Thursday, 01 October 2009 00:00    E-mail
Pet cemeteries give dignified final resting place

Owners want respect, honor for pets who serve faithfully

Thumbnail image

Download this article: Pet_Cemeteries_EO-1009.pdf

Goldie and Sheba, shelter dogs that Dietrich Buczko cherished, were cremated after they died several years apart. Both are buried in his backyard.

Tina Eacret held a memorial service for her Chihuahua Maddie when an embolism unexpectedly stole her life during routine surgery.  And Tiki the cat’s ashes rest in a special urn on Barbara Florio Graham’s mantle.

Pets2-webPets serve as companions, family members and friends. A dog may provide solace during a bitter divorce. A cat may comfort her female owner during breast cancer treatment.

When a beloved pet dies, owners want their remains treated with respect and honor. We bury pets for the same reasons as humans: To give them a dignified final rest, as a personal tribute, and to say thanks for years of companionship.

Sending a beloved dog or cat to the county landfill with mounds of rotting, filthy garbage after years of devotion just doesn’t sit well for some people. Instead, they opt for burial or cremation—and in a few cases—a memorial service with a clergy member officiating.

The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPC) said about 600 pet burial sites are located in the United States. IAOPC doesn’t maintain statistics on how many pets are buried in cemeteries, but it’s probably in the tens of thousands because pet cemeteries are found in almost every state.

Some sites are small, such as the Forrest Run Pet Cemetery in Sherwood, Wis., while the two cemeteries operated by the Bide a Wee animal shelter in Long Island, N.Y., are significantly larger.

The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory on Long Island is the first officially documented pet cemetery in the United States.  In 1896 Dr. Samuel Johnson, a prominent veterinarian, offered his apple orchard as a burial place for his grieving friend’s dog in what was then a rural section of Westchester County.

Now, around 70,000 pets are buried there.

Others are cremated and the urns laid to rest.  “We do more cremations than burials,” said director Ed Martin. “Cremation is now more acceptable and less expensive.” Last year, Hartsdale did about 500 burials and 12,000 individual cremations.

Most dogs and cats at Hartsdale belonged to ordinary people. Some, however, lived with the rich and famous. Pets belonging to former silver screen star George Raft, baseball great Joe Garagiola and singing sensation Mariah Carey are also interred at Hartsdale.

Pets4-webSo is Sirius, the only canine victim of 9/11.  A bomb-sniffing dog on duty at the Twin Towers. His handlers were unable to evacuate him in time. Sirius perished along with 2,603 people in New York City that fateful day in 2001.

Besides burial and cremation services, Hartsdale has a war dog memorial originally built in 1923 to honor the 7,000 military dogs that served from 1914 to 1917 in World War I. This is the first memorial to honor dogs that served in the military.

Animal shelters, like pet cemetery operators, experience the broken bond when a pet dies. They, too, provide burial and cremation services to the public. No national organization maintains data on shelters with cemeteries and/or cremation services, but an Internet search reveals that many do.

Since 1916, the Bide a Wee shelter on Long Island, operates two pet cemeteries, the final resting places for nearly 35,000 domestic pets, mostly dogs and cats. Bide a Wee offers cremation services as well.

The Vanderburgh Humane Society in Evansville, Ind., had a pet cemetery with about 300 graves, but vandals destroyed or removed many of the headstones so the shelter closed it in 2003.

Located in Dedham, Mass., a suburb of Boston, the Pine Ridge Cemetery, owned and operated by the Animal Rescue League of Boston, is one of the oldest pet cemeteries in the country. Headstones date back to the early 1900s. Pine Ridge performs cremations in addition to burials.

Some animal shelters maintain memorial gardens. Take the example of Lorraine’s Garden at the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee. Dog lover Lorraine Raasch left money in her estate for a pet memorial at the shelter. There, owners in mourning spend quiet time grieving the loss of their pets.  Opened in 2007, Lorraine’s Garden has a chapel, a lovely flower garden, soothing wind chimes and a peaceful walk where bricks can be purchased in memory of a pet or a human. Proceeds, of course, benefit homeless animals. The Humane Society offers cremation services.

Pets1-webThe Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary, set aside an area called Angel’s Rest for resident and staff pets when they die.  Some animals, mostly dogs and cats, live at the shelter for 10 years or more. Staff members form strong attachments with these animals, so naturally there is a loss when they die. Members of the public can also bury their pets or their pets’ ashes at Angels Rest.  Fees benefit the Sanctuary. Angel’s Rest is a place of solace, comfort and healing for staff and visitors at Best Friends.

About a dozen cats are buried in Mary R.’s backyard, which is often illegal in many areas. State health departments regulate digging doggie or cat graves on private property.  Mary R. didn’t check them out; she just wanted her cats to be nearby.

Burials and cremations have associated costs. Cremations are widely available at shelters, veterinary practices, animal hospitals and private crematories. Costs vary depending on location, type of urn and size of animal, but they’re less expensive than burial.  Burials include burial boxes, headstones, plot fee and cemetery maintenance.

A few cemetery operators are shady. They sell the land and fail to notify pet owners or allow it to fall into disrepair. Thistlerose Pet Cemetery in Glendale, Wis., however, pushed a closing date back to give owners more time to remove their pets’ remains and bury them elsewhere. The IAOPC or Better Business Bureau is a good source to check before purchasing lifetime plots at a pet cemetery.

Pet cemeteries will always be a way for grieving owners to pay tribute to their departed companions. An article in the St.  Louis Post-Dispatch on Aug. 15, 2009, said a woman climbed into the grave dug for her dog, played church music from a tape recorder and said she would “sing him all the way to heaven.”

Then, there was the family who arrived “in four limousines with a rabbi in tow to preside over the burial of their black lab.” The service ended with champagne toasts.  For many owners, pets are the children or family they’ve never had. They want their pets to rest in peace, regardless of the expense.

A headstone at a memorial garden at the Rhode Island SPCA reads, “Max was my friend, partner, defender. He was faithful to the last beat of his heart.”

Debra J. White had a life changing experience on Jan. 6, 1994. While walking her dogs after work, a car rammed into her, leaving her in a ditch, unconscious. After a lengthy recovery, she took up creative writing. Today, she is an award-winning writer who regularly contributes to a number of publications, including Earth Odyssey.