A dear friend called recently and asked if I would accompany him and his ten-year canine companion on what would be their final trip to the vet. Saying goodbye to a beloved buddy is never easy, and then there are the days that follow: The house is quieter, we call out for them (and then remember), and there’s no need for that walk. Maybe we feel strange, even inappropriate, considering a new furry addition to the family. They can’t be replaced, yet we need to move forward—perhaps what’s needed is the kind of closure commemoration provides.
Every relationship is unique, and every memorial needs customisation to properly frame the life and times of our four-legged friend. We’ve collected a dozen of our favourite ideas to help inspire your own personal mix of eulogising and celebrating a dog’s life.
A thoughtful journey through documenting your dog’s life may be the mental walk you need. Consider human obits in the newspaper: When were they born, or when did you bring them home? Did they have canine achievements? Favourite events, parks, food, ball? Favourite furry friends? Whose lives did they touch beyond yours? Who are they survived by? You could post this online, have someone with beautiful handwriting write it out and frame it or just keep it in your box or drawer of special memories. eHow offers a helpful step-by-step guide to get you started.
If you retain the ashes or form of your fallen friend, you may choose to create a space in your back garden, or the family home, and actually have a spot that draws a visit—and fond memories—from time to time. This may feel maudlin for some and hinder moving on, but for others it’s no different from having a final resting place for our human loved ones. You can top it with a headstone a memorial plaque or garden stone. Like my friend, most pet parents will likely face a few of these moments in life, so think now about how more than one might fit into a memorial garden or area as life brings seasons of birth and passing. Or maybe you just want them to rest at that spot by the fence where they always barked at the postie.
Invite the right mix of friends and family—those who get it, those who loved you and your pet and will bring the right level of comfort and respect—and hold a service in your home, back garden, or somewhere special. Perhaps the two of you had a special song, or a particular tune reminds you of them. Have the right friends share their thoughts about your mutual friend, or their memories of the two of you together.
Whether it’s the actual spot where they’re buried or just symbolic, select a plant or tree that can grow from their passing, new life from old, a living vestige of your fondness for this wonderful animal that now, in a new way, continues to grow.
From Bonusprint to Boots, there are numerous places to have photo books created. Their soul may not truly be captured in photos, but the spirit reflected in them can grace your coffee table or bookshelf. The selection process alone—of puppy pictures to those duo selfies you took of the two of you with your smartphone—will recall the best of times, and crafting captions and adding descriptions will make it a story to share with kids and dog lovers for years to come.
If photo books sound old school, we have 21st-century collaborative technology to create a shared space for friends and family to contribute. Ask friends (and maybe a special sitter) to look through photos for pics of you two, then add them to Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. You might discover forgotten memories others have captured throughout the years, and even see you and your companion through the eyes and lenses of others.
When the final day of black Labrador Duke Roberts was turned into a blog by her pet parents, it went viral with shared tears. If you know the day is coming for your dog and can create a blog or website like I Died Today, that may be a way to bring both closure and commemoration. Since many times we don’t know or plan the day, simply planning to create a “Life of ___” page may be the way to go. Even if you’re not very web savvy, WordPress and other blog sites provide simple ways a way to create a living, online testament to their life.
Opening up a book or pulling up a website may not provide a simple, concise way to take that trip down memory lane. If you have bits of video and pictures that can be assembled into a 2-3 minute video, you can add a song that captures the essence of your dog and use Windows MovieMaker or iMovie to create a video. (If you, another family member or friend aren’t up to the task, there are services that will produce it for you). Upload it to Youtube (private or public, your choice), and if you’re passing the dog park and waxing nostalgic, you can pause and refresh that season of life with a poignant, audio-visual rush of emotions.
It’s not glib to say that since your dog was a fixture in your life and home for so long, a permanent fixture in that home may be a way to pass by each day and bring a warm smile of remembrance to bear. Whether you commission a painting that actually employs the ashes of your pet or a glass piece that incorporates their ashes, this may be the depiction you need.
Speaking of ashes, you might not have them mixed in with paint so much as simply rest in a decorative urn. This may not be for everyone, since there’s always a fear of loss or breakage, but with or without the ashes a commemorative piece may hold a fitting tribute after your dog’s passing. If not their ashes, perhaps a porcelain statue of their breed you feel holds enough resemblance to evoke fond thoughts and a smile.
The choices of what can be done with ashes—or the body—of our pets are seemingly endless. From putting ashes into fireworks to old-fashioned taxidermy, that trail can be chased for hours without end. Our favourite creative use of remains, although expensive, is the creation of a gem, which could be displayed at home or put into jewellery and worn, keeping them close to you forever.
Perhaps a way to best memorialise your pet and find your own footsteps forward is to pay it forward, canine-style. The options are wide open: Did they love to play with kids? Did you get them from a local animal shelter? Did they suffer from a canine malady that is under research? You could fund something general or specific, from a donation to Dog’s Trust or canine cancer research. A charitable contribution in their name could be a way to attach them to a final act of unconditional love.
Rituals, mementos, memorials and exercises like these can help along the path of transition, but remember: not every one is right for you, and in some cases they might make us hold on in ways that aren’t helpful. Read the PDSA’s guide to bereavement for more insight on coping with loss. They may be gone, but we are not alone.