatic effects the sudden, violent death of a beloved pet can have upon a child – especially a child who is in his or her elementary school age years.
After tending to the emotional needs of anyone who may have been traumatized by the pet’s death, the next task becomes disposing of the body. As we said above, a quick burial is often the best option, but there are a few things to consider before doing this. The first is the location of the death. If a cat or dog died in a rural area, on the owner’s very own property, there is likely no major issue involved in giving the animal a quick burial not far from the scene of the death. If the death occurred in a urban area, or on property not belonging to the pet’s owner (such as in a home rented by the pet’s owner), a burial may invoke legal complexities. In these cases, the best bet is probably to call a local animal control official for help in disposing of the body. Before inviting this officer to your home, however, you should inquire as to what the plans are likely to be for the body. In some cases, the answer may not be in keep with your ideas. For example, some animal control departments make it a practice to simply dispose of animal bodies in a regular land fill. If you and others in your family desire a more distinguished disposal of the body, we recommend you consult a veterinarian’s office for suggestions. Perhaps a nearby pet funeral home or pet cemetery will be of best assistance. Be warned, however, these services can be expensive. It is best to inquire about pricing before you agree to any services provided by these establishments.
When a pet dies at a veterinarian’s office
Though statistics are hard to come by, experts generally say that most pet deaths these days occur in a veterinarian’s office, often the result of euthanasia ordered by a pet owner when a beloved pet’s medical situation has reached the point of no reasonable hope for return. A cat or dog (or any animal, for that matter) that has been properly cared for by its owner can generally be expected to pass away in this fashion.
It may come as some surprise to know that many veterinarian offices have no special procedure for how to dispose of a pet’s body once it has been euthanized. Yes, they simply toss it in a dumpster, right along with all the other trash from the office.
Because many offices also have a contractual relationship with a pet crematory, these instances are usually rare in this day. Most veterinarian clients who leave their beloved friend to be euthanize also agree to cremation service, but there is usually an additional charge for this service, so a significant number do not. And this leaves the veterinarian staff with the burden of finding a way to dispose of the body.
For many clients, disposing of a pet in a dumpster – and, of course, the local landfill eventually is not necessarily a traumatic idea. But, for children, it may very well be. While we would never promote the idea of lying to children about what has happened to the body of their beloved pet, it may very well be the wisest option to simply avoid the topic all together if a family has not chosen the cremation option.
When a pet disappears
The final possibility that could result in the loss of a pet is simply a disappearance. These can be the most emotionally difficult types of pet loss simply because of the lack of what psychologists call “closure.” Not knowing whether a pet has died or has simply wandered off can be an exceedingly traumatic experience for child or adult alike.
Experts suggest that, in this case, the best thing to do is keep hope alive. There is no need for an immediate memorial service. Many families have testified that their beloved friend has returned to them, almost miraculously, even years after it went missing. While you might consider installing a plaque or some other memorial device in a special place in your home to commemorate the great memories your pet has brought to your family, it is important to save room for hope. Do not, experts warn, make reference to the pet dying in any text – until, that is, you can confirm that pet has died. It is generally more comforting to assume that a pet has wandered into the loving arms of another caring owner than it is to think that it has died. Keep that thought alive until you know otherwise.