Plan for Forever

Plan for Forever

When you add a dog or cat to your family, you do so knowing that there is a very good chance that he or she will pass before you. Yet you still open your heart and welcome them into your life. 
Written by Rebecca Sanchez | Photos by Luna Azul {Above photo: Preparations for celebration of life ceremony at Resting Waters}
Pet owners know that by protecting ourselves from loving something we know we will lose, cheats us of having an enriching relationship filled with a lifetime of sweet memories. Grieving is a normal part of pet loss, and there is no right or wrong way to move through the pain. Despite the futuristic promise of immortality for our pets, setting aside the time now to consider the many ways available to memorialize and honor your pet can help bring you peace.

Advances in technology and laws allow you to celebrate your pet’s life in new and novel ways. Still, many pet owners depend on traditional ceremonies to honor their pet. Once considered the only way to say goodbye, home burials remain the economical choice and offer complete control over your dog’s final resting place. While regulations vary from state-to-state, the general rule is backyard burials are allowed in most areas, and that pet graves should be at least three feet deep and in an area unlikely to be dug up or to erode over time. Selecting items to place alongside your furry family member can be a shared experience, involving all of the individuals your dog has touched throughout his lifetime. Creating a special spot in your yard, complete with a visiting area offers a sanctuary to recall good memories. Pictured here: Pippin is peacefully laid to rest at Resting Waters (more below).

Environmentally friendly burial options are increasing in popularity for both humans and their pets. Paw Pods, affordable internment pods created out of sustainable bamboo and rice husk, was created by Benn Riggen after an upsetting experience saying his final goodbyes to his Springer Spaniel. Ben, stunned by the depersonalized manner in which his dog’s body was presented to him, developed the eco-friendly pet casket that disintegrates over time after being introduced to the earth.

More progressive in nature, pet cemeteries are beginning to welcome green pet burial options. Pet cemeteries have a long history, dating back to ancient times where humans and their animals were mummified and buried together. There are many companies and pet cemeteries that offer mortuary and pet burial services, providing pet owners a specific place to honor their departed pet. Pet cemetery burial considerations should include the cost of internment, a casket, including biodegradable caskets, and a headstone. Depending on the selection, prices will vary from a few hundred dollars upwards into the thousands. The International Association of Pet Cemeteries is a good tool to find available resources in your state. In Washington, Seattle Pet Cemetery serves Puget Sound pet lovers with burial lots, markers, caskets and burial services.

Cemeteries, veterinarians, and other businesses, like licensed in-home pet euthanasia professionals, offer cremation services. Cremation, a process of heat and vaporization, is performed communally where a number of pets are cremated together, individually by animal, and privately where pet owners are offered the option to participate and certify their pet’s process. Costs vary widely depending on the type of service requested and where you live. Pet parents must decide what to do with their dog’s ashes once returned, including urn selection. Urns come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and materials including wood, metal, cloth, clay, and minerals like Himalayan salt. 

Seattle artist John Ellefson with Touch Formed Memorials creates beautiful resting vessels from clay to hold your pet's ashes.

Specialized business and a few pet cemeteries offer bio-cremation, also known as aquamation, a non-burn process that uses alkaline hydrolysis instead of fire and thus has a much-reduced carbon footprint. Aquamation mirrors the ecosystem’s process of liquefying organic matter, using water and potassium hydroxide continually mixed together at low temperatures for a long duration until what remains is your pet’s bones which are then dried, pressed into ash and returned to you. “With how we perform aquamation, a pet’s family is in control,” explained Darci Bressler of Resting Waters, a Seattle-based pet funeral home specializing in aquamation.

“We’re able to offer each family a unique experience,” continued Darci, “including a private memorial service with friends to express their love for their pet.” Darci is passionate as well as compassionate as she explained the process of aquamation, “we lovingly handle every animal in our care and we allow the owner to stay with their pet as long as they need; they can even place the body in the chamber." Aquamation does not require removal of medical devices such as metal implants or screws, and because these are non-organic and won’t dissolve, the pet’s owner can keep these unique little keepsakes. Resting Waters will also provide a small vial of fur clippings (pictured here) as well as your pet's ink paw prints as treasured mementos.

As with the previously mentioned options, aquamation allows pet owners time to select souvenirs that give life to memories. “I keep my pet with me, in a little vial that holds his ashes,” Joe Kikukawa explained as he gently lifted the small oblong stainless steel container pendant that hung around his neck. “When we were told, about 10 years ago, that we had about a week left with our boy, we were immobilized with grief. Fortunately, we were able to get a print of his paw, this necklace that holds a little bit of him, and some last minute professional images that we hung in our den.”

Today the choices are seemingly endless. In addition to urns and art, you can get a mold of your dog’s nose and have it turned into a necklace charm, earrings, or even a tattoo. Companies like Artful Ashes in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle use a teaspoon of your pet’s ashes to create a unique, handcrafted glass remembrance piece, such as a sculpture, pendant, or a glass orb with your dog’s name etched on the bottom (pictured to the right). Life Gem or Heart in Diamond can turn your pet’s fur or ashes into high-quality diamonds. For pet parents who really want to show the world how colorful their pet was, Heavenly Stars Fireworks will insert your dog’s ashes into self-firing fireworks for you to light in a legally zoned area. Eternal Reefs is willing to cast a reef ball with your pet’s ashes included to become a part of an artificial reef that is restoring the ocean’s habitat.

Celebrating your pet’s life is a personal thing, and only you can decide what feels right. Extravagance does not equate to love, and sometimes even the simplest of actions are the most powerful. Pet Perennials has an organic wildflower seed kit, complete with nutrient-rich soil, that you mix with your pet’s ashes to grow a beautiful garden. Planting a tree along with some of your dog’s ashes can give you a sense of rebirth as you tend to the sapling, ensuring its growth. Rooted Pet out of Olympia offers state-of-the-art recomposition technology in a monitored environment intended to naturally return your pet to the earth in the land it’s turning into a tree farm.

Relying on how your dog lived may just be the best way to honor your pet. Think about the activities that you and Rover did that brought you both joy, and somewhere in there is the key to how best to honor your pet’s memory. Remember to talk to people about the loss of your pet, and encourage family, friends, and coworkers to tell you their stories of how much their dog meant to them. When the loss of a pet proves to be too difficult, additional resources are available. The Seattle Animal Shelter offers a Pet Loss Support Group every Thursday from 5:30-6:45 p.m.

Unfortunately, we recently experienced the loss of a beloved member of our pack, Ziggy...Ziggy Stardust, that is. We want to thank West Seattle Animal Hospital and Resting Waters for taking good care him at the end of his life. While he is greatly missed, we take comfort in knowing he is now dancing among the stars with his sister Scout.

Ziggy Stardust, 2005-2019

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