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Johnson County Humane Society

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Bereavement & Grief

|   The Human/Animal Bond  |   Pet Loss Support Resources  |   Typical Lifespans  |   Life Support Decisions  |   Euthanasia   |   About the Remains   |  The Grieving Process   |  Bereavement & Grief Links   |  Plan Ahead for Your Animal’s Care   |

The Human/Animal Bond

Graphic Animation:  Lighted candle flickering.

The bond created when people open their hearts and homes to non-human animals is a complex one, and the strength of the emotional attachment can vary quite a bit from person to person. If illness, death, or loss by some other means severs that bond, most people find themselves somewhere on the bereavement roller coaster.

When a pet dies, you’ve lost an integral member of your household’s daily life. You may feel sadness, grief, a sense of anger, betrayal, and all of the other feelings that accompany a great loss. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve and the experience of grief is different for each individual.

It may comfort you to consider that maybe your pet left that huge whole in your heart so there will be plenty of room for the next furperson who needs you.

Talking about your feelings of loss with someone who values animals similarly, or with someone you trust can be helpful. If the person you talk with doesn’t understand, find someone else.

Pet Loss Support Resources

 Iowa State University operates a toll-free Pet Loss Support Hotline at 888-ISU-PLSH (888-478-7574). This is a great resource for support and information about the loss of a pet and the grieving process. There are a several other organizations that also staff grief support hotlines:

 University of California/Davis Pet Loss Support:  916-752-4200 (5:30-9:30pm);

 Colorado State University (Argus Institute):  970-297-1242 for educational material; and

 Michigan State University Pet Support Hotline:  517-432-2696 (6:30-9:30pm EST; T/W/Th).

 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine CARE Pet Loss Helpline: 877-394-CARE (2273)

You can also contact us for information about the grieving process, what happens when an animal dies, the euthanasia process, or what to do with your companion animal’s remains.

Typical Lifespans*

Mice1.5 to 3 years

Hamsters1.5 to 2 years

Gerbils3 to 4 years

Rats2.5 to 3.5 years

Guinea Pigs4 to 5 years

Rabbits5 to 6 years

Ferrets5 to 8 years

Hedgehogs6 to 10 years

Cats13 to 17 years

Dogs11 to 13 years

Pot-bellied Pigs20 to 25 years

Horses20 to 30 years

*taken from “Goodbye, Friend” by Gary Kowalski.

Life-support Decisions*

Our fears of the unknown cause an incredible amount of avoidable grief. There is much we can do proactively that will make our inevitable parting easier. When our pets face life-threatening problems, we face four options:

 do everything possible to treat the problem;

 do everything possible up to a certain limit, then terminate treatment if the response doesn’t meet our needs or expectations;

 focus any care on making the animal comfortable or ensuring her safety (and other’s safety too, if necessary) rather than treating the problem; or

 euthanize the animal.

Answers to the following ten questions will help you formulate advance directives for your pet. Putting your thoughts on paper while your pet is still alive will help you when the time comes that healthcare decisions need to be made about her future.

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Photo: Quarry the cat.

1. What do you believe your pet values the most about his life?

2. How do you feel about death and dying?

3. Do you believe you should do everything in your power to preserve your pet’s life as long as possible?

4. If you don’t believe in prolonging your pet’s life as long as possible, what physical, behavioral, or bond conditions would cause you to either initiate or to terminate treatment?

5. What conditions might cause you to at least temporarily treat the conditions listed in question 4?

6. How much pain and risk would you be willing to put yourself, your pet, and others through if recovery seemed likely?

7. What if the chance of recovery were poor?

8. Would your pet’s age affect your choice to treat or not treat her?

9. Would any religious or personal views affect your treatment of your pet if he developed serious problems?

10. Will financial considerations affect if and how you treat your pet?

*taken from “Preparing for the Loss of Your Pet,” by Myrna Milani, DVM.


When an animal has a health problem that seriously compromises his quality of life or has a significant behavior problem that cannot, after genuine effort, be overcome, euthanasia is often the most humane decision. (Some behavior problems can be resolved by a change in address, so there may be a chance your animal can be placed in another home that would better meet his needs.)

For evaluation of health problems, rely on your veterinarian’s advice, but please don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. Many questions should be taken into consideration before acting, including:

 What are the treatment options, their efficacy, and cost?

 How would the animal die if she received no further treatment?

 How much more pain or discomfort is the animal likely to experience?

What About the Remains?

You may need some time to decide what to do about your pet’s remains. Don’t rush into anything. Until decisions can be made, find the coldest part of your dwelling (e.g., basement floor, garage floor, floor of enclosed porch) or in cold weather, the trunk of your car.

Lay a piece of plastic out first, then spread newspaper layers on top. You may lay your pet’s body directly on top of the newspapers and cover her with a towel or a sheet.

Your veterinary clinic may be able to store your pet’s body in their freezer until your decision has been made.

There are a number of options available for dealing with the remains, although the topic is a conversation taboo for many. Some people are very concerned about the body (it’s the only thing left of Fluffy), others view dead bodies as cast-off shells (this is no longer Fluffy).

Photo:  Rose the cat in her coffin.

Burial/Scattering Gardens

Most cities have an ordinance prohibiting the burial of animals in yards, however, enforcement does not seem to be a high priority. Remember that burial should be deep enough to discourage predators. Don’t bury an animal sealed in a plastic bag.

There are special cemeteries/scattering gardens just for animals. Local services (caskets, urns, plots, grave markers, scattering gardens, rmembrance items, etc.) are available at:

 Faithful Companions (reached through Lensing’s Oak Hill):  319-351-9362

 Memory Gardens Pet CemeteryIowa City:  319-338-0231

 Pet Funeral Home & CemeteryTipton:  1-877-822-7387 (toll free)


Crematoria burn bodies (individually or in groups) using high heat until what’s left turns to ash and bones (which are sometimes ground up). The resulting grit is referred to as “cremains.” In the case of individual cremation, the cremains can be returned for those who want a keepsake.

A number of companies offer urns, vases, or boxes specially designed for pet cremains. You may choose to scatter the cremains outside in an area that was familiar to your pet.

Local crematory services are available through or at:

 Sunset Hill (reached through the Coralville Animal Clinic):  319-351-6848

 Faithful Companions (reached through Lensing’s Oak Hill):  319-351-9362

 Cedar Valley Humane Society:  319-356-8270

 Kenwood Animal Clinic:  319-366-7146

 Vet Medical Center:  319-668-1111

Create a Diamond from Cremains

It is possible to create a diamond using the carbon from your companion’s cremains. The process takes about five months. Diamonds can even be made from previous cremains already in your possession. The ashes not used in the diamond-making process can be returned to you. The resulting gem can be put in a setting of your choice. Prices begin under $3,000. Google “cremation jewelry” for more information.

Other Options for the Remains

Taxidermists skin bodies and stretch the hide over forms to resemble the original inhabitant. Animals can also be freeze dried in recumbent positions for display. Bodies left at most vet clinics are turned over to a renderer and usually end up in animal feed.

The Grieving Process

Many people use rituals to help with the grieving process. It can help to:

 take some time off workafterall, one of your best friends just died

 light candles, burn incense

 write a letter to your pet, keep a copy, and bury or cremate the original with him

 set up a miniature shrine in your home in remembrance of your pet

Photo:  Cat shrine with lighted candles and photographs of deceased cats..

 organize a wake, funeral, religious death ceremony, or a memorial service (Pet Memorial Day is the second Sunday in September)

 Consider an animal communication consultation. We are fortunate that one of our members, Sondy Kaska, is an animal communicator. She can be reached by phone at: 319-354-7428. To learn more about animal communication and how to schedule an appointment, download her brochure.

Sondy’s brochure is a PDF file. If you don’t already have Adobe’s Acrobat Reader (the application necessary to read PDF files), you can download it free by clicking the button below:
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 make a list of all the things your pet did that made you smile or laugh

 send a memorial donation to your state veterinary teaching hospitalmost have a “companion animal fund” used to purchase new equipment(it was this fund at Iowa State University that covered the cost to treat the three cats who survived the Noah’s Ark bludgeonings)

Photo:  Lisa-Marie the cat saying goodbye to her friends Lily and Basil who are in their coffins.

 pick herbs and flowers and prepare your pet’s body at home for burial or cremationa cardboard envelope box makes a good coffin for small animals

 plant a special tree or an ornamental shrub in your yard

 dedicate something you use or wear everyday to your pet’s name and memory

 compile a scrapbook

 consider establishing new daily routines, and

 remember that your other companion animals may be comforted by the opportunity to sniff or touch the deceased’s body.

Grief & Bereavement Links

Coping With Sorrow on the Loss of Your PetMoira Anderson Allen

The Delta SocietyPublishes a Nationwide Pet Bereavement Directory for the United States and information about pet memorials and cemetaries.

Forever Pets Urns for Cremains

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Grief CounselingFeatures counselors by state; books; urns and markers; cemetaries; poems, etc.

In Memory of PetsPet Loss & Bereavement

ISU Pet Loss SupportIowa State University’s grief-support hotline is 1-888-ISU-PLSH. Follow the links to order a free grief-support package or submit a eulogy to the pet memorial.

The Pet Loss Grief Support Website

Pet Loss Grief Support & Candle CeremonyPersonal support and thoughtful advice

Pet Sympathy Cards

Pet Urns & Caskets

Preventing & Healing the Stress & Grief of Animal Care Workbalancing service and selfcare

The Rainbow Bridge poem and Beyond the Bridge

Ten Tips on Coping with Pet LossConcrete suggestions and information about coping with loss 

JCHS BooklistPet Loss & Grief Recovery

Plan Ahead for Your Animal’s Care

Far too many beloved companion animals become instantly homeless upon the death of their caregivers. Please take time now to discuss options with your lawyer and make provisions for the care of your animals in your will.

Last update:  03/14/16

Contact Us

JCHS      P.O. BOX 2775      IOWA CITY, IA  52244-2775


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