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When a Cat Dies

Planning Ahead for "Disposal" of its Remains

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When someone faces the imminent death of a terminally ill beloved cat, or when a feline companion has suddenly died, the last thing we want to think about is "disposal of the remains." Because of our reluctance to even contemplate these thoughts, we often make hasty emotional decisions that we may regret later. I faced this exact situation in 2001 when my original GuideCat, Shannon, was euthanized. Although I had thought long and hard on the question of "knowing when to say goodbye," I really hadn't thought much about disposing of Shannon's "remains." As it turned out, I opted for mass cremation, reasoning (as much as I could reason in my distraught state) that Shannon's spirit was no longer in his body, and that his body was only a broken container. In retrospect, I probably would not have made that decision.

What Disposal Options Are Available?

Many methods of disposal are governed by individual state or local laws, so part of planning in advance includes investigating laws in your location. My county of residence prohibits the burial of pets in back yards, for instance. Since scattering of human cremains is so tightly regulated, it is doubtful that scattering of pet cremains would be legal in most areas.

  • Cremation
    Cremation can be arranged through your veterinarian. There are two methods:
    1. Communal Cremation: The remains of a cat are cremated along with other deceased pets, and disposed of according to law. Usually, there is no charge for this service.
    2. Individual Cremation - The remains of a cat are cremated, and the cremains are returned to the cat's owner for final disposition. The charge varies, as do the costs of permanent memorial urns for pet cremains. Some people even go so far as to save the cremains of their loved pets to be buried with them when they die.
  • Whole Body Burial
    1. At Home: This method is used regularly by grieving human survivors, who want to feel the "closure" of having a private service at home, and having the remains of the lost cat close. The disadvantage of this method is threefold: First, apartment dwellers do not have private back yards. Second, in our mobile society, people often move, and the kitty graveyard is left behind. Last, it is prohibited by many local and state laws, so cat owners who use this method of disposal are in danger of fines and/or jail time.
    2. In a Pet Cemetery: Because of escalating land values, pet cemeteries may be difficult to find. Your veterinarian may be able to help you locate one and/or arrange for burial services. Be certain to check that the pet cemetery has set aside funds for perpetual maintenance of the burial grounds, and that deed restrictions are in place, guaranteeing that the grounds will always be used for pet burial. (Some states have laws requiring a care fund and deed restrictions.) Check this site for a fairly comprehensive list of pet cemeteries in the United States.
  • Taxidermy (Stuffing and Mounting)
    For a subject many may consider morbid enough, in my opinion, this is the most morbid. However, human taste varies (that's what makes us human), and some people may find immense comfort in having a permanent lifelike visual reminder of a cat they dearly loved in their homes. The price for this service has been quoted as $1,000 (including freeze-drying). The taxidermy of pets may be governed by laws in your area, and you will likely find most taxidermists reluctant to take on such an assignment.
  • Freezing (For Later Cloning)
    This is also an extremely expensive process. Naturally, if you have the funds, the decision is only yours to make, but remember that there are many downsides to the cloning of pets.

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