When I was born, my family adopted a dog named Britney. Britney was an energetic and loving black lab/German shepherd mix. When I was learning to walk, her favorite activity was to knock me over with her “happy tail.” And it was my older sister’s favorite activity to make that happen. Britney was a faithful and caring companion who treated me like a puppy. If I was playing in the yard and someone walked by our house, she wouldn’t leave my side until they had passed. She laid at the foot of my bed (when I would beat my sister in the nightly coin flip) until I fell asleep before sneaking out and sleeping in her favorite spot in the living room. And she never left my side when I was sick. When I was 16, Britney was put to rest at the ripe old age of 17, after living a full, much loved life.
Pets are more than just animals. They are furry members of the family. If you’re like me, you grow up with them, and they become your best friends. You find yourself talking to them as if they are human. You build a bond with them. It can be difficult to say goodbye to pets and can be like losing a family member. The grieving process applies to any type of death, pets included. Pet memorialization is a good way to have some closure.
Here are some pet memorial ideas funeral professionals can share with their client families to remember their furry loved ones.
1. Hold a funeral or memorial service.
Just like any family death, it is important to properly say your goodbyes following the loss of a pet. This can be done by holding a funeral or memorial service. Some communities have pet funeral homes that hold services for a deceased pet and offer grief support. The service can be whatever the family feels is appropriate – a fully decked out service with a casket, flowers and eulogy or a quiet family gathering to share memories and pictures. Whichever a family chooses, remember that the service is for those who were closest to the pet. It can help comfort them and provide the closure and acceptance they need to face their loss.
If there are children, particularly if they are having difficulty accepting the loss, it may be beneficial to have the child create a poem, write a letter or draw a picture. Have them get creative with it, as creativity is a good outlet for emotions.
2. Place a headstone on the final resting place.
If a family chooses to bury their pet, encourage them to place a headstone or decorative stone at the grave. This can act as a place to visit from time to time and recall fond memories of their pet.
If the family chooses not to bury their pet, there are other ways they can be memorialized. Have the kids make their own stepping stone. This way, they will be able to take part in the pet memorialization and have time to say their goodbyes. They could also plant a tree or shrub in memory of their furry friend. Whichever they choose, encourage them to place it in a special spot – the garden or maybe even their pet’s favorite spot to lay in the yard.
3. Create a photo book.
If you’re like me, you have tons of pictures of your pet – the time you and your siblings dressed up the dog as a sheep for Halloween (and she hated it), the countless selfies while you cuddled on the couch or when Mom chased her around the house because someone let the dog in covered with mud. While those photos will never truly capture a pet’s personality or soul, they serve as memories of the fun times you had together. Just as family members want to be remembered, pets too deserve to be brought to mind.
Encourage your client families to put those memories into a book. Websites like Shutterfly make it easy to compile photos into a memory book. Then, when pets are missed, a family can flip through it and remember all of the good times they shared.
4. Donate time or money to the local animal shelter or humane society.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends families wait at least one month before bringing another pet into the home. But that doesn’t mean a family needs to avoid animals completely. Volunteering at the local animal shelter or humane society can be a great option to help deal with grief. By being surrounded by other animals, grieving individuals can remind themselves why they chose to adopt their pets in the first place. They might also consider making a monetary contribution to the shelter in their pet’s name.
If a pet suffered from a disease that is under research, families might want to consider donating to the cause in their pet’s name. Tying their name to a contribution could be one more act of love.
5. Order a stuffed animal version of their pet.
Companies like Cuddle Clones can recreate a stuffed animal version of a beloved pet. All they need is a picture to create an exact replica of a pet, incorporating their unique characteristics like that spot on your Dalmatian that looked like a star. Families will be able to cherish their pet and have a little reminder of them every day.
Holding ceremonies, making mementos or donating time can all be tools to help with the loss of a pet. No matter how your client families choose to remember their pets, keep in mind that each person grieves differently. Just like any death, encourage families to allow themselves time to mourn. After all, pets are more than pets: they are family.