Pet Cremation History

Learn About the Traditions of Pet Burial, Cat and Dog Cremation Throughout Time

While there is little documentation of when the first pet cremation occurred in the United States, it has become a popular choice for pet owners to have their pet cremated.

Pet cremation has quickly become the memorial choice for pet owners. In this now more mobile society, pet owners are finding that they can take the cremated remains of their pet with them should they move. A much easier option than if their pet was buried.

A Brief History of Pet Burial

The ritualized burial of animals has been practiced in virtually every part of the world at some point in time. In many societies, it was (and still is) a means of honoring animals who endeared themselves to their human families. Such burials stand as enduring expressions of one's emotional affinity with nonhuman beings, and on a more expansive level, one's sense of spiritual kinship with the natural world at large. Funerary rites for animals celebrate the belief that we may share the "next life" with other creatures-just as we do this one.

Of all the ancient societies to conduct funerals for animals, Egypt is the best known, thanks to the many elaborately mummified dogs, cats, monkeys and birds that have been recovered by archaeologists in recent times. As early as 1000 B.C., substantial parcels of land along the Nile were set aside expressly for the burial of animals, though it was equally acceptable to inter pets in tombs of their owners. Then, as now, wealthy pet owners spared no expense for their animals' funerals. When a royal guard dog named Abutiu ("With Pointed Ears") died in 2180 B.C., the grieving pharaoh ordered a sarcophagus made for the dog, and that "very much fine cloth, incense and scented oil" be used in the mummification process. It was decreed that Abutiu be interred in his own underground tomb, specially constructed by the royal stone masons, "so that he might become one of the Blessed."

Among the most famous ancient dog lovers is Alexander the Great (356 B.C. - 323 B.C.), who owned a large Mastiff-like hound named Peritas. Upon her death, the conqueror led a formal funeral procession to the grave, erected a large stone monument on the site and ordered nearby residents to celebrate her memory in annual festivities. A city by the name still exists in this location.

After centuries of affiliation with the pagan gods of Egypt, Rome and Greece, many animals were subject to persecution in the new Christian era, starting around 700 A.D.. Medieval dogs and cats often were accused of being the consorts of witches, or even worse, were Satan incarnate. There was little tolerance for people who cuddled or talked to animals, and even less for the notion of burying pets with the same pomp and ceremony accorded humans. Still, there were a courageous few who argued that animals were entitled to post mortem honors. As one French cleric arranged a formal Christian funeral for his little dog, news of the plan leaked to his supervising bishop, who demanded that he appear before a tribunal to answer charges of heresy. Amazingly, the priest pleaded his innocence and not only succeeded in getting all charges dropped, but humiliated his accuser as well. "You will understand, my Lord, that I was able to put this dog, who was worth much more than a good number of Christians, in a discreet position," he said to the council. "The dog gave me many instances of wisdom in life, and above all in its death ! It even wished to leave me its will, at the head of which is the name of the bishop of this diocese, to whom it bequeaths 150 crowns, which I have here for you now."

"His attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, his fidelity without deceit," reads the epitaph of Dash the spaniel, the first and perhaps best-loved dog of Princess Victoria, who as Queen (1837-1901) campaigned aggressively for the establishment of a new humane ethic in English society. Over the course of her long life, vast grounds surrounding Windsor Castle became the final resting place for several beloved horses, one tiny finch, and many dogs, their likenesses immortalized in life-size bronze statues marking the graves.

But in the latter half of the nineteenth century, landless pet owners living in densely populated cities were confronted with nightmarish options when an animal died. A few went so far as to sneak into human cemeteries to bury pets in plots reserved for themselves.

Some deceased pets were photographed on lace-covered pillows, posed as though they were in blissful slumber (it was customary to photograph deceased children in the same manner), and many owners kept locks of their animal's hair in gold lockets or specially designed rings. 

That so many people choose to commemorate the lives of their pets is good news, for it signals a renewed sense of kinship with the natural world, largely inspired by the companion animals who aid and comfort us within the increasingly impersonal confines of our modern society.

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