Waking Nicky: A Dog’s Memorial


When I was a teenager, my aunt had a Bichon Frise that she adored. To everyone else, Buddy was a little ball of fluff with a huge attitude. He was nasty when she had visitors. He was so possessive of Aunt Bev that he would try to keep us away from her, and would growl and nip at our ankles when we got close. While I found him annoying, it was evident my aunt was extremely attached to him.

I’ll never forget the day he died. My mother answered the phone, and I could hear my aunt crying on the other end. I was expecting her to be upset, but I hadn’t expected her grief to be that bad. Normally happy and peaceful, Aunt Bev was inconsolable for a long time. I thought she had truly gone crazy when I heard she was paying to have Buddy cremated so she could keep his ashes on her mantel.

I had never lost a dog I adored so I couldn’t understand what Aunt Bev was going through. That was until I became an animal guardian myself and experienced the loss of our own precious dog.

As I write, I can see Nicky’s box of ashes on top of our piano. We lost our beautiful yellow Lab just a few weeks before Christmas. He had battled cancer for about six months. On the night before he died, Nicky had a seizure and fell down a flight of stairs. We knew we couldn’t prolong his suffering any more, and the vet came the next day to put him to rest.

A sudden cold settled on the house after Nicky was gone. It was hard to be at home without him. I realized I was feeling what other bereaved animal lovers experience – an emptiness as if my insides had been ripped out. I was a wreck, just like Aunt Bev when she lost Buddy.

Because Nicky was so special, I wanted to give him a suitable burial in the backyard, but my neighbor said it was illegal in our area. I called a few pet cemeteries in southern Ontario, but they were all too far away. I wanted Nicky to stay close to us. Then, I remembered the little urn of ashes on Aunt Bev’s mantel.

I decided to have Nicky cremated, and chose a pet crematory in Guelph, Ontario. When I called, the voice of the director was very calming. He explained the process in detail and the different options available. I could have Nicky cremated alone or with other dogs, so of course I chose the first option. I also chose to have him waked before the cremation. I’ve always believed that a wake helps one come to terms with the death of a loved one, providing the necessary closure, and I needed this for Nicky as well.

My husband loved Nicky, but decided he’d rather not come to the crematory. We felt our sons, ages six and ten, were too young for the experience, and my daughter Katie was away at university, so I went on my own.

We had a horrible snowstorm the day of the wake, and I was late. The directors waited for me, however, and I had about 15 minutes alone with Nicky before he was cremated. He was lying on a blanket and looked like a puppy peacefully sleeping. They had bathed and brushed him and his coat was shiny. He looked so different from the day he died. I said my final goodbyes and tied his favorite scarf around his neck.

One of the attendants then escorted me to a waiting room where I sobbed quietly to myself. The room was comfortable and cozy with leather couches and a large fish aquarium. Soothing music was playing overhead. The walls were decorated with lovely pet poems. I sat on a comfy couch and read an assortment of dog magazines that were on the coffee table.

The attendant helped me choose a box for Nicky’s ashes. They had a nice assortment of urns and wooden boxes to choose from. I chose a cedar box because I liked the look of the natural wood – it had a warm feeling to it.

When Nicky’s cremation was over, I was handed his cedar box of ashes inside a cardboard carton. Tucked in beside the box was a copy of the poem “Rainbow Bridge”, tied with a ribbon.

As I drove home through the snowstorm, I experienced a sense of peacefulness that I hadn’t felt since before Nicky died.

Nicky’s cedar box now sits on top of the piano beside one of our favorite pictures of him. It looks like it belongs there. When the weather is warmer, I may bury it in our garden, but I like having it just where it is, making us feel that Nicky is close by.

I had guests last week and someone asked about the box. When I told her it was my deceased dog, she didn’t look impressed. But it doesn’t matter – Aunt Bev would understand.

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