Backyard burial of a pet is common practice in our neck-of-the-woods. Personally I have buried, in our current backyard, the cremated remains of one cat in an urn (Mimi) and the body of another cat inside a wood casket (Tommy). In retrospect, I’m not sure this was the wisest thing to do, or even legal, and I’m now giving serious consideration to excavating the remains of both cats, cremating Tommy, and then memorializing them both in a more meaningful way.

If you are thinking about a backyard burial for your pet, here are a few things to consider:

1) According to WA state law, “a person disposing of a dead animal by burial must place it so that every part is covered by at least three feet of soil; at a location not less than one hundred feet from any well, spring, stream or other surface waters; not in a low-lying area subject to seasonal flooding or within a one hundred-year flood plain; and not in a manner likely to contaminate groundwater” (WAC 246-203-121 – Disposal of dead animals). So much of our area, even privately owned land, is considered watershed, that you should check with your city or county government to find out if it’s OK to bury a pet on your property.

2) According to the Whatcom Humane Society, “Anyone who wishes to bury an animal on private property should contact City Council first, as the answer depends entirely on the location and the zoning laws in effect at that location.”

3) Whether your home is in town or out in the woods, we have so many wild animals, including coyotes and raccoons, that you run the risk of your pet being dug up, especially if it’s not buried deep enough.

4) What will you do if you move? Will you leave your pet’s body buried in the yard? Will you have their body excavated? If you do excavate, would you want your pet cremated or interred in a pet cemetery anyway? (For burial in a cemetery I would recommend Seattle Pet Cemetery. The benefit of cemetery burial is that your pet’s grave will be cared for indefinitely, and it is a place you will always be able to visit. The downside is that burial can be expensive, and Seattle Pet Cemetery is 1 to 2 hours away. If you move out of state, then visiting your pet’s grave becomes an even more difficult prospect.)

Cremation has a lot of advantages, key among them “flexibility.” Cremated remains are highly portable. You can keep them with you, regardless of where you live. You could also choose to scatter all or some of your pet’s remains in one or several spots that were significant to you and your pet. (See a future blog with info regarding the law and practical considerations of scattering cremated remains.) Also with cremation you have a seemingly endless array of urns or memorials to choose from.

So, before you head out to the shed to grab a shovel, consider your options and make sure that (whatever you decide) you follow the law and choose an after-care option that will be a good thing for you, your family, and the environment.