Until the last decade or so, our pets on slipping this mortal coil would be interred either at the bottom of the garden - dog and goldfish lying paw to fin - or in rather less dignified ways. It's only relatively recently that pet crematoria have sprung up and other ways of remembering our pets have emerged. So, what choices do 'pet parents' have upon losing their beloved companion animal and why are we increasingly deciding to give our pets, generally our dogs and cats, send-offs befitting any other family member?
Recently, I wrote about the 'death of embarrassment over pet bereavement'. Our changing regard for pets is part of the issue here. We're no longer feeling 'embarrassed', or even uneasy, about showing our grief and admitting that we need time to get over the death of a pet. Many of us never felt embarrassed at all, but we were aware that pet grief was sometimes misunderstood. These days, we're more likely to communicate our loss to family and friends, ask for time off work, and, most importantly, explore the options when arranging the pet's interment or cremation. We're planning more than ever and are expecting options that will fit with our own ideas about saying goodbye to an important member of our family.
We're spending more on our pets than ever before, and that's affecting how we say our final goodbyes. Total spending on pet care in the UK is set to reach a record high of $7.16bn this year, a three per cent increase on last year's $6.92bn and a growth of 25pc since 2010, according to figures from Euromonitor. Gina Westbrook, director of strategy briefings at Euromonitor, said that the 'humanisation' of pets is the impetus behind this trend. This change in mindsets is leading to a developing market for pet memorials, cemeteries and more advanced forms of pet cremation services. We are still far behind the US, however, where the pet memorials industry is more mature. In the US, pet owners even have the option of launching their pets' ashes into orbit and deep space aboard spacecraft. The new service by Celestis Pets has four service options, which start at $995 (£590). The company's slogan is 'because your pet loved to explore!' As with so much else, are the Americans boldly going where we will follow?
There is little doubt that the options are better now than they to be. Until the 1980s, vets in the UK used to offer a simple disposal service to customers, which involved taking the pet to the local refuse facility to be landfilled - a form of 'burial' which is still legal today. Then, veterinary disposal services for pets appeared. This was only slightly more preferable to landfill, as 'mass incineration' was the only option. Gradually, pet owners had the choice of having the pet's ashes returned to them for a proper burial. Unfortunately, many of these services, are still not 'individual' cremations; thus resulting in contamination with other remains. Crematoria are slowly catching on and are starting to offer 'individual cremations'; but the rule of thumb here is that unless it is specified, assume that a mass cremation is the only option. There are now around 300 pet crematoria and 50 pet cemeteries in the UK.
Our pets simply deserve more when it comes to their final send off. We have already experienced the 'death of embarrassment over pet bereavement', but the ways in which we can remember our beloved companion animals still seem rather limited. A casket with a picture of a 'rainbow bridge' is often the best we can hope for. We recently reviewed 3D pet sculptures by a company called Arty Lobster; items such as this are far better memento mori, in our opinion.
We ended up getting together with this company to launch a new national day in the UK to remember our deceased pets. National Pet Remembrance Day is set to take place for the first time on Sunday July 5, 2015 with a Twitter Chat for people to share their thoughts and photos using the hashtag #PetRemembranceDay. It's a unique day of remembrance that will hopefully be of use and support to people going through pet bereavement or who simply want to set aside a day to remember a pet. There are many ways in which people can remember deceased pets on National Pet Remembrance Day. These include holding a memorial service in a place where the pet liked to walk or play or creating a living memorial by planting a tree or flowerbed. More ideas can be found at the following page: http://www.petsmag.co.uk/blog/national-pet-remembrance-day-launches-today-to-help-people-remember-deceased-pets.
Whether we like it or not, the 'humanisation' of pets is having a positive effect on making people want to say a more dignified final goodbye to their pets. Treating companion animals like members of the family is not just about splashing out on doggie fashion or new fads like canine facials. It's about caring properly for our pets in life and at the very end, something that surely no one can argue with.
Marie Carter is the Editor and Publisher of Pets Magazine, a unique leading lifestyle magazine for pet owners, with a monthly readership of 24,000. She also runs specialist PR, Content-generation & Marketing & Digital Publishing Services for the Pet Industry - more details at Pets Magazine's website.