When I wrote “Dying to Be Green” for the Sept/Oct issue of Audubon Magazine, I focused on people and the impact of our current funeral and burial customs on the environment. It’s considerable. Here’s what researchers estimate is found underground in one acre of your average cemetery: 1,000 gallons of potentially carcinogenic embalming fluid, 97.5 tons of energy-consumptive steel, 2,028 tons of concrete, 56,250 board-feet of wood, much of that slashed from tropical forests. Not particularly green–although that’s changing, as my article shows. But what about our pets? Do they “go green” into that Great Beyond?
Not necessarily. With an estimated 77 million pet dogs in the United States and 94 million cats, according to statistics from the Humane Society of the United States, that’s a serious issue. On the plus side, most people don’t embalm their pets with carcinogenic substances, nor are pets generally buried in resource-consumptive concrete vaults and caskets lined in soil- and ground-water-polluting lead. It’s generally legal to bury your pet on your own property, given public-health considerations. (I confess that we’ve got two dogs buried in our yard, a Shar Pei and a Great Dane, one in a biodegradable shroud, ie, an old cotton towel, the other–that would be Isis, in the photo above–as what the burial industry euphemistically calls “cremains.”)
If you prefer to bury your pet in a cemetery, you may want to look for a green or conservation burying ground, and if an actual casket is in order, look for something more… well, natural than the plastic or imported tropical hardwoods on offer at most pet cemeteries. Note also that pet cemeteries, unlike cemeteries for humans, aren’t required to be protected “in perpetuity,” meaning that your pet’s final resting place could be sold for a shopping mall someday, depending on state and local laws.
If we intend go green in death as we hope to in life, shouldn’t we allow our pets the same natural consideration?