LUBBOCK, Texas Losing your best friend is unthinkable whether she is human or not.
Pets today are not just animals to most owners; they're kitchen helpers, shoulders to cry on and workout buddies.
And when a close friendship with an animal comes to an end, there are several ways to cope with grief and say goodbye.
Sixty-three percent of U.S. households own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
Americans have spent an estimated $40.8 billion this year to feed, clothe and entertain their dogs, cats, birds, horses, reptiles, fish and other small companions.
Psychiatrist Valerie Robinson said pet owners who have animals that sleep, eat and play in the house with the rest of the family are likely to have a tough time when their pets die.
"If the pet is actually part of the family ... if you treat it as more of a person ... I think there's different feelings of attachment," said Robinson, director of child psychiatry at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, Department of Neuropsychiatry.
Robinson said she's lost seven Yorkshire terriers in her adult life and has memorialized each of them as a way to deal with her grief.
Closure can be found by expressing feelings of sadness, remembering good times and creating a memorial for the deceased, she said.
"I do think it's important to have a ritual," she said. "If they are part of the family, mark it with ceremony just like you would with a human especially if there are children."
Now that animals are living longer thanks to better veterinary care, and pet owners are becoming more attached to their cats and dogs, more owners formally memorialize their pets just as they would a human loved one.
"It's just something that before you never really thought about it," said Camille Farris, owner of the Cimarron Pet Cemetery and Crematorium.
Some owners even attend the pet's burial or hold small funerals.
Burial fees tend to be based on the size of the animal. Farris charges $145 plus $2 per pound to bury an animal.
Peaceful Gardens Pet Memory Park, in Woodrow, Texas, charges $175 for a 2-by-3-foot plot for smaller animals and $250 for a 3-by-5-foot plot for larger animals.
Some pet cemeteries offer custom-made coffins and urns. Others permit the pet to be placed in a container or buried naturally.
Cremation also is an option.
For example, at Cimarron it costs $125 plus $1 per pound, and the pet's ashes are sealed in a plastic bag and placed in an urn.
Many allow pet owners bring a marker of their choice to distinguish which grave is their pet's while others buy a brass plague or stone headstone.
There are other options for owners who can't afford to spend money on a memorial for their pet.
Creating a less expensive, lasting memorial for a deceased pet is as simple as connecting to the Internet.
VirtualPetCemetary.org offers an online epitaph for $20. Users may submit and share poems, memories and thoughts about their late pets that are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It can be helpful for residents of cities that prohibit burial of pets in back yards or placement of permanent markers.
For more information on the final care of a pet's body, contact The Humane Society of the United States at (202) 452-1100 or Companion Animals Section, The Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L St., NW Washington, D.C. 20037.
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