Following my euthanasia article a few weeks ago, an animal rescuer — and good client of mine — suggested that I mention giving your pet a wake for the benefit of the surviving animals at home.
I always do this. Everyone needs closure — even the animals still living at home. And how can we understand what’s going through their minds when one of their own suddenly disappears?
“After humane euthanasia,” my client said, “I brought both Apples and Charlie back home, placed their bodies on blankets and had wakes for each of them. The surviving dogs were able to sniff, poke, howl and know that this family member was gone. It was a bit more work for me, but it felt like a gift of understanding the changes in the household and, as it turned out, it was for all of us.”
So well stated. And I can relate, after having adopted more than 20 animals — sometimes geriatric — over the years. I’ve held about 15 wakes at home.
Prepare in Advance
Let’s talk logistics first: If your pet is euthanized in the veterinary hospital, are you prepared to bring your deceased friend back home to hold the wake? Do you want to take a large dog home after euthanasia, have a funeral and then possibly bring the body back to the hospital for cremation? This requires planning and manpower.
The process can also be highly disturbing for some folks. You are dealing with a dead body and all the fluids associated with the end of life. Many adult clients have told me the death of a pet is the closest they themselves have been to death. My suggestion is to arrange a lot of help if you are going to be your own funeral director.
If you plan a euthanasia, contact your veterinarian and express your wishes. We can have blankets ready as well as manpower to help you in and out of car or home euthanasia. We can be your funeral directors so you can simply grieve.
What the Animals Think
If you hold a pet funeral, don’t be surprised at anything the surviving pets might do around the body. They could grieve, cry or sniff incessantly. Or they might just walk away.
I believe animals have an intense emotional life, far more complicated than acknowledged. It’s not uncommon for bonded animals to stay by the body or roam the house for days after their partner dies, looking confused.
Even before death, when an animal in the house is very ill, his dog and cat friends know something is up. They can shun the sick pet or be more attentive. They may even “pick on” a friend who is under the weather. They are reacting to a household change, and we are not anthropomorphizing when we acknowledge their rich lives and responses.
Next Step: Burial or Cremation
30 minutes or less is a good time interval to “wake” your pet. Be sure to have the next step for burial or cremation prearranged.
Vets can help — I have stayed at houses after a euthanasia so everyone could say goodbye, brought the bodies back to the hospital for final arrangements or made sure there was adequate help for home burials.
Some strange things have occurred over the years. Once, after a home euthanasia, I started to wrap the deceased cat in her blanket, and the client stopped me with a strong hand. “The spirit has not yet left the body,” she said calmly. Respecting her wishes, I stayed in a corner until the time seemed right.
Another time, I went to a house full of living cats and a lovely geriatric woman. We humanely euthanized her 18-year-old cat on the kitty’s favorite chair, and all went well. Afterward, I wanted to help this frail, older woman with final arrangements. “Oh no, dear,” she said. “That’s her chair. You just leave her right there where she belongs.”
The next day, I contacted a family member who had helped with the burial. Without that help, I think the cat would have stayed on the chair indefinitely.
Never discount your emotions or those of your surviving pets in this difficult time. For you multi-pet folks, the survivors are a great help and comfort.
If you have lost your one and only, I strongly advocate giving your love to a new pet as soon as it seems right. For me, the “right” time is usually very soon.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed April 20, 2016.