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The Pet Gazette

The Pet Gazette

The Pet Gazette is
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Bury Your Dead Deep

In this column last month I presented the topic of euthanasia and a little of the process by which people come to their decisions.  Last month was a dead serious, solemn topic.  This month’s topic is about what you do with your dead once your pet has died.  My focus here is on the smaller animals since that is what we mostly see at the Odd Pet Vet. I am not concerned about the dead elephant, horse, cow, or even the dog or cat.
I’ve gone through these parameters before but the average weight of our patients at the Odd Pet Vet is somewhere around 100 grams.  That is just over 3 ounces.  Nevertheless some very big personalities have lived in some very small bodies.  Take EB White’s Stuart, he was a mouse and he lived in a body a thousand times smaller than mine.  His personality was so large that he became world famous. I am a thousand times larger and a hundred million times less well known.  We don’t bury personalities, just their bodies.


So let’s imagine that you have just had your beloved hamster Ralph euthanized at the vet’s office because he had been suffering a series of uncontrollable outbreaks of diarrhea, skin infections, and respiratory infections.  Ralph was four years old, about the equivalent of a 110-year-old person.  He’s lived a good life and has gone to his Maker.  So what do you, the owner of a dead hamster body, now do?
The following multiple-choice question might help you make your decision:
Your pet has died. What are you going to do with its body?
• Eat it
• Throw it in the garbage
• Bury it in the backyard
• Have it cremated with a bunch of other animals.
• Have it cremated and its ashes sent back to you
• Take its body to the Vatican and have it entombed with the Popes.
• Give it to me as a gift.
You might think there is a right answer to this question, but I can tell you with complete honesty that there is no such thing.  In fact I have had clients do at least one of each of these choices with their dead pets.
One thing I know right off the bat is that I don’t want your dead pet. Gifting is a thoughtful, considerate idea but I am full up with dead pets. I’ve rescued more than my share and when my two boys were younger they dragged home a lot more than the average suburban household. My yard is more a Killing Fields than a place to have a barbeque.
I do have a suggestion:  whatever it is that you choose to do for your pet’s remains, it should be legal. Many veterinary hospitals have access to disposal services with businesses like Angel View Pet Cemetery and Crematory in Middleboro. Many towns have ordinances about burying dead animals in backyards.  Some allow it; some don’t, so check with town hall before interring your dead under the lilac bush.
It turns out that the above story about Ralph the Hamster is true.  The owner of Ralph, who will be from here on in this article known as the Owner, decided to take Ralph home and bury him in the backyard.  What the Owner didn’t consider was how deep you need to bury your dead.  If it is just under the surface, things find it. By things I mean skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, the neighborhood cat and dog.
Poor Ralph got found by a skunk. When I euthanized Ralph I did the final step with pentobarbital mixed with some other chemicals that are highly toxic when injected into a vein.  The skunk, having found what she thought must be a real treat, ate most of Ralph.
The Owner, on the morning after the burial, found Ralph half-eaten lying on the lawn. Next to what remained of Ralph was the skunk completely unconscious.  It turns out that the Owner has a heart as big as gold and feels that all animals, wild or otherwise, should be treated equitably and with humanity.  She shrieked and ran inside and called the Animal Rescue League of Boston who promptly responded to her call for help.
The Owner returned to the skunk to see if there was anything she could do to help.  She examined the skunk carefully and saw that there was evidence that the skunk was still breathing—barely. And then she saw what she thought was its last breath; it was a deep one; and then nothing.
Being a person with a good heart she felt the only action left was to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  When the Animal Rescue League responders arrived they found the Owner on her knees, lip-to-lip giving breaths of air directly into the skunk.
The Animal Rescue League responders gathered up the skunk and transported it to the New England Wildlife Center for care.  The skunk continued to breathe, in fact it continued to snore for three days whereupon the pentobarbital wore off, the skunk woke up, and we released her happily back to the wild.
My advice to owner’s who are burying pets in their back yard are two-fold:  1.) Don’t give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to skunks or other wild animals, and 2.) bury your dead deep.