Pet Educational Memorial Donations After Death

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“My beloved dog has died.  I wonder if I can do some good and donate his body for teaching.”  This is what many pet owners ponder but aren’t sure how to go about it.  Back in the day when I owned a mobile pet euthanasia service in northern Colorado, I offered a deceased pet educational memorial option for grieving owners, and 25% of owners chose it.  Roughly 1 in 4 opted to gift their pet’s body for teaching veterinary students at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. It was what we call a win-win-win-win…owners, students, teaching institute, and profession able to ethically source cadavers.

Finding ethically sourced companion animal cadavers (dogs, cats and others) is more challenging than one might think.  The Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy (CAETA) uses dog and cat cadavers for our euthanasia techniques workshop, where we practice the 5 most common euthanasia methods used for pets.  Locating these deceased animals can prove challenging, and we are not alone.  In a recent conversation with veterinary colleges, some have what they need and others are coming up short for their anatomy labs and surgical demonstrations. Learning from cadavers is a reliable model and prevents the necessity to work on live animals.  Many colleges with an ample supply of cadavers have established Educational Memorial Donation programs, and owners are opting in.

How it works is simple and effective while remaining respectful to the human-animal bond.  Either during the euthanasia planning phase, the euthanasia procedure itself, or in instances where the pet has died naturally and aftercare must be discussed, the owner is asked if they wish to donate their pet’s body for education. “Would you like to donate your pet’s body for teaching, to help veterinary students and other professionals learn better medicine?” Other choices include cremation, aquamation or burial. If the owner feels good about donating, the teaching institution will bring the body to a holding area until the teaching activity commences.  Following this, the body is handled with care and brought to an aftercare facility.

CAETA has partnered with Gateway Cremation Services to assist with communal cremation or aquamation in the nearest community.  For example, at our most recent training in New Jersey, a Gateway representative arrived at the event and safely transported the dogs and cats to the closest crematory for communal cremation.  The ashes were spread in accordance with their policy.  Owners who wish to keep their pet’s ashes do not typically donate. Some institutes and academies may be able to return the pet’s body to owners for cremation or burial but it’s rare.  

If Educational Memorials of animals by owners do not occur, teaching groups must find teaching cadavers from other sources.  This may include shelter animals euthanized for health and behavioral reasons or from cadaver-sourcing companies that sell to educators.  How these companies obtain cadavers remains a bit unknown [to me].  When owners donate, sourcing is clear.  What I’ve also found is these owners also like to mention how they want their own body given to science or used for organ donation.

Where do we go from here?  CAETA is eager to help all teaching institutes, academies, and even veterinary specialty hospitals teaching at the local level, to find ethically-sourced animal cadavers. Euthanasia and body disposition consent forms may include a line about Educational Memorial Donation, plus the agreement authorizing the pet’s use.

Example language to include

‘I hereby authorize this veterinary hospital to donate my deceased pet’s body for teaching purposes.  I understand they will be using my pet as an educational resource for veterinary education, and have my permission to use the body in whatever means necessary to deliver said education.  To my knowledge, my pet is free of agents/disease that could harm others.  I understand following the educational memorial, my pet will be cremated and the ashes will not be returned; the ashes will be spread in accordance with the pet aftercare facility’s normal ash dispersal policy.  I have entered freely into this agreement and feel it is the best choice for me, my family, and anyone who can learn from my pet.’

Example details

Pet’s name and signalment
Owner’s name, contact information, signature
Attending staff’s name and signature

To learn more about how to set up an Educational Memorial Pet Donation Program, contact CAETA.

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Dr. Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, CPEV, DACAW resident Founder, Senior Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy

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