When I ask pet families if they would like me to make a paw print at their appointment, occasionally I hear that they have already made their own using clay, paint or ink. As a crafty person myself, I love all things DIY and pet keepsakes are no exception. With the holiday season already in full swing, this time may be bittersweet for any family of a senior pet. We may be asking ourselves, “Is this the last holiday we’ll get to be with them?” Since cold temps and time with family are excellent reasons to break out the art supplies, why not celebrate your pet by creating a one-of-a-kind keepsake that you can enjoy over the holidays, or every day, for years to come?
As a gentle reminder, particularly if attempting a DIY paw print, remember that many pets are sensitive about their paws and may be wary if you’re asking them to dip their paws in paint, salt dough or other medium. Be sure to give lots of treats, take breaks, or forgo the paw print altogether if it’s too stressful. And let your perfectionism go—keepsakes do not need to be perfect. You’re capturing a slice of life and I think it’s nice if it’s a little smudge-y or off-center, because that’s life for you!
Many of the following ideas are Christmas-centric. These ideas could easily be modified if you and your pet are celebrating “Paw’nzaa” or “Paw’nukkah,” as well. Lastly, please choose art supplies that are non-toxic. Any washable paint for kids would be fine and if you decide to make a salt dough paw print, take care your dog does not eat it!
Paw Print Christmas Trees
This first craft idea and photos are courtesy of craftymorning.com. You can see that these paw prints are not perfect and that’s what makes it look so unique! Here’s the tutorial: https://www.craftymorning.com/paw-print-christmas-tree-keepsake/
Salt Dough Paw Print Ornaments
These paw prints are very similar to the clay option available for an end-of-life appointment, but you can make several of them and make them really unique. Once again, salt dough is easy to make and it may smell yummy to your dog. Ingesting a large quantity of salt at once could be dangerous, so if your dog is a counter-surfer, make sure these are kept away or consider making a less tempting keepsake. Full salt dough tutorial here: https://onelittleproject.com/paw-print-salt-dough-ornaments/
Image courtesy of onelittleproject.com
Painting Your Pet's Portrait
Painting a portrait of your own pet can be a very powerful and therapeutic experience, particularly if they are recently deceased. Here is a picture of our very own kitty, the late, great Buenos Graves-Larson. He died in September of 2013 and his death was very hard for us. As you can see, my painting skills are pretty minimal, but it was very meaningful to me to paint him and this little painting remains one of my most treasured possessions.
Below is our kitty, sweet Tuna. She died of intestinal lymphoma between my 2nd and 3rd years of vet school. This craft night portrait took place before her diagnosis and was just for laughs at the time but now that she’s gone, I’m so glad we have it.
If free-handing your pet’s portrait sounds intimidating, you could always do a paint-by-number. I have always wanted to make one of these. This company (https://grayduckart.com) and many others online will print the canvas and pre-mix the paints for you based on a photo of your pet. You could always choose vibrant colors to make it original too.
Thinking Outside the Box
Pet memorial keepsakes are by no means limited to painting or salt dough. Any medium can be utilized! I snapped this picture of this melted kitty paw print in the snow because I thought it was cute, but I think it would look beautiful framed and would be a unique alternative to a traditional clay paw keepsake.
Holiday Cards and Face Masks
Of course holiday cards featuring pets is something almost everyone is familiar with. Putting your senior pet on one is a wonderful way to commemorate them. Here’s our holiday cards from 2018, creatively composed by my husband using a painting of mine as the backdrop. And in case you were wondering, the answer is yes, a LOT of catnip was dispensed to get our senior, Bobby, to wear that cowboy hat.
Like so many others in April of this year, I was feverishly sewing Covid masks for the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. My husband took this photo of our cat, Foghorn (nicknamed Qwerm), who was napping in my fabric pile. In addition to our holiday cards, we also sent custom covid masks featuring Qwerm’s ferocious yawn (created on printerpix.com) to commemorate this year of infamy.
Whatever keepsake you make, remember that the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process with your loved ones and you will cherish the result for years, no matter how it turns out.
Written By: Dr. Mavi Graves, Caring Pathways Veterinarian
Dr. Mavi feels that the end-of-life journey is an incredibly sacred and meaningful time to serve pet families and she feels strongly about the importance of letting pets pass away at home. It is an honor to facilitate gentle and peaceful euthanasia experiences and to that end, Dr. Mavi has earned her Fear-Free Certification. She is also working towards acupuncture certification and strives for excellence and personal betterment in supporting pet owners through what may be one of the most difficult days of their lives. Click here to read Dr. Mavi's full bio.