Paws For A Moment To Reflect

Feb 17, 2015
Paws For A Moment To Reflect Every so often something that little bit different comes along – a blip in the already widely varying continuity.

It was in a nice little housing development. The residents had barely been in their new homes for a twelve-month before their cul-de-sac was christened by the intrusion of bereavement and the consequent appearance of undertakers one Sunday afternoon.       

The four of us stood round the body lying on the garage floor.
“How old was she?”
“Hmm. Not too bad an age then…as these things go.”
“No. We can’t complain.”
“Still a kicker when it comes though isn’t it?”
“Are you going to stay out here, or would you prefer to be out of the way?”
“No, we’ll go back into the lounge and let you carry on. You’ll let us know when you’ve got the ashes?”
“Yes. We’ll get the cremation arranged a.s.a.p and we’re down that way again at the end of the week with a funeral so we’ll collect the ashes at the same time.”

It’s not the first time I’ve arranged a pet dog cremation and right from the outset I found myself immersed in a parallel universe laden with all the concerns of human disposal. The uneasy manner in which the small independent pet crematoria view their larger rivals is every bit the mirror image of the human funeral profession, as I discovered when a proudly small-time provider told me that if you leave it to your vet to arrange, the surgery will normally have a contract with a particular animal crematorium – often a large facility with wide geographic coverage, a fleet of vehicles and staff resources that enable them to offer competitive pricing.

But if you want an individual cremation you’ll find yourself in a world of fee scales characterised by references to ‘small animal’, ‘cat or small dog’, ‘large dogs’ and, if your chosen animal crematorium has the facilities (and the trucks), then ‘equines’ too. I can all too readily imagine the dreadful process involved in losing a horse and I have it on the authority of two lifelong horse owners that having your horse put down and taken away is a desperately distressing thing to endure, simply because of the unavoidable physicality involved.

But leaving equines aside, for the average cat or dog owner who’s so minded to want it, individual pet cremation is every bit as professional and heartfelt as it is for humans, even to the extent that many pet crematoria have their own gardens of remembrance for ashes and cemeteries for actual burial. The provision of the animal equivalent of a chapel of rest for those last moments with your pet seems almost to be a given with these places and it came as no surprise to me to learn that there’s an Association of Private Pet Cemeteries & Crematoria.

Inevitably there will be those who regard animal funeral services as overly-sentimental and irrational, which is fair enough. But the impact of pet bereavement itself should never be underestimated. The loss of a companion animal – particularly for say, an older person already on their own, but ultimately for people of all ages – can be utterly devastating and whilst the death of certain human beings undoubtedly leaves the world a better place, companion animals by their very nature always have a positive impact on people’s lives and their death is always a massive loss for someone.

There are many pet crematoria around the country, offering a very comprehensive service and quick internet search will yield a variety of excellent websites. I’ve always used a pet crematorium just north of Bristol, which rather ironically is located just a quarter of a mile from our principal human crematorium. It’s run by a husband & wife team: lovely people...good people. I have a vivid memory of carrying Tibor (pronounced Teebor, for the benefit of the many that could never get the hang of it!) our own Golden Labrador across their large garden to the little chapel of rest they have there.

I can tell you now, even quite some years later, that it was a genuine relief to be back up the road a few days later dealing with a dead human again. 

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.

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