Yesterday BBC South Today featured an organisation called Canine Carers. This charity encourages owners of gentle, friendly, affectionate dogs to volunteer, and visit people whose lives are enhanced by regular interaction with dogs. Canine Carers often visit the elderly in their care homes, and both children and adults in hospices, and it is sometimes people’s dying wish to have their companion present at their funeral. However, some crematoriums and chapels of rest do not allow dogs, meaning that there are occasions where these requests cannot be honoured.
Funerals are usually quite difficult experiences for those in attendance. Celebrating the life of someone who has passed away is an important part of the grieving process in most cultures and steps are usually made to accommodate the wishes of the departed. For those of us whose lives are touched by pets it makes sense that we might want to have them present for this event. So what is the etiquette when it comes to pets at funerals?
There is a huge variance in death rites and funeral customs between different religions and there are vastly differing opinions on pets as a whole, not just when it comes to religious, or spiritual, events. Whether you are attending a funeral, or making plans for your own, it’s best to gauge the general sentiment towards pets within the relevant culture or religion. If the general feeling is a positive one then you can consider involving a pet.
Of course, in some cases it is entirely impractical to include a pet in a funeral service. Even the friendliest of cats would probably struggle with the environment, and any caged pets would be better left at home. Similarly, dogs who are people-shy, over-exuberant or poorly house-trained would not be appropriate to include in such an occasion. If, however, your dog is able to walk to heel, sit, lie down and stay on command, and is generally gentle and friendly they could be appropriate guests.
If you are involved in the planning of the funeral you should ask in advance whether the venue generally allows animals, or if there are any special conditions regarding this. Many do welcome pets, some have policies that restrict animal access and some outright forbid them. Where possible you can plan in advance to hold the funeral in a pet-friendly venue. If, however, you are only a guest then you should call the location to ask in the first instance. If the venue doesn’t allow pets then you should accept this. If they do you can approach the organisers and ask their permission.
It is important not to just turn up with your pet. Funerals can be fraught and upsetting events and people could be distressed by something so unexpected. You should approach this gently by asking as far in advance as possible whether you can bring your dog. If they say no then you should accept this without a fuss; they are going through a difficult time and shouldn’t be troubled. It would also be prudent to accommodate the human mourners in attendance. If you are aware that any of those planning to go to the funeral have allergies or asthma exacerbated by pets, it’s wise to be sensitive to this.
While this is a delicate issue, many people will welcome your dog, as they can break tension and lower anxiety, and therefore actually be a beneficial presence, especially if the departed was close with the dog.