We own and operate two natural cemeteries in the UK that are, unusually, licensed to accept both pet and human burials.
We opened our parks six years ago and decided that we would like to offer people the option to be buried with their beloved animals. We designated particular areas for this and called them the ‘Togetherness Meadow’. Little did we know of the red tape that was to follow.
We were advised by the Environment Agency that we would need a Waste Management Licence and would have to undergo a Waste Management Course. We were also accountable to DEFRA and Animal Health. A little challenging but we decided to go ahead and two members of our team undertook courses at a cost of around £2,700 each!
For each pet we bury we have to document the type of animal, its weight, whether carcass or ashes, date of burial and even the registration number of the vehicle it was carried in. We had to send a return in to the EA on a monthly basis.
Over the past two to three years the EA legislation has relaxed but we still have to keep detailed records, as we have unexpected visits from Defra and Animal Health, checking that our records are up to date and that each burial is logged in the correct manner. We cannot bury ashes without an EA licence which we feel is a little strange as ash is inert? But again we must log and keep permanent detailed records
Another issue for us, is that unlike human burials where there is plenty of time to make arrangements, pet burials are usually required the same day as the pet dies or is euthanised. This is a challenge as we have to action our grave digger and make arrangements with the owners to meet at the Park later that day. This isn’t an issue for us and the pet burials are treated with the same dignity and respect as human burials.
Why bother? you may say. Sounds like a whole heap of paperwork?
Over 46% of households in the UK own a pet?. These are not just pets but family members and more often than not if we bury a pet then the owners will book a plot beside them. We can even specify that they will be laid next to their head or by their hand and the comfort this brings to families really does make it all worthwhile. They also have somewhere to go to grieve where they know their beloved pet will be for eternity. Many people traditionally choose to bury their pets in the garden but this can worry them regarding what happens when they move. Indeed the EA set about banning this but found it too difficult to police.
As I say, we own two Green Burial Parks and are Funeral Directors too but the death of a pet can affect us all and this is our story:-
On the 18th August 2016 our beloved German Shepherd, Morton, was diagnosed with cancer. There was no cure but palliative care via steroid tablets on a daily basis. The anguish at the time of being informed was unbearable. Our boy came home from the vets, was given all his favourite treats, all the love that we had and was spoiled even more than usual.
On Sunday the 28th August Morton collapsed and was unable to stand on his rear legs. I slept downstairs on the sofa on Sunday night and Gordon and I spent the day caring for him on Monday. Gordon sat with him until late on Monday night and again I slept on the sofa so I could hear his cries if he needed anything.
Tuesday morning came and we both knew what that would bring. The telephone call to the vets is one no-one should have to make and to have my best friend euthanised was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have cried everyday since and the emptiness in the house is unbearable. He’s not at the bottom of the stairs in the morning, he’s not at the front door when we get home.
We had a pre-arranged holiday booked so that’s what happened next. We joined our family with their dog and after 2 days I noticed the tears had stopped. However, getting off the plane on our return journey I knew that there would be no-one there to greet me at the door and give me verbal condemnation for going away! The pain started again.
We could never replace our loving family pet but we knew that having a dog in the house again would ease the pain somewhat. Not only did we find one, but we got two, 10 week old Belgium Shepherds this time, we didn’t want to be comparing them to Morton.
All good you may think, but it felt disloyal and the guilt I feel is tremendous. Having lost human family members too this grief is no different and anyone who say’s “it’s just a dog” has never owned one.
Morton is now at rest with Granddad. Gordon and I will be alongside him when our time comes.
Article by Gordon Tulley and Alison of Respect Funerals