What Happens After – Home Care

We’ve come to my third and final post about caring for your pet after they pass; this is also the hardest to write because it’s one of the most sensitive topics to confront.  One of the most surprisingly difficult challenges we frequently face at the end of a pet’s life, these days, is helping a family that wants to bury their beloved pet themselves.  As our lives become more and more urban, what may have once been a simple and commonplace decision has become increasingly complicated.  If this is a path that you want to take, it is important to communicate clearly and in advance with your veterinary team.

As simple and comforting as a home burial for your pet may seem, there are many factors to consider, both legal and practical – I am going to go over the most basic and common of them here, but the most important thing to know is that the laws and requirements can vary widely by location; make sure to talk to your veterinary team, and to plan in advance.  With that in mind, if you want to lay your pet to rest yourself, here are the details that you need to keep in mind.  Be aware, I am going to speak in detail about care of remains here.

-You cannot legally bury your pet on public property.  While every jurisdiction may have its own laws about burial on private property, it is never legal to bury animals on public property, such as parks or reserve lands.

-The legality of burying pets on private property varies depending on local laws.  In Massachusetts, at least, this can vary by city and township.  If you wish to perform a home burial, you will need to contact your city’s town hall to determine whether this is legal in your area.  You will also need to contact DigSafe to make sure that the area you are planning to use is away from power, gas, and water lines.

-The physical effort of burying a pet at home can also be significant.  While our pets are often smaller than we are (but not always!), we still need to make sure to lay them to rest deeply enough to make sure that they remain safe and undisturbed.   This means making sure that their final resting place is at least 4 to 6 feet deep, and that they are covered by at least 3-4 feet of earth.

-If an animal is helped to pass by euthanasia, this process involves an injection of lethal medication.  This means that any other animal that gets access to your pet after they pass will also ingest these fatal medications.  Therefore, for any pet that passes by euthanasia, it is vitally important that they either be laid to rest in a casket or under a layer of rock as well as earth to prevent any risk of predation.

-The time of year can also affect your ability to perform a home burial – if the ground is frozen, it may be challenging to dig a resting place for your beloved pet.

Home burial is, for many families, a beloved tradition and a cherished honor, and it can be very important to hold onto this way to maintain a connection to your pet after they pass.  If that is true for you, then I absolutely encourage you to work with your veterinary team to plan in advance and help arrange a way to make this happen as smoothly as possible.

If it turns out that your township has laws preventing home burial, or that other circumstances prevent this from being a valid option,  your hospice veterinarian may be able to help you come up with alternatives.  Burial at a pet cemetery, cremation and burial of ashes, or creation of a memorial garden may all be options for having a physical location to visit and honor your pet’s memory.  The most important thing to remember is that you do not need to navigate this maze alone in your grief.  Your veterinary team is here to support you, and help you create the best possible end-of-life experience for you an your beloved pet.