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Helping Pet Lovers Memorialize a Best Friend

"boy"The death of an animal companion can be one of life’s most difficult experiences for pet lovers. Society doesn’t offer much sympathy, but psychologists say that grieving pet owners need to find meaningful ways to pay their last respects to a departed companion animal. So it’s not surprising that one of the fastest-growing trends in pet ownership is the pet funeral.

Celebrating the human-pet bond
Best Friends Harperlawn Pet Memorial Park in Clinton Township, MI, fields 15 to 20 calls per week for cremations and/or burials. Says Manager Barb Oshnock: "Losing a cherished pet is like losing a family member."

Best Friends Keystone Memorial Park in Bethany has seen a similar surge in interest. "More and more people are coming to make arrangements before their pet passes," says Manager Stacey Nardozzi. "Some even choose the cemetery plot for the pet so they can have the setting that they like best for his or her final resting place."

Both facilities model themselves on a funeral home, providing all the standard services: they pick up the deceased pet from the vet’s office, and take him or her to the mortuary where the pet is prepared for burial or cremation. There’s a small chapel area, tastefully decorated with plants, drapery, seating and a casket stand.

Some pet owners come and sit quietly for a few minutes to say a last goodbye, while others have more formal ceremonies with friends in attendance. Oshnock recalls one pet owner who brought in an organ and conducted an elaborate funeral, which culminated in a lengthy funeral procession to the gravesite.

Not in the backyard anymore
For decades, Americans buried Fluffy under a favorite tree in the backyard. Today, however, home burial of a pet’s body is prohibited in most states. And, while burying ashes at home may be allowed, many worry that a backyard pet memorial could be disturbed by future residents of the property. So, more and more pet owners are turning to a pet cemetery as a solution.

In fact, pet cemeteries are not a new concept. Archeologists have found an ancient dog cemetery in Peking with tombstones of marble, ivory and silver; there is also archeological evidence that the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs created special memorial resting places for their royal cats. In the U.S., there are more than 600 active pet cemeteries; the oldest in Hartsdale, NY was established in 1896.

Honoring the memory of a pet
Taking steps to honor your pet and celebrate his or her important role in your life can help pet owners manage their grief. The International Association of Pet Cemeteries (IAPC) and the Humane Society of the U.S., offer the following suggestions for memorializing a beloved pet:

  • Hold a memorial service at a pet cemetery, in your backyard, or in a place that was special to your animal companion.
  • Add a special inscription to your pet’s gravestone.
  • Find a special urn for your pet’s ashes.
  • Frame a photo of your pet and put it in a special place or create a scrapbook.
  • Contact the pet cemetery or community park to see if you can sponsor a bench or tree affixed with an acknowledgment plaque memorializing your pet.

If you decide on a pet cemetery, don’t wait until you lose your pet to choose one. Investigate local memorial parks in your area and visit them to be sure they are large enough and that they have a perpetual care fund and deed restrictions that ensure they will remain a pet cemetery "in perpetuity." Many pet funeral homes offers complete burial and cremation packages as well as a selection of urns and caskets for pet owners who want something extra. Costs vary depending upon the size of the pet and the owner’s preferences.