Here is a list of items that you may want to think about and act upon as your pet approaches the transition of their life on this earth. This will allow you to make informed decisions during a difficult time. Thinking about and looking into your options, making whatever preparations are necessary will empower you to have the best experience possible, rather than having to react and make quick decisions that are difficult when emotions are high. Some of us won’t have the luxury of determining a timeline which makes putting a plan into place even more important. I hope you find this information useful and welcome any comments or suggestions, or stories you wish to share.
Quality of Life
If the quality of life of your pet is a question in your mind, start tracking it on a calendar. For days that are good or bad, mark it appropriately. You can simply write the word good or bad on the calendar, or you can use stickers. This gives you some good data in black and white as to how your pet’s quality of life is.
Approaching the End
For the last week or last few days of your pet’s life, plan ahead and make a list of things you want to do and places you want to go and then make time in your schedule to do them. Include food or treats you want them to eat. Do you want pictures of your pet or both of you together? Do you want a paw print impression? Maybe you want to compile a scrap book of your adventures together? Do you want certain people or other pets to have a chance to say goodbye? Do your best to put together a comprehensive list and prioritize it.
Euthanasia or Natural Death?
Think about whether you want your pet to have a natural death or if you want euthanasia. Talk with your vet to educate yourself about the process for both and to discuss your options ahead of time. If you decide to euthanize, many veterinarians will offer in-home euthanasia. This allows your pet to be at a place that they love and can help prevent added stress caused by travel. If your vet doesn’t offer in-home service, you can ask for a recommendation for veterinarian who will. Don’t wait until the last minute to make these arrangements; otherwise your only option may be an emergency hospital.
Making the decision to euthanize is difficult. Many times, we will just know when the time is right because our pet will communicate this to us. Having the quality of life data will be helpful too.
The process of eauthanasia can be done in either one or two steps. I highly encourage you to use the two-step process. For the two step process: 1) a sedative is administered that will put your pet in a calm state – they are still awake and able to interact with you, but it helps them relax; 2) the euthanasia shot will be administered approximately 30 – 45 minutes later. This drug is very fast-acting and typically the pet’s heart will cease before the shot is completely administered. The bladder and bowels may also express soon after the heart stops, so having wee wee pads under the pet will help.
Feel free to have these last few precious minutes be meaningful. Some people may not want to be present. On the other end of the scale, I prefer to embrace my pet and hold them very close to me. I like to have our hearts beating together as closely as possible. Each person’s preference will be different but do not be afraid to express yourself and show your love. Your veterinarian will respect your wishes and will assist in any way they can.
Burial or Cremation?
Examining your preferences for burial or cremation is also an important step. There are factors that will need to be addressed for each option. If your belief preference is for burial, and you live in an apartment, you will need to visit pet cemeteries or find out if friends or relatives have land that will allow burial of the body. If you do have land, depending on the ordinances in your area, it may be illegal to bury pets on your property. Find out ahead of time. Other factors to consider are what to bury your pet in. Do you want to bury your pet in something as simple as their favorite blanket as a shroud or do you want a casket of some kind? Caskets can vary greatly in price and materials. There are basic plastic models on up to beautiful hand-crafted artisan works of art made out of mahogany, cherry or oak.
If you prefer to cremate then you will need to determine if you want your pet’s ashes back or not. There are usually two levels of cremation services: communal and private. Communal cremation consists of having your pet cremated with other pets. All of the ashes will be scattered, so they will not be returned to you. Many services scatter the ashes in a garden or orchard, or some tranquil setting, but each service will be different, so if it matters to you, be sure to ask. Communal cremation is typically the lowest cost alternative.
Private cremation service means that your pet will be individually cremated and you will receive your pet’s ashes returned to you. The containers for the ashes can vary greatly as well, from a simple brown bag to a box or tin or urn. You can choose to purchase a special urn and have the service put the ashes in the urn. Alternatively you can purchase an urn at a later date. Some people like to take a portion of the ashes, or even all of the ashes and scatter them in a meaningful location. Some people take comfort in having the pet’s ashes kept in the home and taking them with them if they move. You can also opt to have the cremains buried or interred in a pet cemetery, or you may bury the pet’s ashes on your own land if that is allowed by ordinance.
A third cremation service called witness cremation, is gaining in popularity. This cremation service allows you to place your pet’s body in the crematorium, and be present for the duration of the cremation. How long it will take will depend on the size of your pet – the larger the pet, the longer it will take. This gives many people complete piece of mind and ultimate control over the cremation process. Since this is a relatively new service offering, not all crematoriums will have this available. The place that I have found that does the best job with witness cremations is Dignified Pet Services located in Oregon.
Transition / Burial Service / Celebration of Life
Whether or not you are a religious person, many people enjoy having some kind of a service to honor their pet before burying or cremating them. This can be a simple act such as declaring your love and thanking your pet for their gifts to you during the time you shared together. Or you can bring together music, poetry, reading passages, and a gathering of close friends in a casual format or opt for a more formal service. You can have a funeral procession New Orleans style! You can choose to include favorite toys, rose petals, feathers, crystals, or any other meaningful totem in the service. You can also choose to bury or cremate items with your pet, much in the way the Egyptians did thousands of years ago. You can opt to hire ministers to provide a service if you are uncomfortable with putting together a service of your own. Feel free to personalize it and make it meaningful to your beliefs and the message you want to send with your pet.
The Grieving Process
The grieving process actually begins before a pet has transitioned or passed. It may begin by a terminal diagnosis or realizing that your pet is getting older and can’t do the things they used to do. The grief that one can feel after losing a pet takes some people by surprise. It can often be more devastating than losing even a friend or family member. That is because our pets give us unconditional love. They love us no matter what – no strings attached.
The grief process will be different for each person and also for each pet that you lose. You may cry your eyes out after losing one pet, but may only have a sense of huge loss after losing another. Keep in mind that other pets in the household may also experience grief.
You may want to take some time off to be with your grief, if at all possible. Many larger companies are now offering grief time for losing a pet. Be gentle with yourself during this time and don’t listen if other people give you hard time. These are normal, natural feelings that you should allow to come out – don’t hide or suppress them.
Some people have lingering questions in preparing for their pet’s transition or after their pet has passed. You can seek assistance through a personal grief counselor or an animal communicator. You can find local listings by consulting your phone book.
If you need help dealing with your grief you can attend a Pet Loss Support Group available through the Humane Society of King County. They meet every Saturday at 10am in the library on the second floor of the George Whittell Resource Center located at 13212 SE Eastgate Way in Bellevue. You can also get web-based or telephone counseling from Pet People Help. This service can assist you during several stages of need: terminal diagnosis, euthanasia decisions, and pet loss. The website is: www.petpeoplehelp.com Toll Free: 1-888-271-8444