Burying a dog or cat is an important part of the grieving process for many people. It certainly was for me. So as someone who advises it, and has done it, I was annoyed to see “Why you shouldn’t bury your pet in the backyard” featured on my ABC.
It’s the classic case of sitting in an ivory tower making the rest of Australia feel guilty for doing what comes naturally. It also says some fairly silly things. So before I give you some simple tips for a proper home burial, let’s clear them up.
That the concentrated anaesthetic used for euthanasia is dangerous to other animalsThis isn’t an argument against home burial, it’s an argument for burying pets properly.
That we should enclose their remains in a container that prevents animals accessing the bodyPlease don’t do this. When you read the right way to do it you’ll see why.
That the diseases they died from might spread to other animals or peopleWe’re certainly going to recommend cremation if a pet dies of a contagious disease. However, this is now exceedingly rare.
That your dog or cat’s body may be useful to scienceI encourage donations for research and training (see below). However, the idea that universities are willing or able to accept the sorts of numbers involved is ludicrous.
That local councils have restrictions on pet burialI rang my three local councils, and visited many other websites. I am not aware of any council in Australia that has rules against pet burial. Many even give sensible ‘how to’ guidelines.
Pros & Cons Of Home Burial
Reasons why home burial may be right for you include:
- Grieving- no two people respond to the loss of a pet the same way. For some, having them buried at home is a great comfort.
- Environment- done well, a pet burial will be carbon neutral and your animal goes back to the soil.
- Cost- we have to be realistic about what people can afford.
However, home burial is only an option, and these days less people do it. I suspect the reasons are:
- Difficulty- a good home burial is both physically and emotionally draining.
- Availability- many people don’t have access to suitable land, especially if they are renting or live in an apartment.
- Preference- the Animal Welfare League here provides a good cremation service that most owners find very comforting.
How To Bury A Pet Well
Follow these simple guidelines for a responsible pet burial.
- Choose an area set aside for ornamental plants, not food crops. Be aware of locations of utilities such as power and water, and future plans for the area.
- Put your other pets away until after the burial
- Dig a hole at least one metre or three feet deep
- Wrap your pet’s body in something biodegradable like a cotton pillowcase or woollen rug. Avoid synthetic fabrics, plastic bags or sealed containers.
- Lay them in the hole and cover with all the dirt, tamping it down periodically to make it hard to dig.
- Mark the location. To be extra sure, place a slab or stones over the top, but this shouldn’t be necessary.
Just a warning: it’s very hard to do. Having done this several times, I now wish I had asked someone who wasn’t so emotionally attached.
Importantly, commercial species such as chickens and other poultry cannot be legally buried. Contact your council for advice in your area. Here’s the advice from the City of Salisbury, in Adelaide, South Australia.
Alternatives To Cremation & Burial
Pet cremation services allow for a wide range of choice, from special urns and keepsakes all the way to plastic containers for scattering the ashes. You can look at the Animal Welfare League’s options here. Costs are usually around $300 and go towards supporting their animal shelters.
I have enquired with the Companion Animal Health Centre at the Adelaide Uni veterinary school. They are willing to accept donations, mainly for student teaching, but aren’t able to guarantee they could always say yes. The answer will depend on storage space and current student needs.
Another disadvantage of donation to a teaching school is the lack of availability for most Australians. Even here in Adelaide, it’s a long drive.
Lastly, if you’ve seen our new clinic plans, you may know that we are building a pet memorial garden. It will be to lodge a remembrance and even place some ashes in a reserve that should exist for generations. Although the building is finished, the garden isn’t yet but we’ll let you know when it’s ready.
In saying all this I haven’t asked you how you’re going. I hope the loss of your pet hasn’t been unbearable,. If you’re having trouble, you’re not alone. I’ve written some advice here on bereavement after losing a pet that I hope you find useful.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
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