Grieving pet owners choosing sentimental options
Rosie’s death was not unexpected. Her body got weaker late last summer, and by October she was diagnosed with total kidney failure. Keeping her alive wasn’t worth her suffering.
In the comfort of the Esquimalt home she grew to love, the 18-year-old rescue dog was put to sleep.
“I’ve had a lot of dogs, and I’ve put down a lot of dogs. The least (pet owners) can do is give them the dignity and respect and worth that comes with not having them suffer,” said Pat Rose, who rescued the Shih Tzu-poodle cross from a puppy mill almost nine years earlier.
With a new rescue dog, P.J., nestled in her lap, Rose – a self described dog person – recalls her past experiences raising, loving and losing at least a dozen animals in her lifetime.
All Rose’s past dogs still hold a special place in her heart, but Rosie is the only one whose ashes sit on the fireplace hearth.
“Not knowing that there are options for (your pet) after they die, and most of the time there wasn’t – it’s hard,” Rose said. When a pet dies, Victoria-based veterinarians present owners with just a couple of options: take the remains home or opt for cremation.
“Almost every pet we see that either passes here or comes in deceased is cremated,” said Kris Glabais, hospital administrator at Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital on Roderick Street in Saanich.
For years, cremation has been done almost exclusively through a Sooke-based animal crematorium. Owners can choose between communal or individual cremation.
In November, Pet Loss Care Memorial Center opened in Fairfield, providing pet owners with more than just the ashes.
Operated by Jocelyne Monette, the centre gives owners options for individualized services – including pet wakes, a variety of urns, blown glass with ashes or fur inside, cemented paw print memorials and loss support groups.
“I’ve heard people tell me this is over the top and families don’t need this, but you cannot dictate how someone grieves,” Monette said. “I know I’m not for everybody.”
This is where Rose brought Rosie. “The closure I’ve had with all my other dogs has been awful. Leaving them at the vet and walking away not knowing – it’s an emotional challenge,” she said. “Jocelyne acknowledges there’s grief over losing a pet. It’s not just a dog, it’s not just a cat – they’re an integral part of your life. You need closure, and you need it done properly.”
Since opening, Monette has cremated more than 200 family pets, including Bandit, the puppy that was killed during a drug-fueled act of violence in a Victoria hotel room on New Year’s Day. A lock of the three-month-old pit bull’s fur, along with a photo and memorial card, sit on a shelf in the Lillian Road care centre.
Outside of cremation, burial of an animal is another option for pet owners. It’s not usually recommended by vets, however, because there is confusion over whether burying your pet violates some kind of official regulation.
But bylaw officers, police officers and pound officers in Saanich say they’re not aware of any such rule. The Ministry of Environment, too, says burying a pet in your own backyard is fine, as long as it’s done responsibly.
The only restriction is that the burial not be done in a way that causes pollution, according to the Environmental Management Act.
Burial at your dog’s favourite public park, however, is an offence.
“If someone wants to take their pet with them and bury it, it’s technically illegal in certain areas, but it’s a law that is frequently ignored,” said veterinarian Nick Shaw.
Terry Woodsworth, who’s operated Lagoon Taxidermy in Colwood for nearly two decades, says he’s had requests to taxidermy pets in the past, but it’s rare.
“I have done it. Will I again? Absolutely not,” he said. “Hunters come in, they’re happy, they’re proud of what they’ve got. I don’t like when someone is upset when they bring in a dead animal … And now the pressure’s on to make it look as good as (the owners) have seen it every day.”
Animals can also be disposed of at Hartland Landfill, but the manager of solid waste operations at Hartland says it’s rare to see a pet brought there.
“Typically we tend to see the Saanich animal pound, they’ll bring euthanized animals, or commercial ventures and farmers,” said Tom Watkins.
Animals brought in to the landfill are treated as controlled waste, along with items such as sewage sludge and asbestos, and are buried immediately in clay-lined trenches so as to not attract predators.
“It’s not something I would encourage someone to do with their family pet,” Watkins said.
Glabais, the pet hospital administrator, says memorial services are a convenience that was needed in Greater Victoria.
“It’s more acceptable than it was years ago. I think people felt it wasn’t entirely socially acceptable to grieve for your pet,” she said. “People are finding pets are like family now, and they expect the same things they do with their pet as they do with their family members.”
Rose calls pet grief “disenfranchised,” and says she’s thankful to have found a way to honour Rosie the way she felt appropriate.
“You look at all the things for pets – bakeries, daycare, clothing. But they forgot about the end-of-life care,” she said. “Giving them a proper memorial is nothing compared to what a pet gives you during their lifetime.”