Pet Death - A Final Farewell
It is comforting to know that your pet can be remembered and cared for in death just as we would care for a human loved one who has passed away. Burial in a pet cemetery, an urn containing your dog’s ashes, a plaque in a memorial wall, scattering your dog’s ashes somewhere special, and even taxidermy are just some of the options available to dog owners.

The first thing you need to do when your dog passes away is to decide what you would like to happen to your pet’s remains. Whether your dog dies at home or is euthanised by your vet, you have the right to choose what you would like to do.

Should you wish your dog to be individually cremated or buried in a pet cemetery, your vet can organise this for you and arrange collection of your dog from the vet clinic. Alternately, you can organise this yourself.

Whatever you choose, most providers in the industry will collect your beloved pet from your home, and in the case of cremations, return your dog’s ashes to you in a vessel of your choice.

Cremation offers the option of placing your pet’s ashes in an urn or a casket (ashes box) for you to take home. Cremated remains can also be placed in a scatter box and scattered somewhere special.

Pet cemeteries enable you to bury your dog in an individually marked grave with a tombstone or plaque, cremate your dog and have the ashes stored in a memorial wall, or have the ashes planted or scattered in a memorial garden.

Vets can also take care of your dog’s remains should you not wish to have an individual cremation or burial. In this case, for a fee of around $50 to $100, your vet will organise for your dog’s remains to be taken away and generally cremated with other deceased animals. The ashes will then be disposed of. In this case, you will not get the ashes back nor be able to attend the cremation.

Dogs Life spoke to veterinarian Dr Merrin Hicks from Sydney Animal Hospitals in Sydney, who said only 10 to 20 per cent of their clients request a private cremation or burial in a pet cemetery.

“The majority of clients are happy for their dog to be generally cremated and do not wish to have a private cremation and receive ashes in an urn or something similar. In our experience, burials in pet cemeteries are even rarer,” she said.

Individual cremation

Kathy Girvan of Pet Heaven NQ, a pet cemetery and crematorium in Queensland, told Dogs Life that the actual cremator can vary in make and structure and is usually either gas or oil fired.

“The processes are similar, with identification throughout the process a key operating factor,” said Girvan. “Once the cremation is complete, ashes are cooled and ground down, prior to placing in the receptacle of choice.”

Some cremation companies then provide a certificate of cremation and a poem to go with the ashes, and many also offer grief counselling.

Pet cemeteries

If owners choose to bury their pets in a pet cemetery, they have many options available to them when it comes to a funeral. They can have a wake, a memorial service or a chapel service complete with a viewing of the body, the music of your choice, refreshments and even a poetry reading.

A pet funeral can be very similar to a human funeral, said Girvan said.

“About one per cent of our clients choose to have a memorial service. I conduct it and it lasts about 20 minutes. The client can have memorial booklets with prayers and readings, music and an open casket viewing just like a human funeral,” she said.

Girvan said she is also aware of several clients who have had a wake at their home or elsewhere after the burial of their pet.

Despite the cost advantage and practicalities of cremation, the positive aspect of burial in a pet cemetery is that families can visit the grave of their pet to pay their respects, just as they would visit a human grave, said Shane McGraw of Animal Memorial Cemetery & Crematorium in Berkshire Park, NSW.

“We have one elderly couple who come out here every week to visit the grave of their pet. Each time they come they have a picnic on the grave. This is not uncommon at all!” he said.

McGraw has seen every type of person bury their pet in his cemetery and claims there is no one type of person who chooses this option.

“I’ve seen everything from wealthy lawyers in the eastern suburbs to bikies and elderly people. We have pets buried in this cemetery from owners of every nationality, religion and walk of life,” he said.

Costs for cremations and burial vary widely from company to company and also largely depend on what you want. Cremations can cost anywhere from $200 to $400 or more, and burials can start from around $450.

“The average burial is about $700,” said McGraw. “Some clients will spare no expense for their beloved pet and are willing to pay up to $7000 or $8000 for a funeral, with a memorial service in our chapel and burial in a coffin with a special headstone made of marble.”

Cremation appears to be more popular for several reasons. It is generally a cheaper option than burial and many owners also prefer cremation because it enables them to take their dog’s ashes with them when they move house.

“Some people move house every five or 10 years, so having your dog’s remains in an urn or casket enables the owner to take their dog with them when they move,” said McGraw. He has even had clients who have had their dog’s remains dug up from their garden when the owner had to move house, and then reburied in McGraw’s pet cemetery or even cremated and placed in an urn.

At Pet Heaven, 78 per cent of clients opt for cremation with return of ashes, said Girvan. “Of the remaining 22 per cent, 10 per cent of clients opt for burial in the memorial garden, eight per cent for pet burial, three per cent for ashes buried in the memorial cemetery, and one per cent for scattering of ashes,” she said.

Backyard burial

Choosing to bury your pet in your own backyard or garden is also an option. No legislation in NSW states this is illegal, however the laws may differ from state to state, so it is a good idea to check with your local council or the health department in your state before you make plans to bury your pet in your garden.

Common sense should also be used when burying a pet at home. For example, in a city such as Melbourne or Sydney, where people have relatively small backyards, burying your pet Chihuahua would be quite easy, whereas burying your pet Great Dane may not! A practical consideration is that you will also not be able to take your pet with you when you move, as you would if you had had it cremated and its ashes kept in an urn.


Another less common and less popular option is taxidermy. In fact, McGraw said he knows of only two taxidermists in New South Wales.

“Taxidermy is very uncommon. It is also a long and expensive process that can take up to six months,” he said. It is also not everybody’s cup of tea!

Statistics on the industry are hard to find as there is no industry association or central body yet. However, those in the business say less than 100 pet crematoriums are in Australia, and of that only about 30 to 40 actually have their own cremator — the rest offer a cremation service but do cremations through a third party. Pet cemeteries are even more specialised — less than half a dozen pet cemeteries are in Australia and only two in New South Wales.

Excerpt from DOGS Life