Being a dedicated animal lover and rescuer, I have had my share of pet death experiences. It’s just what happens when you bring an animal into your life. You’re making a commitment, not unlike when you say I do when getting married. “In sickness and in health, ’til death do us part” ain’t just for spouses, my dears. And this promise should not be taken lightly. If you cannot, in good faith, commit to this, you should not adopt an animal. #endrant
Anyways, the most ultimate sacrifice and display of love you will ever give to your pet is supplying them with “the good death.” A good death can mean many things, but in a nutshell, it means eliminating as much suffering as possible and surrounding the animal (or person) with love and care, during and after death. This post is specifically about how my family and I gave our cat Benjamin the good death, which included a stress-free euthanasia and at-home pet wake.
We came to the realization recently that our 16 year old rescue cat, Benjamin Fish, was fading and the treatments we were pursuing to treat his chronic pancreatitis, kidney disease, and horrific constipation, were not working. He was starting to suffer and that’s when we knew that it was time to plan his death.
We are lucky that our dear and wonderful vet, Anna at Countryside Vet, offers her clients home euthanasia. If your vet does not offer that service, there are plenty of providers who do. Just try googling “at-home pet euthanasia” followed by your location.
Since Benjamin’s situation had yet to become critical, we were able to schedule out his euthanasia for 8 days in the future. We spent this time cuddling our sweet boy, preparing special treats and meals, and notifying friends and family. We were also able to make a special final resting place for our boy.
We decided we were going to bury Benjamin in our yard, so my son and I painted a beautiful casket for him out of a simple cardboard box. Although my son isn’t even 2-1/2 yet, I was determined to include him in this process. As you can see, he got more paint on himself than on the box, but it was a special experience nonetheless.
In addition, I also sewed him a mattress out of the stuffing of an old down pillow and some muslin fabric, both of which are bio-degradable. Lastly, I dug the hole in which we would lay his casket. Luckily, I had just had the area surveyed by the utility companies, so I knew I wouldn’t run into any wires or pipes.
A Good Death
We were lucky to have supportive friends and family who took both of our dogs, as well as our son, outside of the home during the actual euthanasia procedure. We didn’t need barking dogs and a screaming little boy making the experience stressful for Benjamin.
The death process itself went smoothly and with the injection of some weirdly bright pink medicine, our boy died in my arms. Some animals can have “agonal breathing,” make odd noises, or urinate or defecate at the time of death. Thanks to Home Pet Euthanasia’s post Understanding Death and Ask the Mortician’s video Home Death & Wake For Your Pet, I felt prepared for a myriad of possibilities.
At-Home Pet Wake
Immediately after his death, Benjamin did urinate. I knew this would likely happen and had towels and a doggie pee pad ready. When we laid him in his casket, we also put him in a biodegradable baby diaper to collect any additional fluids.
Before they left, my vet and her tech took paw print impressions of our boy’s paws. This is the 4th time I have had this done for a companion animal and it is incredibly special. If your vet does not offer this, I highly recommend buying a kit on Amazon.
We placed Benjamin in his casket on our dining room table and brought our son and 3 remaining animals to view him. Everyone did just fine, although our son called for him often. Over the next 24 hours, we were able to bring him back to see Benjamin so he could gain at least some understanding that his cat was no longer. Our other cat also kept watch over his deceased brother and it was comforting seeing him there, even if he was on the counter!
I strategically anointed Benjamin with a variety of essential oils and burned my favorite incense nearby. The next day, when he started having bloody nasal leakage, I wiped it away and then propped up his pillow better. This is a totally normal thing, but can be distressing to some. Making sure your animal’s head is tipped back slightly can sometimes stop that from happening.
Animals eyes generally will stay open after death. Over time they can become cloudy or sunken, but Benjamin’s remained relatively clear. Rigor mortis occured very quickly, within about 2-3 hours. It is important that you pose or place your pet in the position you want them to be in before that happens, as it is almost impossible to adjust their body after it occurs.
36 hours after Benjamin took his last breath, we buried him in our garden. Although the hole was about 2.5′ deep (the picture makes it look much shallower), we made sure to cover it with a heavy stone to prevent animals from digging up his remains. Apparently the euthanasia medication can kill any scavengers, plus I wasn’t too keen on finding my decomposed and half-eaten dead cat in our yard. We will eventually replace the stone with landscape fabric and mulch.
What I Would Do Differently
I’ve been interested in “the good death” for a while now, and the 8 days we had to prepare for Benjamin’s passing allowed me to provide a peaceful death and at-home pet wake for my sweet boy. There are a couple things I would do differently, though:
- The smell of decomposition was noticeable to me after about 20 hours. And actually, it may have been less of decomp and more from intestinal gasses. Either way, it wasn’t pleasant. Due to weather conditions, we had to wait an additional day to bury Benjamin, so after 24 hours, we were forced to place him in the freezer. I had gone back and forth on whether to purchase dry ice or specialty ice packs for Benjamin, but decided against it. Next time, I will make sure to use ice.
- Because of the odor, my favorite essential oils and incense are difficult for me to smell right now. The combination of their scents with the smell of decomp kind of ruined them for me, at least for now.
I am so glad we took charge of Benjamin’s death and aftercare. There is nothing dangerous or unsafe about a deceased body and you don’t have to rush your family member off to the freezer or crematorium (this is also true for humans). Remember, people have handled their own family’s dead from the beginning of time, all the way up until the civil war. If an at-home pet wake or funeral will help your family heal, I completely encourage you to try it. Just don’t forget the ice! 😉
- Ask a Mortician on YouTube
- Order of the Good Death
- Home Pet Euthanasia
- Clay Pawprint Kits
- DEATHub Facebook Group
- “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory” book
- Countryside Vet