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The rich mourn their pets for six months, blow Sh50,000 on funeral budget

By Kelvin Kamau | July 15th 2021

When former United States President Barack Obama announced the death of Bo, the family’s pet dog on May 9 this year, social media came to a standstill.

On the one hand, pet lovers poured in their messages of condolence for the former first dog of the US; while on the other hand, critics came out guns blazing over what they termed as excessive attention given to ‘just a dog’.

But where is the line, if at all there is any, between a beloved pet and an animal? In recent times, keeping pets has become a popular nuance and is no longer considered a ‘mzungu’ lifestyle. Kenyans have also joined the bandwagon and Nairobi balconies are now home to barking family members, especially Chihuahua dogs.

And with love comes loss, so it is only fair that once a loved pet dies, it is mourned in equal measure.

Cromwell Kedemi, a pet lover in Nairobi says, “I have lost pets a number of times. The loss of a pet is very painful and takes a while to get over the emotional pain because of the love that exists between you and your pet. When this occurs, we bury the pet without much ceremony.”

But for Dendeleon Omwanza, who lost her pet three months ago, they opted to cremate and keep the ashes in a safe place, bottled in an urn.

"We had him cremated at a cost of Sh1,500 and we still have his ashes. It was a really sad moment, both emotionally and psychologically. I still think of him,” Omwanza says adding that they had the pet, named Carter, for 10 years.

“We moved with him even when we left the country and back so there was a deep attachment. Carter was family, and was loved by each member. Even his sibling - not by birth - Kiki was affected. It took a toll on her and didn't feed for few days. For remembrance we have kept lots of his pictures, and his leash still hangs at his spot.

According to Dr Linet Okinyi, a veterinarian at Pets Haven in Nairobi, how one reacts to the death of a pet depends on the emotional investment they had for it. For families who are heavily invested in the pet during its lifetime, death comes with a blow akin to losing a loved one.

Dr Okinyi says that in wealthier homes, the death of a pet is considered a big loss, and the funeral is conducted in a manner that shows prestige and deep concern for the pet. She says in these situations, pets are accorded a befitting funeral ceremony that sometimes mimicks or outdoes that of a human being.

“These pets are revered as part of the family; it’s an emotional entanglement,” she says, adding that “Depending on an individual’s ability to cope with loss, some will need psychological support. Most of it involves talking to people who shared love for the pet such as friends, relatives or the breeder from who the pet was adopted. Some individuals may also opt for professional support where they would seek the services of a counsellor or therapist.”

According to Dr Okinyi, the mourning period often takes six months to one year and it is common for the mourners to keep talking about the pet they lost during the burial ceremony.

For upscale families operating on a big budget, the funeral ceremony will often have a complete service, including an obituary. Many of these pet owners then bury or cremate their pets, while others take them to the Kabete Veterinary Laboratory for incineration.

Another common trend among loved pets is to bury them in coffins, especially for upscale family pets and police dogs.

Dr Okinyi says: “I have seen a few cases of cremation especially among Indian pet owners, the ashes are well preserved. The death of one pet often affects other pets, leaving them gloomy and withdrawn. Some do physical mourning like sniffing the deceased, shedding tears and making sorrowful noises.”

Dr.Pascal Juma, another veterinarian from Naypest Limited says the budget for burying a pet also depends on the financial status of the owner, adding that he has seen some wealthy Indian families spend up to Sh50,000 to bury especially house pets which they have lived with for several years.

He says female owners mourn longer, especially when they lose their pet cats, while male owners tend to move on faster.

“The death of a pet affects other pets, mostly in cases where the pets were only two and were close to each other. When a pet dies, the other becomes dull and feeding is remarkably reduced,” says Juma. He adds that, “Psychological support is the hardest part for us to manage as vets. The last thing you want to tell a pet owner is that they will have to get another one. Sometimes we just tell the client it shall be well.”

There’s a major positive shift in attitude towards pets - vet

Dr Pascal Juma, a veterinary doctor at Naypest Limited says there has been a tremendous change of attitude towards love for pets in recent years, so that it’s no longer a reserve for the rich, as was the case many years back.

According to Dr Juma, the attitude shift is something veterinary practitioners find very positive. He says that people are also very informed about matters concerning dogs and cats both in life, and also in death.

“Memorial ceremonies are not common for pets, but it is common for a client to keep talking about the pet that has died especially when they spot a similar one, or whenever they bring their other pets for vaccination or treatment,” says Dr Juma.

He adds that, “Rites are often observed by Indian pet owners but it is shrouded in secrecy because they mostly do it at their homes. Obituaries for pets are just shared among family members and friends who knew the pets.”

According to Dr Juma, the most difficult part of a pet’s death is breaking the news to young children who shared a bond with the pet.

"There are several ways in which people honour their departed pets. There are those that keep their pet tags, some have memorial ceremonies, plant a tree and some write letters or even poems about the pet. We tell people that death is part of the lifecycle for all creatures and cannot be avoided,” says Dr Griffins Mwendwa Mulonzi, a veterinary surgeon at the Noble Veterinary Surgeons.

Dr Mwendwa states that animals are more intelligent than we give them credit for, adding that they also grieve just like humans do when they lose a loved one, either a fellow pet or human companion.

"It’s normal to grieve the loss of your pet, and it’s also important to choose how you would want to remember your pet. Cherish the good times you’ve had together with your animal,” he says.

According to Dr Mwendwa, one of the most difficult parts of veterinary practice is euthanasia, otherwise known as mercy killing. This is the process of putting an animal to sleep through painless death, and is normally done in cases of chronic diseases which have little or no hope of recovery like cancer.

“Sometimes it’s very difficult as some owners feel guilty,” he says, adding that when a pet loses its companion, it is often best to provide them with as much normalcy as possible in order to quicken the healing process.


Celebrities who went all out to mourn their pets

Pets are a big part of many celebrity families, and many of these owners go to great lengths to accommodate them, with some going as far as getting life insurance for their ‘fur babies’.

When Bo, the White House dog died, Former United States President Barack Obama mourned him as “a true friend and loyal companion”.

Soon after, on June 20, one of US President Joe Biden’s two dogs, Champ also died. In their Twitter message which went viral, Biden and his wife Jill described Champ as “a constant, cherished companion … adored by the entire Biden family”.

The Bidens added to the list of celebrities who have made the loss of their pets public.

When Kenyan businessman Gor Semelang’o lost his dog Rogers in 2018, he said that his pet was not your ordinary security dog. Valued at Sh350,000, Gor said it was a special Russian military attack dog.

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