Why You Shouldn't Bury Your Pet in the Back Yard
March 19, 2019 3:06 AM   Subscribe

Why You Shouldn't Bury Your Pet in the Back Yard - Companion animals are part of our families, but inevitably the time comes for us to say goodbye to them due to old age or disease.

Many pet lovers opt to bury their pets in the backyard. However, there are some hidden risks to this, and there are other options that will help other pets, and even the owners who love them.

Donating their body to science, for research and veterinary training, can potentially help hundreds of pets.

Previously, in the Victorian era.
posted by jjderooy (48 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There is a beautiful, largely untended pet cemetery in the DC area where I want to bury my cat when she goes. Many of the graves date to the early or mid-20th century and it's shady with animal figurines scattered around.

Notable burials include three of J. Edgar Hoover's dogs; Timmie, a "beloved" cat who lived in the National Press building; Rags, a decorated dog-mascot of the First Division in World War I who, while wounded and under fire, delivered a vital and life-saving message across enemy lines; and an old Hollywood dog, General Grant of RKO, also known as Jiggs, believed to have played “Petey” in the 1930s short-film series Our Gang.
posted by marguerite at 4:49 AM on March 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

Wow, this is absurdly timely. My beloved bun is on her last legs and I was just wondering what my non-cremation options were and kept ending up with ask my parents to bury her in one of their backyards . . . .
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:49 AM on March 19, 2019

My question is, where is Rebecca Coolidge buried and can I visit the grave?
posted by duffell at 5:50 AM on March 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

We have a statue of St. Francis in our small garden, under which are the ashes of four cats and my wife's grandmother. I imagine I'll end up there as well, and that's perfectly alright with me, I'll have good company.
posted by HuronBob at 5:59 AM on March 19, 2019 [18 favorites]

Our first cat is buried in a backyard - unfortunately, it is no longer our backyard, since we moved.
posted by Mogur at 6:06 AM on March 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

We buried our rats Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway in the back garden of our rented house, with full rodenty honours, and both a Requiem æternam and Mourner's Kaddish. Down deep, because it is an area of free-roaming cats, and BlueNorther was raised by feral archaeologists so knows how to dig a good post-hole.

Then we were unexpectedly able to buy a house and move there. So, in the period between Moving Out and Moving In, as further rats shuffled off this mortal coil and bounced onwards to The Great Big Spinny Wheel In The Sky, we wrapped them and placed them in the freezer, against the day when we could lay them to rest in a planter at the New House.

When we came to disinter Lew and Hathers for reburial at the New House, however, we hit a bit of a snag. Hathers had been wrapped in fleece and entombed in solidly-sealed Tupperware, so was easily removed. Lew, however, had been buried in a thin wooden box. Which had disintegrated. And though I didn't spy anything beyond the fleece in which we'd wrapped him, and I am not squeamish, I did not want to delve in and pick out whatever might be left of him months later. And I couldn't leave him buried all alone without his brother.

Moral: Bury small pets in solid plastic boxes if you ever want to exhume them.

So back in went Hathers; and, to whoever rents Number 29 in future and might decide to do a little landscaping in that scruffy slice of back garden, I am so, so sorry.

(Inspector Javert, Jean Valjean, and Private McAuslan are still wrapped in shrouds and lying in state in the freezer, surrounded by grave goods of frozen peas; no doubt to the approval of their little ratty spirits, because there is nothing so entertaining as tipping frozen peas into a big shallow bowl of water, and watching multiple rats fish for them.)
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 6:14 AM on March 19, 2019 [50 favorites]

I've got the crematory jars for my three kitties who have passed on a shelf behind me. I've been planning to donate my personal meat-husk to science since I was a kid since I know I won't care when I'm dead, but it hadn't occurred to me that that was an option with my kitties. Now that I know, I'm not sure how I feel about it because I'm not sure how they would feel about it. My younger cat has a heart condition and I think he'd be cool about it, but my older cat has always been absolutely terrified of the vet and might feel like it's a betrayal and I am such a cat lady that that would keep me up at night.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:18 AM on March 19, 2019 [20 favorites]

Pet cremation with getting the actual ashes of your pet back wasn't an option the last time I lost one of mine (2010), but now it's commonplace here. I think I'd feel the best about it, though I keep hoping for feline reincarnation.

And hell yes, it's a reason we're never selling the summer cottage.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 6:26 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rupert cashed in another of his nine lives the other day, which got me thinking about the inevitable... again. A few years ago he was very, very sick and not expected to survive. In our backyard, there's a little spit of land that he loves which juts out into the lake; it's a great place to sit and let the wind ruffle one's whiskers, apparently. Anyway, we planned for him to be buried there under a birch tree... until last year when the water was high and inundated that spot with obvious unfortunate implications for using it as a grave. Rupert is a fundamentally helpful kitty, curious and known to experiment, so I think he'd be okay with us donating his body to science.
posted by carmicha at 6:32 AM on March 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

That DC pet cemetery is wonderful. And also:

Metafilter: Stately, kindly, lordly, friend
posted by gwint at 6:43 AM on March 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

The tale of Clark Kent and Fuzzball. Warning: emotions ahead.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:02 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

The commingled ashes of our Chicago cats, Lola and Esme, sit in a small wooden box we bought when Esme had to be put down due to FIP in 1995. Lola managed not to get that disease but passed away from liver disease three years later. In another little box are Maynard's ashes; we said goodbye in 2010 when cancer made it so that he could no longer eat or drink. When my time comes, I want my own ashes combined with all three so that we can be together again for the remainder of eternity.
posted by briank at 7:09 AM on March 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

My next door neighbor recently told me she has the ashes of four cats that she would like to bury but has not. She has rented her house for decades. She's got a solid relationship with her landlord and she thinks that she'll be able to stay there until she can't live on her own anymore, but she's in her 80s and the house is in poor shape. She is sure that when she is gone they will tear the place down and put up something else and her cat's graves will be disturbed.

Well, I own my place, I'm considerably younger than she is, and I'm not going anywhere. I've proposed that we set up a litte cat memorial garden on the edge of my property closest to her. We can plant catnip, maybe get a little cat statue. Zoning setbacks mean the ground closest to the property line is unlikely to be disturbed even when both of us are gone.

When the ground thaws we'll revisit this topic again.
posted by elizilla at 7:14 AM on March 19, 2019 [29 favorites]

We buried our rat in the backyard. Well, in the woods directly adjacent. We wrapped him in a towel and put a very large stone over the grave.

Three days later, we found the stone rolled away and the empty towel. No trace of Ratboy.

As a good former Catholic I of course know that he must have been Rat Jesus and ascended bodily into Rat Heaven.

(Our beloved catboys are ashes. Minnesota requires cremation. We don’t know what to do with the ashes. We still miss the boys.)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:48 AM on March 19, 2019 [28 favorites]

I wish I had known about the donating to science option about ten days ago.
posted by Adridne at 7:52 AM on March 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

When my time comes, I want my own ashes combined with all three so that we can be together again for the remainder of eternity.

I want this too. I mentioned it last year to my father in law who loved the idea and immediately wrote it into his will. He died only a few months later, and we all hiked up a trail where he and his dog used to hike together to scatter their combined ashes on a Colorado mountainside. I'm so glad to have given him the idea to be together with his Annie forever. SOB.
posted by something something at 7:56 AM on March 19, 2019 [15 favorites]

I recently had to bury one of our beloved first chickens in the back yard. We chose underneath a plum tree, where Dorothy would always love to pluck for worms. I must say, the tree is blooming quite vigorously this season and it does give me some real circle of life feels.
posted by Dillionaire at 7:59 AM on March 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

The neighbors I had growing up buried their cats (then their cats' ashes) in the backyard and planted catnip on top of it. Only, they also don't live that far from a notorious pet dumping ground, so they and my mother ended up with a semi-feral cat colony, like a real life Neko Atsume. My mother was fine with it, but she recently moved and I have to wonder how the new owners are going to react.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:02 AM on March 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

maybe this thread is proof that only mefites know how to dig a nice, big hole.
posted by Dillionaire at 8:05 AM on March 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

First, be smart from the very beginning.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:08 AM on March 19, 2019 [16 favorites]

Miss Cleo was cremated and returned to us in a lovely small wooden box, which lives on the mantel above the fireplace. My kids (age 10) occasionally like to talk to her, or show the box to our newer cats and tell them stories about her. She was their first pet (aside from some carnival goldfish who have long since left this world), and they asked if we could please not bury her ashes in case we ever move (and they each want to take some of the ashes with them when they grow up and move away).
posted by candyland at 8:24 AM on March 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

I intend to cremate. Beyond what the article notes, I'm not really wild about savaging animals feasting on my dear friends. Beyond that simple notion, I fear that I might be faced with half-consumed remains, which may become the indelible image I have of a beloved pet.
posted by MrGuilt at 8:28 AM on March 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm perfectly happy with being eaten by scavengers after I'm gone, myself, but I'll let the bereaved make that decision. But I think the kids will have very strong opinions on how to dispose of the pets when their time is up. The dog is a very helpful little soul, so I expect she'd be perfectly fine with being donated to science.
posted by Harald74 at 8:45 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Two of our dogs who were euthanized due to old age have been cremated and their boxed ashes sit on the mantel in our living room. They are part of the family and belong there. Our other old dog who passed on at home was buried in the backyard under a recently-planted lilac bush. I should probably move the other dogs' ashes out there too, but for now, I get panicky when I think about it. They BELONG in the living room with the family. :( It's hard to know how to store beloved pets' ashes. I grew up on a farm and when a pet died, my dad would just bury it out by the barn.
posted by cass at 8:48 AM on March 19, 2019

I have always cremated my pets and had their ashes returned to me. Some ashes I've scattered, others I've held onto. I've only buried one, and I wished I hadn't, since I don't live there anymore.

When my current heart dog eventually dies (IF she dies....which can't be sooner than 40 years from now, not before that, or if she turns out to be immortal, that's fine too), I will have her cremated and might have her ashes added to ink and get a tattoo of her pawprint or something meaningful to do with her.
posted by biscotti at 9:01 AM on March 19, 2019

When my time comes, I want my own ashes combined with all three so that we can be together again for the remainder of eternity.

This is my intention as well - to be burned with my sketchbooks and mixed with my cats and go to a garden somewhere. Maybe I'll have a garden by then, that would be nice.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:03 AM on March 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Minnesota requires cremation.

Actually, the State doesn't, not for pets and wildlife. It's possible your city required it, however.
posted by Lunaloon at 9:28 AM on March 19, 2019

My folks still live out in the country on the 6 acre plot they moved to when I was 10. I was away at college when we lost the dog I grew up with, dad had to take her to the vet to have her put down, she had pretty advanced cancer and was in a good deal of pain. Anyway, he brought her home and dug a 4 foot or so hole for her (not a small task, dobies aren't small dogs) under the cherry tree that she used to run straight at to pee under when you let her out in the morning (dad always had a weird sense of humor). They put her rawhide bone in with her, covered it up, and my brother had a little cross that he built to mark her grave.

Well, about a week goes by and one morning mom is out in the garden and she notices something funny over on Harriet's grave. Turns out its one of the jackrabbits that we see running around in the back field, which Harriet used to love chasing when she could find her way back there through an open gate or something. To this day we still have no idea how Jack (the german shepherd) and Bo (the english sheepdog) found their way back there much less how they managed to catch a rabbit, but you could tell that they didn't think of eating it or even chewing it - it was in almost perfect condition save the fact that it was dead. The dogs' own funny little way of saying goodbye I guess.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:31 AM on March 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

Oh my gosh, this is something that has been on my mind SO much lately. I have a 75 lb, senior dog who is in great health but also is not immortal. I rent in a city and do not have a back yard, so burying him there isn't an option. I suppose that means cremation (or donating the body, although I don't think I want to do that. It's funny because I would be comfortable donating my own body, but not my dog's), but I find myself so stressed about that process.

Realistically, what does a large animal pet death look like in a city? He will likely be euthanized at the vet or at home, but what about if he unexpectedly passes in his sleep of old age (one can hope)? What do I do then? Who do I call? What do I do when I can't pick him up myself? Will someone come and pick him up? How much will it cost? Who will help me? These are things I can google and I've been thinking about posting on the green about but...to be honest it's too hard to do that now. Although I suppose this is an excellent lesson in end-of-life planning, since it turns out my parents and other loved ones aren't immortal either.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2019

Okay to answer my own question I did some brief googling and there are pet cremation places in the area that will do transportation. That is unsurprising, but comforting. And now I am going to stop googling.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 9:40 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm just glad taxidermy is out of fashion.

Our plan for the cats is cremation, the ashes to be spread in the front yard where I am raising a small 21-vine vineyard.

I don't plan on moving anytime soon, and it's a way of recycling remains back into the cycle but still keep them close, rather than just tossing them in some park (where it is probably illegal to do anyway), rather than just keeping them in an urn doing nothing.
posted by linux at 9:57 AM on March 19, 2019

I ended up burying a wild rabbit that died in our backyard under a tree. I imagine that when my cats die I'll bury them in the same place. We'd need to have some kind of marker for the cats though.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's not clear to me that the article proves its case -- aren't pentobarbital and disease just as much a problem in a cemetery (which people and wildlife often use as green space) as in a backyard?
posted by crazy with stars at 1:05 PM on March 19, 2019

This seems to be an article about not burying pets that have been euthanized. Which, hey I get it, but a lot of pets die in different ways. Around here (Vermont) if you bury a pet you better put a big rock on top of it or the coyotes will get at them. Not good.

I remember a few years ago when my mom was in hospice we were stretching our legs, as you have to do, and walked around a little path in the woods. And we found... a little pet cemetery. Just headstones with names and one of them was for a monkey. And it was an odd juxtaposition to what was going on in my life at the time such that it imprinted on me more than usual.

We're now, a few years later, in the process (slowly) of selling my mom's house and one of the little things that catches in my throat is that all my chlldhood pets are buried there. They don't even have headstones or anything but it's one of the many many things that go through your mind as you make big changes.
posted by jessamyn at 1:07 PM on March 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've honestly never thought much about wanting graves for my pets or being able to "visit" them after they're gone.

I've always been sad when pets have died. I'll be sad when the ones I have now go. But, perhaps because I've yet to have a pet die as an adult, the body always just sort of...goes away. And I've never thought twice about it. But it's also the case that, with the exception of a couple of hamsters, whose bodies were unceremoniously deposited in the trash (RIP little buddies), I've never actually dealt with the body of a dead pet.

All our cats and dogs who've died had to be euthanized, for various reasons. So mom or dad would drive them to the vet, sometimes quite late at night, and come home alone. I always assumed the vets cremated the animals, but never really thought about what they did with the ashes.

Maybe it'll be different now that I'm the dad who might have to drive a cat to the emergency vet for a merciful death. It's a bit of a mindfuck to even think about it.
posted by asnider at 3:12 PM on March 19, 2019

Moral: Bury small pets in solid plastic boxes if you ever want to exhume them.

Perhaps to wash them.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:41 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

It seemed like a good idea to bury our first three dead cats in an unused section of the back yard (bury 'em deep!), but that was in the old days. Now we cremate them. Dogs? No. Gerbils/fish? Dumpster.
posted by kozad at 3:53 PM on March 19, 2019

No way am I using a pet cemetery again. Puss has been seriously weird ever since she came back from there.
posted by um at 3:55 PM on March 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

I grew up with a pair of dogs who are both buried near my grandparent's home. They had a large property, and a backhoe, so a nice deep hole wasn't too hard to manage. That's less practical now.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:00 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Daisy the Third, the labrador, died and as Daisy used to love to come and visit her owners' great-aunts who had a fabulous large backyard, her owners asked if Daisy could be buried there, as they had previously done for Daisy the First and Daisy the Second.

So the next day, after work in winter, which meant it was dark, a station wagon pulled up outside the back fence and the neighbours saw a a heavy object rolled in a blanket being hoisted over the fence, after which somebody jumped over the locked gate and the station wagon drove off.

Not long after, the great-aunts were now too frail to live in the house, so the house was sold with the back yard sub-divided and when the excavators dug up bones, the neighbours remembered the late night visitors ...

Apparently it was nearly a fortnight before work on the excavation started again.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:41 PM on March 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm just glad taxidermy is out of fashion

Actually, an internet friend of mine has his three deceased dogs (medium sized) stuffed and posed. I must say, they do look very lifelike, but the cost of the taxidermy was around $1600 each. No idea what he has planned for them after his own death, though.
posted by annieb at 6:41 PM on March 19, 2019

The Gatsby cat is buried in my parents' backyard. She died of natural causes at home and my parents were in the process of extending an outbuilding, so she's safe under the floor of my dad's winter bar.

It was important to me that her grave be inaccessible. Some thirty years, a neighborhood friend and I unearthed a cat skeleton in her yard while playing explorer. It wasn't until I was an adult that I made the horrific connection that we had dug up a pet. I'm still traumatized and full of guilt and shame.

The other cat and the dog will not be buried in the backyard. Kid Ruki can make the decision about her cat. My dog will likely be cremated and eventually buried with me. I'm an organ donor, but my dog was a breeder for most of her life, before we adopted her from a shelter, and I just have this thing about her body being used for no one but herself in this part of her life and after death.
posted by Ruki at 7:45 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

We had to have my old kitty Bella put down last year. I had been debating on burying her in an enormous plant pot (we are renters, so I wanted to be able to bring her with us whenever we move) and then growing something nice in it, but even the biggest pot is not really big enough for something like that not to cause short-to-medium term problems, and then longer-term problems because it would weigh a million kilograms.

So I had her cremated, and mixed her ashes through the soil in a much smaller pot, which now grows a lovely lavender cat's whiskers plant.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:42 PM on March 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I must say, they do look very lifelike, but the cost of the taxidermy was around $1600 each. No idea what he has planned for them after his own death, though.

I’d be more concerned with his plans for his own body post mortem.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:07 AM on March 20, 2019

Actually, an internet friend of mine has his three deceased dogs (medium sized) stuffed and posed. I must say, they do look very lifelike

That's what would weird me out. It's cultural, I realize, considering there are people who have a very different view of how to remember and keep their loved ones close.

I just couldn't do it, much like I also don't want to keep ashes in an urn somewhere that takes up space and could get knocked over. The method I really like but would never be able to afford is to have my ashes shot into the sun. I don't want to orbit the earth and clutter things up that way; that's just being in another sort of urn. I also don't want to be shot out into space randomly, where my ashes could potentially lead to an ecologically disaster on some alien planet. Return me to the sun and reduce me to basic elements. That works.

Barring that, I'll be ashes feeding a tree. That's okay, too.
posted by linux at 10:42 AM on March 20, 2019

When I die I want somebody to bore a ten foot hole with a two foot auger, lower my corpse into it in a hessian bag, and then fill it in and plant a tree in the mound. I'm quite fond of the idea of my skeleton hugging the taproot of a nice shade tree.
posted by flabdablet at 8:58 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

In my town, the vet told me they dumped 'em in a large ravine over on the east side of town near the shit plant. Oh, well, I guess buzzards and coyotes gotta eat too.

Honestly, it would be perfectly fine with me if they dumped me there when I die. La, tee, da, look at me, I'm food!
posted by OldAndTired at 4:57 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

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