PET funerals may seem a little over the top to anyone who has not experienced the death of a family pet or had to put one to sleep, but the Vicar of Crondall and Ewshot, in Guildford diocese, the Revd Tara Hellings, testifies to their value for families grieving over such a loss.
For many years, she has been conducting simple funerals at the request of the Dignity Pet Crematorium in Winchfield. She was initially approached by its owners when clients requested something Christian and spiritual for their well-loved pet.
“People have different relationships with their pets, and it depends on circumstances, but I think it’s a very real sense of loss when an animal dies that has been very much part of the family — particularly cats and dogs,” she said on Tuesday.
“That great sense of loss leaves a big hole, along with uncertainty about what it all means. So there is some reassurance in bringing God into it, and thanking God for all they’ve enjoyed together, and what they learned from each other. They get comfort in entrusting their loved ones of all sorts to God.”
It is simply about caring and loving, she says, and, for children in particular, the death of a pet is part of learning about the life-cycle and understanding the idea that life goes on. Each funeral is different, but all have simple prayers and a brief address. “Some people want me to go along to the crematorium, and I’m happy to do that. Some speak about what they have gained and lost, and then we entrust the pet to God,” she says.
“I just see this as part of my role as Vicar, which is surely to meet people at their time of celebration and at their time of need. If the loss of a pet causes distress, and you can bring something of God’s part in things to bear on it, that’s no bad thing.”
She avoids being drawn into any arguments about whether animals have souls. “That’s quite loaded,” she says. “I tell them I don’t claim to know the answer to that. We share wonderful things, and then it’s up to God; that it’s about loving God and trusting in God’s nature of love, whatever that might be. Animals have been part of family life, and always will be. It’s all about respect, really.”
Read our feature on grief for animals