If you've read the other articles in this series, you'll know that I recently had to put my cat to sleep. You'll also know that it affected me profoundly enough to write so many articles on the subject. This one may seem a bit more morbid and odd than the others, but it's probably one of the most significant things I did for my cat before I buried her. Obviously, there are no rules for this, beyond that of following your own heart. I'm simply stating my experience in case it might help someone else who, like me, found themselves doing this for the first time since childhood -- and having no idea what they did back then, but knowing that they wanted to make this count for something.
Pet Caskets: Creating vs Buying
I was totally unaware that beautiful, handmade pet caskets exist. But even if I had been, they aren't available in this country. If they were, I would have certainly considered purchasing one, but I'm quite content with the one I made. If you can afford to purchase a pet casket, and if you feel compelled to do so, then, by all means, do it. But if you can't, or if you're not keen on the idea for whatever reason, do not feel obligated. Your pet is not going to be angry at you, regardless of your decision. What matters is that you do the best you can with what you can.
If you're handy with wood, you may want to create your own box. If you're like me (and not handy with wood, tools, or anything manly) than you'll probably need to settle on a regular box. In my case, I was burying a small cat and a suitable box was very easy to find. If you've got a large pet, this may be more difficult. I recommend visiting a local moving company to see if they've got an appropriately sized and sturdy box for you to use.
- I'd said my goodbyes the night before, but there's an inherent feeling of guilt that accompanies the decision of putting a pet to sleep. I dealt with some of this by writing a letter to her, sealing it with a heart sticker and placing it between the bed and the box itself.
- I gave myself a few moments (give yourself as long as you need -- it's important) to look at her in the box as she lay there, and to say one last goodbye before I closed the box. I then sealed it with very strong electrical tape, reinforcing the edges.
- You may want to write something on the outside of the box, such as your pet's name. Or, you may want to simply create or purchase a pet memorial stone to serve that purpose.
Making the Coffin
In the case of my cat, I sat down for a moment and thought about what meant something to her. She loved her little cat bed and, as it happened, that cat bed fit perfectly into the box. I'd taken that cat bed with me to the vet and she slept in it before she was put to sleep, so I felt that that was an appropriate item to keep in the box -- and far more easy to see, than just setting her down in an empty box.
Because I didn't want anything slipping around in the box while I carried it, I looked around for something to fill the gaps with. I happened to have a good deal of beautiful colored tissue paper and so that's what I used. If you know cats, you know they love that stuff (and boxes, as well) so this all seemed highly appropriate.
I happen to love stickers and had a lot of Valentine's Day themed stickers at the time. I used these to cover the inside of her box, because, obviously, the outside of the box would be irrelevant.
Her body was still pliable at the time, and I set her down in the bed in such a way that she really looked very much as though she was just sleeping. I cannot tell you how much better it felt to see her this way before I closed the box, than if I'd simply left her body at the clinic for some type of disposal.
Burying Without a Box
In some cases, people may wish to give their pet a more "natural" burial and simply place them directly into the ground. If you're comfortable with this, I've nothing against it, but do be aware that once the body starts to decompose, this may attract scavenging animals more easily. A specially designed bag may be helpful to ward this type of thing off. Personally, I cringe at the idea of placing a deceased pet in a plastic bag, but this may be necessary in cases where the animal is too large for a box, or if the owner has some aversion to caskets or boxes for personal reasons.
In short, there is no wrong way to bury your pet. What matters most is that you take the time to put your heart into whichever method you choose.