Keeping Pet Ashes at Home and Other Options
Image by Miss Murasaki*
Sierra’s big brown eyes clouded with concern. "But Mommy, what if we bury Roxie’s ashes in the yard and then someday we move? I don’t want to leave her here without us.” The possibility of abandoning Roxie dawned on her.
Suzy and her daughter Sierra had chosen to have their dog Roxie cremated. Now, several months later, they are puzzling through what to do with the ashes. Sierra raised an important question.
A similar question arose for John Grogan (author of Marley and Me) and his wife Jenny. They buried their dog Marley in the backyard. Five years later, favorable circumstance allowed them to move to a charming stone farmhouse in the Pennsylvania countryside. As they were settling into their new home, they acknowledged the question they were each silently harboring. What about Marley? With the “For Sale” sign still on the lawn of their old house, they painstakingly exhumed Marley’s body and brought him to their new home. They buried him on a bluff behind their barn overlooking a pastoral meadow.
It is helpful for families to discuss feelings regarding their pet’s remains. Part of the conversation might include these options.
- Bury the pet's body at home, if allowed in your area
- Bury the pet in a pet cemetery
- Cremation, with the choice of witnessing the process or not
- Burial or scattering of the ashes at home, in another place of special meaning, or in a pet memorial garden
- Keeping the cremains at home in a pet urn for ashes, such as the Pewter Paw urn for dogs, or the Bronze Curious Cat urn.
- Putting a very small amount of cremains in pet cremation jewelry for ashes
The Association of Pet Loss Bereavement is a comprehensive resource for support and information, detailing many options for navigating pet grief and the decisions to be made. Many people arrive at the decision to have a pet euthanized and then cremated. What is often overlooked is how it feels to pick up or receive the cremated ashes. Our blog, “What to Expect When You Receive Cremation Ashes,” provides a little insight.
Our cat Pumpkin developed epilepsy, which we were able to successfully manage for several years. Then all of a sudden, her seizures increased in heart wrenching violence and frequency, unable to be controlled. I was faced with the urgent necessity of having her euthanized. This was particularly traumatic for our daughters who were not home to say a final goodbye to Pumpkin.
We had Pumpkin cremated. When I received her ashes from the vet, I felt a wave of comfort and relief that Pumpkin was no longer in agony and that her tender ashes were in our care. I planned a memorial service for her, using favorite prayers and concluding with the singing of “Deep Peace, a Gaelic Blessing.” My husband, daughters, grandson and I buried her ashes in the soft pine forest by our back field, and placed a slate marker on her grave with her name and an etching of a cat. This ceremony eased the brittle agony of her abrupt death.
Stories of other beloved pets
Pumpkin’s littermate, Coffee Bean, lived to be 17. Her long life with us came to a gentler end. We chose to wrap her in a shroud and bury her in the backyard by the flowerbed. Her grave is marked with a garden stone and a silver cat statue that catches the sun and sparkles, easily visible from the house. This is just the right resting place for her.
Gathering information for this article, I asked several friends and family what they have done with the remains of their pets. Kirsten keeps the cremation ashes of all the Maltese dogs she has loved in her china cabinet, and intends to have their ashes mingled with hers when her time comes. Kevin and Jason had their chocolate lab Duchess cremated. Her ashes are in a large pet urn and a smaller keepsake urn, both engraved with her name, dates, and paw prints. They sit on a special shelf surrounded by photos of her. The keepsake urn is used for travel, to allow scattering some of Duchess’ ashes in favorite places. Justine and Robert buried their golden retriever Woody in the hole Woody himself dug in the yard. They made it deeper to accommodate his girth. Confident Woody would approve.
The common thread is that all these people have found satisfying ways to honor their pets. As for my young friend Sierra, I think I’ll suggest a pink Arielle heart pet urn on a cherry wood stand, appropriate for a young girl to remember her Roxie. The urn is also portable should they move.
*Image can be found here: http://bit.ly/2gaDHHZ
Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She has had experience as a caregiver for her mother many years ago, and for her husband and daughter during their recent cancer treatments and recoveries. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.