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Everlasting Memories Blog About Life, Loss and Everything In Between

Paw Prints On Our Heart

Posted by Hallie S. on

If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.

I am a dog lover as many of you know. Always have been. In fact, I used to say in my early 20’s that I was never going to get married - I was just going to have a series of affairs and raise a pack of dogs. The affairs never happened, the marriage did and the pack of dogs - yep, got em. They aren’t just our pets - they are a treasured part of the family. In fact, sometimes I think I even prefer them over my goslings. Not always - but sometimes. Facts.

I wonder what my dog named me...

I recently have had friends that have lost their fur babies. Had to let them go. And their ashes sit still up on a shelf, in the closet, put away because they don’t know what to do with them. Might be too painful, might be too soon, might not be comfortable putting them on display, might just not know how to approach dealing with the ashes of a pet they loved so much. I don’t have all the answers but I have some that might help make the transition from closet to comfort a little easier.

Ins and Outs of Pet Cremation

I have personally never had a pet cremated so I did a little digging to understand the process. What I found out interestingly enough is that there are two different types of pet cremation. Understanding both types is important because it impacts your heart and, because times are tight for many families, it impacts your wallet. Read on.

Private/Individual Cremation

With a private cremation for your pet, your pet’s ashes are returned to you. It’s important to be comfortable with the company that you’re choosing and to receive some sort of assurance that it is solely your pet’s ashes that you are receiving. Yes - it’s a real thing where people get the ashes of one or more other pets that are not their own. Some companies allow you to actually view the cremation, giving you added assurance that you are getting your pet’s ashes. I personally could NOT watch but for some that option presents great peace of mind.

The cost of private cremation for your pet typically ranges anywhere from $100 up to $300. The cost is obviously dependent on the size of your pet and where you live. The cremated ashes are generally returned in a plastic bag inside a generic box. This option allows families to choose an urn that appeals to them or the option of placing the ashes on a shelf, tucked away until they are more prepared to move forward.

Mass/Communal Cremation

Mass cremation is basically exactly what it sounds like. Your pet is cremated along several other animals. When you choose mass cremation you typically are not offered the option of getting back your pet’s ashes because they are mixed in with the ashes of the other animals. Some companies may offer ashes but there is no assurance that they are the remains of YOUR pet. Not for me personally but understand where it may appeal to others.

The cost of mass or communal cremation is very low. The cost is based off of the weight of the animal and ranges anywhere from $25 up to $150. Mass cremation allows a family to choose the cremation option for the pet at a price that is very affordable. It also means there is no cost of an urn or a pet burial. And, to be honest, it’s a reasonable option for those that don’t feel they are emotionally equipped to handle having a physical reminder of their pet in their home.

What to do with the ashes

Like I said, many of you including my brother and his family, have the ashes of a pet tucked away because you just aren’t ready or maybe aren’t sure about how to integrate them back into your life. Oh how I get that. It’s a big decision and one that you have to prepare for. Given that I am a plethora of knowledge, I have some ideas that maybe will inspire you to take them off the shelf and celebrate them in a way that brings some comfort.

Choose an urn

Peepers, there are so many beautiful urns out there that make for a wonderful way to display your pet’s ashes. And they run the gamut with price point. There are basic wood urns that are ideal for those that want something simple and classic and most companies offer the option of adding some sort of engraved plate, engraved easel, something of that nature so that you can personalize it in memory of your pet. There are cast bronze pet urns that are statues with an internal urn and the exterior of the statue gives nothing away about what lies inside. Ceramic urns, hand painted urns, glass urns - you name it. They are out there and they are affordable. Before you buy from the vet, do some research and be aware of your options.

RIP Tallulah Mitchell

Make artwork

I thought this was kind of cool and different. There are companies that will take some of your pet’s ashes and make them into art. You can have them added to a painting, added to a glass paperweight or ornament, you can even have the ashes added to an hour glass. I found a company that will add some of the ashes to a stained glass window that you can display in your home. Some of the options are pricey (stained glass window) but many were totes affordable - a couple hundred bucks. Again, research what appeals to you and see what you connect with.

Diamonds and Dogs - A girl’s best friends

For those looking for a high end way to display the ashes of their pet, Life Gem can make them into a diamond. The carbon is extracted from the ashes and then heated to high temps to convert the carbon to graphite. The graphite is placed into a diamond press and when the size requested is achieved, the diamond is faceted and laser etched with a unique identifier on the girdle. The entire process takes about six months and the cost ranges anywhere from $2,500 up to more than $20,000. Way out of my price range but I love the idea.

Whoever said diamonds are a girl's best friend never owned a dog.

Garden stones

I love this idea because it’s something you can do at home or you can order specially made. The ashes of your pet can be integrated into a garden stone and put on display anywhere - inside or outside. It’s not only super affordable but I also love the fact that you can do it yourself. Craft stores carry garden stone kits and you can easily add some of your pet’s ashes to mixture before you pour it into the mold. I think this idea is wonderful for families as well as it lets every member of the family be involved in the process and creates a very personal and expressive memory. It also gives the family somewhere to ‘visit’ that is right in their home or yard.

How do you get there

So I've given you all these great ideas about what you can do with your pet’s ashes and you’re like, “Thumbs up on the ideas, Hallie - but how do I get them out of the closet? How do I know when is the right time?” I can’t make that decision for you but maybe I can help you get closer to where you’re ready.

Make a family plan

We all grieve differently. And when as a family you lose a pet I believe it’s important to take into account everyone’s feelings. You may not be ready but a young child that is grieving the first loss they’ve encountered - they may NEED to have that visual reminder of their pet. Sit down and talk about it as a family. Take into account everyone’s feelings and try to come up with a plan that works for all.

Choose a date

Sometimes it’s as easy as looking at the calendar and choosing a date. Maybe it’s your pet’s birthday. Maybe it’s the day you brought them home or the anniversary of when you lost them. Commemorating a special day is a beautiful way to bring those ashes out of storage and celebrate the love and companionship your pet brought to your life.

Love is a four legged word.

Leave it up to fate

Garth Brooks has a song “Unanswered Prayers” and I believe that sometimes divine intervention steps in and lets us know when the time is right. Maybe it will be a sign of something that reminds you of your pet, might be a day when you wake up knowing in your heart that today is the day. The options are endless. Sometimes we just need to trust that we will know when the time is right, will feel it in our bones.

No time like the present

And the flip side is sometimes you just need to jump in. Make a commitment to yourself that you are going to do it and actually do it. Go in the bedroom, take the box off the shelf and go forward with displaying the ashes. Sometimes all it takes is simply taking the box off the shelf to make us realize that we were ready all along - we just needed to take that initial step. If you choose the present, I do suggest that you have a plan in your mind, an urn in place or whatever method you’ve chosen solidified and ready to set into action. Otherwise you’re frozen in your closet holding the ashes of your pet and then what? Plan prepare execute.

Doggies in My World

I have laid to rest three dogs in my married life. Three in 20 years. Trooper, a Weimaraner, died of bloat when my children were young - all three were in grade school. He was my Rob’s dog and he grew up with Lexi. We laid him to rest up on the hill in the woods behind our house and it was our first experience as a family of loss. Our second, Harley, we lost in 2015. She was a chocolate lab that happened into my lap during a trip to Montana when I went to look at a yellow lab for my Rob. Harley had different plans and while I was sitting surrounded by all these puppies, she sauntered over to me and fell asleep right in my lap. It was a time in my life that was challenging - marriage, family, career - all of it and she brought our family back together. I had to put her to sleep due to a seizure disorder and I brought her to the vet by myself. And fed her cookies. Until her last breath, I chose her just as she had chosen me. She too is buried on the hill in the backyard.

The road to my heart

Is paved with paw prints

Our third loss was my beloved Otis. My silver lab. And as much as that dog loved me - oh how I loved him so much. We left on a family trip to Montana and when we returned two weeks later, he had lost a lot of weight. Long story short, he had undetected Lyme and by the time he was diagnosed it was too late. He was in kidney failure and the humane thing to do was to let him go. My Rob came with me this time as it was one of the few times in my life where I couldn’t face the situation on my own - I wasn't strong enough to face it solo. I grieved him for a year and a half. I still do. A part of my heart will forever be with him on the hill in our backyard.

His ears were often the first thing to catch my tears.

Our black lab Gunner is almost 13. And the sun rises and sets on CJ in his cloudy brown eyes just as the sun rises and sets on CJ’s beloved Papa Goose. And CJ has made it very clear that when Gunner’s time comes not only does he want to be there but that he wants Gunner cremated. Because wherever CJ goes Gunner will go. And so it will be when that time comes.

The only thing wrong with dogs is they can't live forever.

We celebrated the devil twins (aka Honor and Murphy) third birthdays yesterday with ice cream sandwiches and the birthday song. Gus made a mess of his ice cream, the girls got a little grouchy and we had to FaceTime Lexi in to take part. And it gave me a moment to pause. And be grateful for the chaos and the love that they have brought to our life. The healing. And how my little goofball GusGus is no substitute for my Otis but he most definitely saved me.

Some things fill your heart without trying.

It hurts so much when we lose our pets because we love them so much. Bottom line. And having those visual reminders, those cues - as much as we need them they do deliver some crushing blows to the heart. Find a way to bring those ashes out of the closet and give your pet the beautiful commemoration they are deserving of. Talk as a family, choose a way to honor them that is fitting of their personality and your family dynamic. Be fiscally responsible and research some of the incredible ideas available. And take that leap of faith when the time comes. Our pets are not our WHOLE life…but they certainly make our lives whole.

When I needed a hand, I found your paw.

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