'A shy gentleman who loved his food'

Need a fitting memorial to a rat? Want to stroke your cat after its demise? A new cremation service adds to the many curious ways the bereaved remember their beloved pets
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The Independent Online

It's easy to titter at the news that the Co-op has launched the first on-line cremation service for pets. For around £300, bereaved pet-owners get an all-inclusive service for any pet up to the size of an Irish wolfhound. The body will be collected in a van with an altar and taken to a pet crematorium, and the ashes returned in a casket or urn.

It's easy to titter at the news that the Co-op has launched the first on-line cremation service for pets. For around £300, bereaved pet-owners get an all-inclusive service for any pet up to the size of an Irish wolfhound. The body will be collected in a van with an altar and taken to a pet crematorium, and the ashes returned in a casket or urn.

But commemorating a pet isn't funny to an enormous number of pet-owners, who get huge solace from marking the death of their pet with some kind of proper ritual.

Pets are totally dependent on their owners, give them unconditional love during their entire lifetime, which can sometimes be around 20 years - longer than many marriages - so it's hardly surprising that when they die not all owners just want to chuck them in a bin and head for the pet-shop.

When I wrote a book on pet bereavement, Goodbye Dear Friend, coming to terms with the loss of a pet (Robson), hundreds and hundreds of readers wrote in to tell me about their ways of commemorating their pets. It is a way not only of paying homage to their characters, but also a way of keeping their memory alive.

Some bury them in the garden, with a memorial tree on top; but some may prefer a proper burial in a pet cemetery, with an engraved headstone, often with a picture of the animal set into the stone (guide-dogs have their stones in Braille). The Shukla family in Blackburn, Lancashire, who are Hindus, actually gave their Alsatian a proper funeral with undertakers, hearse and a full procession through the streets to the crematorium after they had carried out a purification ceremony at home. Later, they threw the ashes into the sea at Blackpool.

But if you can't afford a burial, and don't have a garden, you could always make a shrine in your flat, in a wall-unit, arranging special lighting around the casket, and putting a fresh flower in a vase nearby each day. One lady wrote: "I now have Mandy's ashes back in a little carved casket with a brass plate on it. Her name and date are engraved on it. I have it by my bed so when I go to meet my maker, she will go with me." Another reader kept some of her dog's ashes in a little gold locket round her neck with "Buffy" inscribed on it. "I feel she is always near me," she wrote.

Another way of commemorating a pet is to put an obituary into a magazine like Dogs Today. The column makes weepy reading. "RUFF (North Staffs/Bull Terrier) 12/5/84-12/10/91 - had to be put to sleep after being badly savaged by an unmuzzled Pit Bull Terrier. I loved my sunbeam to pieces, no words could ever express how much I miss him, he was my life. A cuddle and a thousand kisses, your ever loving Irene, Ethel, Selina."

And there is even a charming obituary to a rat in Pro-Rat-A, the national rat-fancier's journal: "LOOT (July 1989-16th Jan 1992). A shy gentleman who loved his food. Put to sleep because of cancer. Now reunited with brother Nailer. Thank you for keeping me company. I shall not forget you."

It's quite common for pet-owners to take photographs of their animals after they've died to special pet portrait painters, who are used to grief since it seems that it's extremely common for pet owners to burst into floods of tears when they see the finished picture.

But perhaps the most bizarre memorial came from a taxidermist's, who not only stuffs animals occasionally for bereaved pet-owners, but has devised a cheaper solution for old ladies who can't afford to have their pet stuffed, but want something to stroke. "We make them up a square of their pet's fur, like a carpet tile," they explained.

There's no reason to feel silly if you want to commemorate your deceased pet in some way, or, like many owners, even visit a gravestone every week with fresh flowers. If anyone sneers, it's worth reminding them that Lord Wellington erected an enormous plinth in memory of his favourite horse, and Byron put up a marvellous gravestone for his dog, Boatswain, on which were engraved these moving words: "Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the memory of Boatswain, a dog."

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