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Remains of the Day: Ten Unique (and Unexpected) Ways to Memorialize Your Pets

By Dr. Patty Khuly

dog paw print in brick

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably suffered the loss of a pet at some point in your pet-keeping lifetime (maybe even recently). Whether we’re talking about your first hamster, your childhood dog, or your twelfth cat, you know how it feels. Which means you’ve probably faced this disturbing dilemma: What will happen to her remains?

The trouble is, most of us aren’t thinking too rationally right around this time. Everything seems so awful and unreal that you’re not likely to know how to respond when asked to decide how you’ll handle the mundane and disquieting details related to any physical remains. So many possibilities – and so little emotional wherewithal to process them.

That’s why the one best solution to this dilemma, I’ve always found, is to have my beloved animals privately cremated. This way I get to keep their remains (referred to as cremains) so I can make up my mind about anything else I’d like to do with them once I’ve started thinking more clearly.

However, as a veteran pet owner, I’ve now started thinking ahead instead of in that moment.

Here are some wonderful options for you to start considering in advance of your loved ones’ future last days:

#1 & 2: Nose and Paw Prints

More recently, I’ve started offering my clients even more options at the time of death. Paw prints in clay and nose prints in ink. Both are sweet ways in which we can be reminded of our pets without having to pay for the bigger ticket item (private cremation can cost upwards of $500 in some areas, and always varies according to your pet’s weight). You can always have them privately cremated as well, of course.

In the exam room, I show them examples, tell them what they cost, and leave the room to let them process their choices. Indecisive clients always get up to 24 hours to decide on these options.

#3: Portraits

Nowadays, portraiture is more accessible and affordable than ever before. A great many artists will happily craft your pet’s portrait using your favorite photograph as a starting point. (Dozens are available on Etsy.) A few weeks later you’ll receive a gorgeous painting, sketch, or sculptural rendering to memorialize your pet forever. Some will even mix the ashes in with their medium (paints, clay, etc.) to make the art even more special.  

#4: Cuddle Clones®

Believe it or not some people actually pay thousands of dollars to have their pets freeze-dried and stuffed by a professional taxidermist. Others will pay $50,000 to have their pets cloned (Barbra Streisand proudly claims two clones). To each one’s own, right?

Me? I’d rather have the best of both worlds, without the ick factor or the expense. That’s why I’m all for Cuddle Clones®, plush renderings of your pet based on photographs you supply.

These babies might set you back a couple hundred bucks, but they won’t break the bank like a real clone. And their cuteness is so irresistible there’s no room for creepiness. They’re just awesome. Except the house slipper version. Not my favorite option for a memorial. (My other dogs would have a field day with those.)

#5 Precious Metal Nose Prints

Want something that’s even more unique and infinitely more durable? Get a nose print cast in silver, gold, bronze, or stainless steel. Artists (also on Etsy) will send you a putty which you’ll mold around your pet’s nose to get a custom impression of your pet’s unique nose. You can have these made as a pendant or as a simple object d’art. Unique, beautiful, and classy.

My sister had these done for her last two dogs and they’re gorgeous. The only trouble is that they need to be done before your pet passes. That is, unless you want to purchase the mold in advance and have your veterinarian undertake the impression. (I’d be happy to do it, as I’m sure most veterinarians would.)

#6 Rescued Implants

Let’s say you’re one of the many thousands of pet owners whose pet required a metallic orthopedic implant? If you’re having your pet privately cremated, you can always ask for your implant back. Ordinarily, crematoriums will discard these unburned items and include only the ashes with your cremains. However, if you ask nicely, most of these excellent services will happily set the implant aside, clean it for you, and include it separately (at no charge!).

I know that some people find this creepy. I get that. As a medical person, perhaps I’m a little biased here but I find these items to be precious. If nothing else, an orthopedic implant is a symbol of how much love you were willing and able to shower on your pet during his or her lifetime. I wear one on a chain around my neck every time I go to a veterinary conference (where I know most people will understand what it is I’m wearing and why I would want to wear it).

#7 Cremains Jewelry

Once regarded as “really out there,” jewelry containing cremains is considered not-too-kooky nowadays. Yes, wearable cremains are now commonplace among “normal” pet lovers. Eternity pendants, tiny lockets, and even cremains pressed into jewels for earrings, rings, and pendants are all the rage among those us who have lost beloved pets.

It’s not hard to ask Google to find artists who will hand-make these for you. Mass-produced items you can add your own ashes to are also available, often at lower price-points.

#8 Creative Urns

Your pets’ cremains need not exist in their boxes on a closet shelf somewhere. Dedicating yourself to finding the perfect unique urn for each pet is always a fun endeavor once you’ve gained the emotional stability to handle the task.

Searching online for ceramic statuettes is one common route. Lots of these are hollow and have little holes in the bottom. Filling them with ashes and applying a cork (or duct tape) is a simple matter.

Personal example: The two Boxers I lived with in vet school are currently residing in a large boxer-shaped statue I found in a Chinese grocery store. It’s kind of tacky (it has a velvet Elvis kind of vibe), but in the very best way imaginable. It suits them. Plus, their ashes are forever commingled, just as they were in life. Nothing tacky about that.

#9 Death Hedgerow

OK, so I know it’s an over-the-top subtitle, but it describes my side yard aptly. I’ve interred a portion of ashes of several of my pets under shrubby trees I’ve planted there. Some have headstones, even. The best part? I still have more of their ashes left just in case I ever feel inclined to get more creative with my pets’ remains.

If you have a green thumb, you may want to consider this kind of project. Planters, containers, hanging plants, etc.

#10 Furry Things

Crafting with pet fur is a thing. I have a whole book out of Japan on crafting with cat fur (the Japanese engage in all kinds of unique crafts). You can make Christmas ornaments, pendants, cat toys, jewelry pouches, and even yarn you can use to make a sweater. (Dog fur works but the success of the project depends on the kind of coat your dog has. Denser undercoats are preferred.)

If you really feel inclined to make a pet fur-based garment, be aware that you need to collect large amounts of fur over time (months!), find someone who’ll spin the fur into yarn for you, and you need to know how to knit or crochet a garment. Lots of resources exist online that’ll spin it into yarn or knit/crochet it for you, but you still need to collect all that fur!

It may sound weird, but the Victorians did lots of crafting with human hair as reminders of their passed relatives. Spooky, perhaps – but sweet nonetheless.

All these items are somewhat strange, I’ll concede, but they’re satisfying. Feel free to offer your own odd ways of memorializing your pets. Don’t worry, we won’t judge.

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