Leaving a Dead Pet Behind
February 6, 2012 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Pet Filter/Child Psychology Filter!: Close friend is considering moving after spending 20+ years in her home. Her children, when the moving topic was mentioned, immediately flipped out over the idea of leaving their home because of the handful of dead pets who are buried in the garden area. What can she tell them to help though the decision? Snowflake stuff inside!

The detailed story: My dear friend has lived in her childhood home for over 20 years, and has raised two beautiful children there. Her children, an 8 year old boy and a 16 (nearly 17) year old girl, are kind-hearted and generally give her no trouble. When the topic of possibly selling the house and moving to a larger home was brought up, both children were upset almost immediately because of the several pets who are buried in their mini pet cemetery out back. Her daughter was especially distraught because of her close bond with two of the cats who have died within the past 2 years.

She asked me what exactly I thought she should tell them or explain to the kids about moving and leaving the pets behind. And I'm totally at a loss for what to suggest. It was interesting to me that the kids immediately thought about this over anything else related to a possible move (they'd still be in the same schools, etc. just a larger home). She hasn't even been looking for houses and mentioned the topic to the kids over dinner because she'd been considering selling the home, or possibly renovating and renting it out, and wanted their input. (FWIW, there are no restrictions in our city on burying pets on your property.)
We both discussed putting up a small fence and making it a sort of 'official' pet cemetery, but it's not in a location on the property where her children could come visit without being somewhat intrusive on the residents. My girlfriend has even gotten slightly uncomfortable about leaving the home for both sentimental reasons (at 35, it's been her home literally her whole life) and because she thinks her children have a somewhat valid point.

Anyone have any thoughts? Suggestions? Ideas? Personal experiences with this type of issue?
posted by PeppahCat to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At this point, it's probably bones remaining, right? Do you think the kids might be okay with removing the bones and keeping them in an urn instead, which could be moved with them?
posted by cairdeas at 10:40 AM on February 6, 2012

See I would look at it like this -

The beloved pets are not buried in the specific plot there behind the current house. The pets were buried in the earth, which exists everywhere. Right now their focal point for remembering these pets is the actual burial spot, but they could just as easily create a memorial in the new house, with a (lacquered?) photo of the pets, in the new back yard, and perhaps a small bench or place to sit to come and remember them.

They've been returned to the earth, so to speak. All that remains in the current house's yard are their shells. The things they remember are who they were.
posted by routergirl at 10:41 AM on February 6, 2012 [17 favorites]

I would tell my kids that what we have now, and what we will always have are our memories of our pets, and that moving won't take those away from us. I would ask the kids gently if they expected to live in that house their whole lives, even after they were adults with spouses and children, or were they thinking that they would move on, but mom would have to stay because of the pets? I would ask this not in a combative way, but as a way of showing them where that line of thinking goes.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:44 AM on February 6, 2012

Oh snap, I was just thinking about this the other day - I'm to 'inherit' the family home, which I fully intend selling and not even attempt to renovate/live in.

Like you, there are several cats, goldfish, dogs, budgies all buried under the cherry blossom tree. We are all big animal lovers and every one of our goons lived super long, fulfilled lives.

Unfortunately, the hysterics at my plan to sell the house won't come from any younger children, but from my 40 year old sister. Who already lives at her own house elsewhere.

Any insight fellow commenters can provide will help me too. I just wanted to chime in and say this problem seems to fall outside the realm of logic and reason, however, so I really, really feel for your friend.
posted by Chorus at 10:49 AM on February 6, 2012

Is there a marker of some sort that could be transported to the new home? A friend of mine had a very distinctive white stone (it's big, roughly 1 foot wide x 2 feet long) above the grave of a pet dog. When it came time to move, she took the stone with her. It now guards the graves of 1 cat and another dog that have since died, but she considers it a memorial for all three beloved pets. Something like this might give the children some comfort.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:52 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe transporting a plant that grows near the graves from the old house to the new one could serve as a reminder of them and a tribute to them, as it has been nurtured by the animals' remains?
posted by Rock Steady at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

We buried our dog and cat in our back garden, knowing that we'll move eventually. One thing I did was to choose a small garden statue as a marker for each grave. When we move, I'll take the statues and put them in the new garden. This way we'll have a memorial that's at least associated with the actual graves. And it's nice to know the dog and cat are together. I'll probably have a little ceremony when we leave, and put some pebbles on the site or something.

It's not like I'm super happy about leaving the graves but you can get attached to a graveless memorial. My mother and grandmother are not buried together, which is unfortunate but we have a memorial stone for both of them at my mother's grave site and that is the place we go to visit.
posted by BibiRose at 11:05 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents told me (age 20?) that they did a walk of the property with the new owners and told them where the 'cemetary' was and that the new owners promised to take care of it, not mow over it, etc.'

They could have been lying, but it did make me feel better.
posted by k8t at 11:10 AM on February 6, 2012

Maybe give them a new way to think about it. Like, "I like to imagine the new owners have pets of their own that they love, and that they'll sense something special about that ground. We could plants some bulbs there if you like, so the new owners will know its a special place."

I'd also have a frank talk with the teenager and get her help with it. If she's on board, the younger one will come along.

Frankly, the teen and the forty year old in the other comment---if they can't come around, I'd say there are other issues involved.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:10 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, what I tell myself-- and would tell kids-- is that it's nice to know the pets are resting in the place where they had a happy life.
posted by BibiRose at 11:15 AM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Buy the prettiest box or urn that you can afford (get a very small one). Bring the girls our to the burial site to say their goodbyes. Ask them to pick a flower, leaf or small handful of dirt from the site to put in the urn. Then, look them in the eyes and tell them that they are now set free, they can go anywhere in the world, they are no longer locked into this one spot. The animals they love will travel with them, in their hearts, for as long as they live. Hand the younger one the urn and walk away. Do not discuss this with them again. Any more attention to it will blow it way out of proportion.

It is something that they have to come to terms with on their own. It is sad, it can't be fixed but it is something they can deal with.
posted by myselfasme at 11:39 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like some of the above suggestions: That the animals stay in the place that they lived, with the house and yard they loved, too. That the new owners will know that the pets are there. That some aspect of the site gets relocated: either moving the physical marker (statuette, plaque) to come with you, transplanting a bush to the new location, taking a cutting off an old plant to root in the new place... or if nothing's planted there at all, then pick a new plant that will symbolize the graves, buy two, and plant one at the old house, and one at the new house. This gives you an advantage of also defining a pet area in the new yard, should that ever be necessary in future.
posted by aimedwander at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are amazing suggestions, thank you all. My friend is coming over tonight for our weekly girls night and I am going to plop her in my computer chair and read these ideas with her. I like the idea of bringing the markers and planting something in place of them. I think the teen would respond to this very well. We will see what she thinks. Lovely ideas, thank you all again.
@routergirl...that is so eloquently worded it caused me to tear up. :*)
posted by PeppahCat at 1:12 PM on February 6, 2012

I like myselfasme's ritual suggestion, though I disagree with the idea that once it's done, it can never be spoken of again, lest it be blown out of proportion. It takes time to process feelings for children and adults alike, and the children may indeed want to talk about it later (whether later that day, or that week, or that year). Refusing to speak about it doesn't blow the event out of proportion; it sends the message to the children that it is taboo to express certain types of feelings.
posted by scody at 2:16 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could they take a handful of dirt from off of the graves or a stone or something and take that with them. Maybe sit down with them and do up a memory book with photos and written stories of the pet/s and then they could all be stored in a nice box together. If there is a tree or a plant over the graves you could take some cuttings or seeds from it and grow a new one.

You could always buy a pretty quartz pebble or crystal, a pretty ornament or pendant to remember the animal by, something that would be meaningful for your children.

I might suggest that not only are they sad about loosing the memory of their pets by moving, but all the other memories they have tied up in the house and focusing on the pet's might be their way of saying this is something concrete I'll miss about the place. Maybe you could do up an album or something similar if you scrapbook (even if you don't a simple album is easy to do) that says your memories are valid and important and we aren't going to forget the great things about our old house (including our beloved pets) just because we are moving.
posted by wwax at 2:19 PM on February 6, 2012

When my parents moved their 5 daughters from a house with the typical small animal cemetery, there was some trepidation about new owners finding a baby coffin rough (shipping) box containing a small skeleton. It was just Mackie, our cocker spaniel.
They were also concerned about the small pig that was buried between the back porches. It was a gift from the garbage service which is why my parents did not want to consume it, and, obviously, could not put it in the garbage.
posted by Cranberry at 2:46 PM on February 6, 2012

Maybe along with some of the suggestions above, the kids could write letters to the prospective new owners letting them know about the pets and where the little cemetery is.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:11 PM on February 6, 2012

Have a ceremony where you say some loving words about the buried pets, take some earth from each area (to place at new home, for a plant), and leave a special stone behind. Take pictures of the burial area.
posted by theora55 at 6:47 PM on February 6, 2012

In addition to taking memorials with them, maybe they can plant an attractive tree or other plants over the area where the pets are buried. It's a marker that doesn't scream DEAD THINGS (which future owners might dislike) but reduces the chance that future owners will disturb the pets' graves, since they have to go through the tree.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:46 PM on February 6, 2012

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