A pet is, for most people, a treasured member of the family. They often eat, sleep and play alongside the rest of the household, contributing their presence and unique perspective as much as any human being. Even larger animals who cannot live within the house can form a bond with the humans who interact with them in ways that cannot be denied.
Why, then, is the way in which an animal is treated when they pass away different from the way in which we treat humans? For some who lose a pet, especially if they have had to make the difficult decision to have their loved one euthanised, there may be a certain closure in the simplicity of allowing the vet to “take care of things”. This is understandable, and there’s certainly a place for it.
However, there are growing opportunities for a family to come together and grieve for their pet in ways which are closer to a human memorial or funeral. Many pet crematoriums and cemeteries are now offering owners the chance to visit, and even be present at, the burial or cremation of their pet. Sometimes this can be helpful to children, especially if they have previously experienced the passing of a human friend or relative – it shows them they are allowed to mourn their pet, that others are sad (and needing cuddles) too and that death is a part of life even for animals.
When it’s time to say farewell to a treasured animal friend it may help to have someone gather your thoughts and put them together, perhaps organise ways in which tributes can be made. There may be a poem to read, a song to sing, pictures and keepsakes to display. The animal may have been of service to the community, a sporting hero or a prize-winner, and there may be some outside the family who would like the opportunity to pay their respects.
A memorial service for a pet or working animal could be held in the backyard, their favourite park (subject to Council approval) or in any another place where they contributed or were valued just for being there.
Among the multitude of readings that can be used in the celebration of a pet is a variation on the Rainbow Bridge story. Essentially the Rainbow Bridge is the place where pets who have passed wait for their humans to join them at a later time. Needless to say it’s a place where they have everything they need – their heaven.
You may need tissues for this fortnight’s video!