By Lizann Lightfoot

Here are the options when your pet dies on base
(Photo: FEMA by Eliud Echevarria)

Military family pets have the honor of being treated as a member of the family. Families living on base can have up to two pets in base housing. Dogs and cats can travel to most duty stations, even overseas. But eventually, when our pets die, military families are faced with some difficult choices.

Is it legal to bury your pet?

Growing up on a farm, I witnessed the birth and death of many family pets. Typically, after an animal died we buried it in the ground. We could have a little ceremony or say a few words to say goodbye; however, military families don’t always have that option. The problems with pet burial are both legal and environmental. Here’s why military families often cannot bury a pet:

  • If you live in military base housing, you are not allowed to bury a dead animal on the property because you do not own the property.
  • If you live off base, check your local city and state laws first. Most city laws do not permit anyone to bury animal remains within city limits, except in a graveyard. Even if laws seem to allow it, you still need permission from your landlord if you are renting.
  • If you live overseas (on- or off-base), local laws often prohibit people from burying an animal.
  • Even if there are no laws prohibiting burial, a sprinkler system built into your yard means that you cannot dig more than a few inches. You must also be careful to avoid digging near buried electric wires and keep a gravesite away from sources of drinking water. For these reasons, burying a cat or dog in your yard is often not an option.

Pet cemeteries

Because many cities require pets to be buried safely on designated land, pet cemeteries are becoming increasingly popular. Your vet can give you information about local pet cemeteries. They offer many options, ranging from a casket burial to an urn with cremated ashes. You can even choose a custom gravestone or marker for your pet’s burial place. Of course, these options can be expensive. For military families, pet cemeteries mean that you may end up moving away from your pet’s burial site.

Veterinarian pet disposal

Most veterinarians offer an affordable option when a pet dies. If the animal is put down at a veterinary clinic, the body can be left there and disposed of in a group cremation with other deceased pets. This process is the most simple and the one most commonly selected by pet owners. Unfortunately, it means that there is sometimes not an opportunity to say goodbye or to have a memorial service for your pet.

Donate your pet’s body to science

Some universities and Humane Society branches need animal bodies for education and research. Pet bodies could be used in veterinary anatomy classes or to research cures for diseases. If you choose this option, you will need to make arrangements with both your vet and the school or Humane Society. Complete paperwork before the pet’s final vet appointment. After the research, the remains will be cremated. You may or may not have an option to receive the ashes afterwards.


One option that works almost anywhere is having your pet cremated. Cremation is the process of burning a body until it is transformed into ashes. Price is determined by pet size but could be between $100-$300 for a cat or dog.

  • Some places allow you to witness the process if you choose. You then have the option to bury the ashes, scatter the ashes, or save the ashes.
  • Cremated pet ashes can be buried on most properties, including base housing. Just avoid digging into sprinklers or wires.
  • Pet ashes are biodegradable and all states allow them to be scattered in most natural locations: your backyard, a dog park, or the beach. There are even companies that will help you scatter them in the ocean or in the air via a special hot air balloon. Check your local laws first.
  • Ashes can be saved in any type of urn or box. There are many stylish, beautiful designs offered at vet offices or online. They can be personalized with your pet’s name. The box can be kept in your house so your pet can always stay with you.

What about moving with ashes?

Since military families move often, they eventually face the problem of how to transport their pet’s cremated ashes. Officially, most moving companies will not pack and transport animal remains. Most military families who have a box of ashes pack it into the belongings in their personal vehicle and drive it to the next duty station. However, a few individuals reported to me that their decorative box of pet ashes was accidentally packed out with the rest of their household belongings because the packers didn’t realize what it was. If you wish to bring a pet’s ashes overseas, you would have to hand carry it or pack it into your airplane luggage.