Pet ashes to ashes, dust to dust
October 17, 2008 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Our dog died yesterday... should we keep his ashes? If yes, what should we do with them?

Elmo the family dog, a 14 year old Shih-Tzu, died yesterday. I'm devastated (I can barely type this without crying); even though he was OLD and we knew this was coming for years, it was still a shock to return home after work and find his poor little body lying cold and stiff on the floor. I have been put in charge of deciding whether we want his ashes back after cremation. Yes, I realize this should be a family decision but everyone has (unfairly) turned to me to decide.

Catch: I need to decide by end of today.

The main argument against getting the ashes is horribly pragmatic - we wouldn't know what to DO with them. Elmo has always been an indoor dog: as puppy, he was raised in a Hong Kong apartment and has stayed even more indoors as he aged these last few years. Consequently, there's nowhere I can think of to scatter his ashes - no favourite outdoor spot, not even in our own yard. If we kept his ashes in an urn, what do we do with them years down the road? Do I (and it will be me, since I'm making this decision), 50 years down the road, want to be that weird old lady shlepping her puppy ashes from place to place, only to eventually have them thrown out by someone else after I'm gone?

On the other hand, the thought of his remains being chucked out en masse to the municipal garbage dump is almost too horrible to contemplate right now.

Has anyone decided NOT to keep ashes and later regretted the decision? Or vice-versa? Also, ideas to memorialize a beloved pet are welcome.
posted by kitkatcathy to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
We always buried our pets' ashes along the edge of our yard, with some sort of painted rock placed over the top to mark the spot. Family members who wanted to could say goodbye or read a poem or whatever as we did the burial.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I know it's tough. Hang in there.
posted by vytae at 8:30 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I kept my dog's ashes and was surprised by how much comfort I received from having them around. I kept them on my desk (my dog spent a lot of time sleeping under my desk while I worked) for several months and as my grief lessened, moved them to a bookcase shelf in my bedroom.

As far as the future goes: I'm not going to worry about it. If the worst thing someone can think about me after I'm gone was that I loved my dog, so be it.
posted by jamaro at 8:39 AM on October 17, 2008 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your pup. You could plant a tree and scatter his ashes among the soil while planting. That's what Mark Levin did when his dog Sprite died.

Seems like a good closure idea as well as a way to remember and honor Elmo each time you look at the tree.
posted by susiepie at 8:40 AM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have kept the ashes of my departed companion animals. They in tins that I decorated with pictures of Mr. Kitten and Purrie, and I don't regret keeping them on the shelf (even if others think it's weird). As an alternative, see if there is a pet memorial garden in your province. There is one here in Indiana run by the crematorium, and they have beautiful gardens that they place the ashes in. They tell the pet owners what flower bed that they are in, and they can visit and whatnot. Kinda nice.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:45 AM on October 17, 2008

Best answer: Get the ashes now. You don't have to decide what to do with them right away. Later on, when you're thinking clearly, a fabulously perfect idea for what to do with them will present itself. Or not. But at least you'll be in a better frame of my mind to make a decision.

In case you aren't aware of the procedure: If you decide to get the ashes returned, you may also have to decide right then if you want a fancy urn (more expensive) or a basic container. You can ask your vet to keep the ashes at their facility until you are ready to pick them up. Not all vets do this - sometimes the ashes are mailed directly to you. Ask, if it matters to you. I've heard of people leaving ashes at a vet for months or longer until they felt ready to deal with them.

It will take several weeks for the ashes to come back, give or take. You end up with a cardboard box, approximately 6 inches or so on a side. Inside the box is the container with the ashes. You don't have to open it up to look inside if you don't want to you.

The best memorial, IMO, is a donation in the pet's name to a local shelter or humane society. Most of them have some kind of public memorial area (a garden, a brick walk, etc.) for just this purpose.

So sorry for the loss of your pup. It sounds like he had a good long life.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:55 AM on October 17, 2008 [6 favorites]

For almost 20 years now, my mother has been schlepping the ashes of the dog we had when I was growing up (and the next dog, and a cat, too). She plans on being cremated and having them join her in her final resting place. They're not in anything fancy, just a small nondescript box that isn't any more trouble to move from place to place than any other sentimental belongings.
posted by ellenaim at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

When our ferret Grainne died several years ago, I was in the process of moving from Texas to New Jersey (it happened a week before the move date; my husband had already moved and was about to fly back for the final packing and driving cross country). We didn't want to bury her remains at the house we were selling. Our vet, whom we'd known for a long time, kindly offered to bury her remains on his ranch. If you get the ashes, and I would, maybe you have a friend who could do you a similar favor now or later?
posted by immlass at 8:57 AM on October 17, 2008

Or, in a better frame of your own mind.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:57 AM on October 17, 2008

When our dog died, the vet offered the options of a "country burial". They had several different options, depending mostly on whether you wanted a specific grave site to visit and/or a marker. However, we buy a nice stone marker and put in the back garden as a memorial.
posted by metahawk at 8:59 AM on October 17, 2008

Best answer: Keep the ashes now. You can figure out what to do with them years down the road when that time comes, but for now it would probably be more comforting to have them with you than if they were disposed of by the vet. Just because you have them now doesn't mean you have to immediately decide what to do with them. The worst case scenario if you keep them is that you eventually wish you hadn't and you can dispose of them then, while the worst case scenario if you let go of them now is guilt and grief if you regret your decision.

We kept the collar and tags of our dog after she died. They sit by the computer in our kitchen and I rub them to keep my hands busy while I'm reading a website or something. It's a good way to remember her.

I'm really sorry for your loss. Good luck in whatever you decide.
posted by lilac girl at 9:06 AM on October 17, 2008

My cats' ashes are in wooden boxes on the mantle. (Tthe boxes were one of the moderately priced options in the catalog of urns my vet had. They're nice-looking but understated.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:09 AM on October 17, 2008

I kept my last dog's ashes because when I was asked to do so I was extremely emotional. Looking back I wish I hadn't...they don't serve any nostalgic purpose for me. The little shrine I have to her memory includes pictures, leashes, her collar and dog tags, and would have been perfectly complete without the urn.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by vito90 at 9:12 AM on October 17, 2008

Something you could theoretically do with her ashes other they spreading them outside is to have them used in a ceramic process. A lot of the coloring agents used in fine ceramics are based on ash (usually wood, but I have seen bone ash too) and the results are often spectacular. Seeing as your dog is from a country that essentially invented fine ceramics and this use would give you something tangible from that tradition that is very much an indoor item it seems like it could be appropriate.

You would have to find a potter, and commission a set of work, but the results ought to be pretty nice, and the upside is that barring accident they could still be around in a few thousand years.

Sorry for your loss, your dog was lucky to have you.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:14 AM on October 17, 2008

Best answer: Well, think of it this way: if you get the ashes and decide you don't want them later, you can have a quiet little "Goodbye to Elmo" ceremony and scatter them to the winds. Problem solved. If you don't get the ashes and decide you really did want them, you'll never be able to get them back. Which is worse?
posted by bettafish at 9:18 AM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

bettafish has it. You probably can't think all that straight right now, and this lets you postpone the decision. Do it, and take your time to mourn, you need it. And decide later.
posted by DreamerFi at 9:24 AM on October 17, 2008

I am so sorry for your loss. :( It is never easy to lose a member of your family. It's such a shock to the system when you're suddenly in a world that doesn't have them in it. My 13-year-old puppy, too, is not long for this world, so I will be saving this thread for that time. This will be my first time dealing with it in adulthood, but I do have a little story from my childhood.

When my first dog, a border collie, died at 14 years of age, I was about 12. We had to put her down, and my mom let me and my brother be there when it happened. (Which, for the record, I am so grateful for.) At some point in the process my mom was asked what to do with the ashes, and she decided to not keep them. I think she didn't feel the sentimental attachment to them and it would have been more expensive to do it.

I was sad about that, because I am very sentimental and tend to hold onto things, but I don't think I really spoke up much at the time. Not sure why; maybe I didn't want to argue with her while we were all so sad, or maybe I did speak up but couldn't change her mind. Anyway, years later it somehow came up in conversation and I mentioned how I had been sad (and still was) that we didn't do something with her ashes. She was surprised and said she hadn't realized how important it was to me. If she'd known, she'd have probably done it differently. And she said that she sort of now wished that she had kept them, too.

I don't have any pent up resentment or profound sadness as a result of not keeping her ashes, and I don't think it prevented me from going through a normal grieving process. But I think my mom and I both wish we had kept them or spread them in the yard just for the sake of still feeling like part of her was still with us. As it is, we have our memories and photos, which hold plenty of meaning. But I plan to keep the ashes in the future. I really like the plant-a-tree idea described above.

So I guess the point of me writing all of this, in addition to sharing my story with you, is to suggest erring on the side of caution. If you think you might want the ashes, then keep them for now. Don't worry about what you'll want a year from now, once you've finished grieving. Having them around might be a good impetus for a small memorial, even if it is just the family sitting around the living room sharing Elmo memories. You can always decide to get rid of them later, if you don't feel the need for them anymore.

posted by inatizzy at 9:40 AM on October 17, 2008

I'm so sorry. My cat just died last week and I was faced with a similar decision. I decided to keep his ashes and I'm so glad I did, even though I don't know what I'll do with them yet. For now, it's just comforting to have them.
posted by medeine at 9:41 AM on October 17, 2008

I am very sorry for your loss.

I wouldn't get rid of the ashes unless you can do something special, like bury them or pour them into a river. Something that would make your dog happy.

If you do keep them, who cares what anyone else thinks if it provides you comfort?

Hang in there...
posted by Silvertree at 9:47 AM on October 17, 2008

I kept the ashes of my beloved dog, too, and still have them. Like others have said, they give me comfort in some sort of weird way, as though he's still with me. When we moved to a new house, I was able to bring him with me. (I think something my dad said 30-some years ago made an impression on me; my uncle Jerry had passed away suddenly at age 48 of a heart attack. My aunt moved far away from the city where he was buried about a year later. Out of the blue my dad just commented one evening, "Poor Jerry, he's all alone out there and I'll bet Patsy never goes back to visit him.")
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:01 AM on October 17, 2008

I'm sorry about your loss. I know that pain all too well - we lost 3 dogs in the span of 2 years. To answer your question: we never kept the ashes. I realize for some people it's important to keep something tangible, but that just feels weird to me. In any case, we've kept collars and tags (and photos of course) as makeshift memorials. As for your predicament, you have to realize there is no right or wrong answer in these situations. But I agree with other people that if you're on the fence you should take them and decide what to do with them after you've had some time.
posted by O9scar at 10:12 AM on October 17, 2008

I'm very sorry about your dog. It sounds as if he died peacefully, which is a good thing. I'm sure that he was very lucky to have you.

My mother has kept the ashes of her cats who have died (one of whom died more than 11 years ago). I don't know what she's planning to do with them, but I know that she will continue getting our cats cremated and keeping the ashes. I'm eventually going to try and find one of those necklaces/whatever that have compartments for ashes -- hopefully with three compartments, as the two cats whose ashes we have were her first two, and we have a 21 y/o cat who was her third. They all belong together.

I do suggest getting him cremated and keeping his ashes. You could have jewelry made out of his ashes to forever remember him.

(This answer is getting long, but I need to include the next part:)
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.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

posted by majikstreet at 10:17 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am very sorry for your loss. I have some friends who lost their pet recently, they made stepping stones out of the ashes. They found the mold on ebay then just mixed the ashes into the concrete mix. They made several. The stones are light enough they can move them if they move and remind them of their pet.
posted by meeshell at 10:29 AM on October 17, 2008

When my cat died, I kept her ashes. They're in an urn on my bed side table, and I say goodnight to her every night. Maybe a little weird, but it makes me feel better.

My parents kept their dogs ashes, and buried them in a flower garden. They're moving in a couple years and plan on digging up the box the ashes are in, taking them to their new house, and reburying them in another flower garden.
posted by at 10:37 AM on October 17, 2008

When my German Shepherd died, we put his ashes in a nice wooden box and put it on a table in the foyer. My mom put a little golden statue on it of a shepherd with a halo hanging on one of his ears.

We put it in the foyer so he can still meet us at the door like he has since he was a pup.
posted by milqman at 10:43 AM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I agree with the majority of the posters that it is wise to accept the ashes now, because you don't know where your grief will take you. My dog died within 4 weeks of receiving a cancer diagnosis, and although I therefore had some preparation, it was still a shock difficult to get my mind around. Interesting, after his death I had dreams almost every night that my dog was alive but needing some kind of "fixing" (which I would attempt, just to have it fail and have him die again, every night); the dreams stopped the day I got the ashes. I have no belief in the supernatural, but clearly in the way of "closure," the ashes were a real comfort to me.

I'd say keep them for a year, then decide what you're like to do with them. Since your dog was an indoor pet, maybe "sprinkle" some of the ashes into the soil of a new plant that can be in a special location to have meaning to you.
posted by dreamphone at 11:07 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your loss. One of my cats died about seven years ago, and we still have his ashes. Honestly, I don't give them a lot of thought -- when I want to remember him more than usual, I tend to think of goofy things he did (plenty to choose from) or look at photos. I didn't know that's how I'd handle it eventually, though, so I guess I'm glad we kept them.

When you're ready, you might want to Google "cremation jewelry" -- there seem to be a lot of options.
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:43 PM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your compassion, support, and empathy. I've decided, as so many people recommended, to get Elmo's ashes and determine their fate at a later time.

All the answers and suggestions are wonderful, but particular thanks go to SuperSquirrel, lilac girl, and bettafish for pointing that it's okay to mourn now and take time to think about the best way to commemorate Elmo's life. And to majikstreet for putting the beautiful image of that poem in my head, even though it made me cry :)
posted by kitkatcathy at 7:09 PM on October 17, 2008

I am so sorry as well. This is my industry, and I usually council people to not force a decision. You are in a state of mourning right now, and a bit of shock as well.

If it is not a financial difficulty, I would go ahead and cremate. You will then have ample time to decide what to do. You have many options: scatter the ashes, share them with loved ones, buy an urn, buy a biodegradable urn and bury later on, make a diamond from the ashes, have some put in jewelry, or even left in the closet for 'someday' is really o.k.

I make pet urns for a living, and yet, still have my angel dog, Peekay, in his original tin. He has been in there for 8 years now, while I am still deciding...

There is no right and wrong when it comes to death and loss but allowing yourself options is wonderful.

Allow yourself to feel and be right now. Be good to yourself, and don't let anyone else tell you how or what you should do.
posted by Vaike at 3:55 PM on October 18, 2008

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