Funeral Rituals: The Death of a Dog

“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.” ‑ Anonymous

This was the quote etched into the condolences card my family received after our dog passed away last November. We lost more than a pet — we lost a member of our family.

I had arrived home on Tuesday morning for Thanksgiving break, one of my favorite times of the year because it was a rare occasion of gathering with relatives and friends to eat turkey, stuffing, and cornbread but also traditional Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. However, that same evening, my dog suddenly collapsed and passed away.

In the moment of her death, my mother and father were devastated. They cried, wailed and clung onto her body, trying to shake her awake. Beside them, my younger brother sat stiffly with an emotionless face. I immediately stood up and searched the house for gloves, sheets, trash bags and cleaning supplies. My parents tearfully urged my brother and I to say our goodbyes, and my mom insisted on cutting a lock of her hair and keeping it.

In the following days, we cancelled all Thanksgiving plans, and we managed logistics for cremation plans in order to take care of the body. My mother refused to throw out her bed, toys, and items, and she would speak to a photo of my dog as if she were still there. My father, a few days after her death, set out some apple slices (her favorite) and some water, saying that spirits of family always return to visit a few days after their passing.

When I initially researched dog burials, I was surprised by 1. The fact that they existed, and 2. The amount of pet cemeteries there were in close proximity. My family ended up asking our veterinarian to help take care of the body, we as needed a place to keep her over Thanksgiving. He asked us if we wanted an autopsy, but my parents said no, as they did not want to harm her physical body and hurt or disturb her spirit. The vet set us up with a nice pet funeral home that helped cremate our dog. My mother chose an urn, which included an impression of her paw print out of a few different options.

We loved our dog like another family member, so we went through a grieving process as if we lost a human family member. Through this experience, I realized that there are many parallels in psychological and emotional impact, feeling of loss, and rituals for humans and pets.

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