9 Ways to Honor Your Companion Animal
Part Three of a four-part series on Animal-Related Grief
By Nadja Lubiw-Hazard, DVM
Losing your companion animal can be devastating, and the grief can be overwhelming. One of the reasons that grieving for a companion animal is so difficult is that there are very few socially sanctioned rituals through which grief and mourning can be expressed, and no recognized or standard funeral services for companion animals. Finding your own way to honour the loss of your dearly beloved animal is an important step to healing.
Nine Ways to Memorialize Your Companion Animal:
1. MEMORIAL PAWPRINT
If your pet has not passed yet, you might want to create a memorial paw print, either in ink or clay. Many veterinary clinics offer this option when it is time to say goodbye. This is a lovely memento that might be kept in a jewellry box with other mementos, or displayed in your home.
2. UNIQUE URN
If you are planning to cremate your animal, choosing a special urn for your pet’s ashes might be an option, especially if you plan to keep the ashes, rather than scatter them.
3. COMMEMORATE A SPECIAL PLACE
One of the best ways to remember and honour your animal is to commemorate a specific place that honours their passing. A more traditional option is a pet cemetery for your animal’s ashes or remains. Many people are unaware that this is a possibility. Furever Memorials (a business that creates engraved granite pet memorials, another option to consider) provides a comprehensive list of Pet Cemeteries in Ontario. You can find that list here.
Others might choose a place closer to home, or a less formal option, especially if cost is prohibitive. Something as simple as a rock with your animal’s name painted on it, placed in your garden, could be lovely. Creating a living memorial by planting a special tree, bush or flower bed, like forget-me-nots, dogwood, or catnip, is a way to remember your animal long after their passing. You might consider contacting a local park to see if you can sponsor a bench or tree, affixed with an acknowledgement plaque memorializing your animal. Or perhaps you want to consider a special place in your home to display your animal’s ashes, their paw print, a special picture, and more.
A common way to remember and celebrate your animal’s life is with artwork. Engaging an artist to draw or paint a portrait of your animal is one way to have a lovely and lasting reminder of who your animal was. You might also consider commissioning an artist to make a special piece of jewelry with your animal’s collar or tag. Another unique option is to use your animal’s fur or their ashes in the jewellry. Have a look online: there are many possibilities.
5. PET BELONGINGS
Keeping your animal’s favourite toy, collar, blanket or bowl as a symbol of your animal provides a lasting reminder of their time with you. Consider using them to make a special memento, like a mobile of their toys or a planter from their bowl. If you have a backyard or balcony, you might want to create a small birdbath with their bowl.
Getting a tattoo of your pet’s picture, or their name has become a popular way to honour your companion animal. For some, an impermanent tattoo might be a better option.
7. HOST A CEREMONY
Celebrating and honouring the life of your pet with others is a wonderful way to express the depth of your bond. This might happen immediately after the loss, or perhaps on the anniversary of their death, or on their birthday. This ceremony might take place at your home or in your backyard, or if you have a dedicated memorial, it could take place there. It might take place as your scatter the ashes of your beloved animal. Consider inviting family or friends who were close to your animal, or who have been supportive to you during this difficult time. Attendees might share a special memory of your animal, or perhaps read a poem, sing a hymn, or share a prayer or blessing. Perhaps you might write a eulogy. Or you might take part in a community ceremony. The Ontario Pet Loss Group hosts an in-person yearly candle lighting service.
Donating to an animal organization in the name of your animal is another way to honour the love you had and to gift that love forward. Or perhaps volunteering at an animal shelter to help other animals is another option.
9. PET PANTRY
A relatively new and very unique way of honouring your companion animal is to create a Pet Pantry in their name. Pet pantries are modelled after Little Free Libraries, which are a common sight in neighbourhoods around Toronto. Pantries might be stocked with food, treats, toys, poop bags, leashes, booties, sticks, catnip, etc. Wild Harrier, a new Canadian petfood company, has kicked off the movement with the installation of five pet pantries in Toronto, and the offer to stock up your own pantry with their biggest food bundle for free. Learn more here
Whether you choose one or more of these options, one of the simplest ways to continue to honour your companion animal is by talking and sharing your stories. You might join a Pet Loss Support Group or talk with a supportive friend or family member. Remembering the happy memories, the good times, and the love you shared is a wonderful way to heal from the grief of losing them.