Human beings have commemorated their pets through ritual and memorialization for thousands of years. It is a well-known fact that Egyptian pharaohs often were entombed with their favorite cats, dogs, monkeys, even gazelles, although the poor animals were usually killed and mummified at the time of their owner’s death so that the group could enter the afterlife together. Perhaps the earliest indication of dog’s domestication was a Natufian grave (Natufian is a name coined to identify a group living in the western Judean Mountains). The burial near Ein Mallaha, Israel, is estimated to date from 12,000 BCE, and when excavated was found to contain the remains of an elderly man buried with a puppy.
In a suburb of Paris, one of the world’s earliest cemeteries Le cimetiere des chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals) was created at the turn of the last century as a means to prevent residents from burying their animals anywhere they liked, or to discard them as rubbish. Perhaps the most famous animal buried there is the canine movie star Rin-Tin-Tin. Rescued from a World War I battlefield, the German Shepherd died in 1932 after starring in 27 Hollywood feature films. Elaborate grave markers abound in the crowded French cemetery as well as simple markers. The largest animals interred include a lion and a racehorse.
Established in 1896, the first U.S. pet cemetery was a former apple orchard donated by a New York City veterinarian to bury cherished pets. The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County, NY, also known as “The Peaceable Kingdom,” is where more than 80,000 animals have been laid to rest, ranging from common house pets to exotic animals. There are now more than 600 pet cemeteries in the country, providing a vital service to grieving owners as they deal with the loss of a furred, finned or feathered family member. Some funeral homes and cemeteries that previously dealt only with human deaths have expanded to serve their animal companions as well.
A pet can play so many roles for different people: The nearest and dearest friend to an individual who lives alone. The faithful guardian of young children in the household. The stalwart buddy who is always ready for a jog or a Frisbee toss. Or, perhaps the pet is treated as the coddled, pampered baby of doting parents. Whenever other members of the family or human friends are not available 24/7, the pet is usually always present at one’s side to provide unconditional love and support and, when the time comes, their death can be devastating.
A family may choose to bury a pet, or more often, cremate one. Their expectation is that the deceased pet will be treated with the same dignity and professionalism afforded to human beings. Regardless of the way the pet’s body is handled, the memory of that companion animal lives on through its human caretakers and often they desire to have a keepsake. Although for some pet owners, money is no object and lavish tokens are purchased and cherished, for other families a simple cremation of an animal stretches the budget.
After assisting the family or individual with their pet’s final arrangements, have you left the bereaved owner with a positive, lasting impression of your caring service?
Even the smallest personal touches can convey your professionalism and genuine concern to the pet’s family during a stressful, sad time. A hand-written note or an inexpensive remembrance gift may provide comfort to the grieving owner after the burial or cremation. These keepsakes include personalized Christmas ornaments, necklaces, keychains and charms, garden ornaments, or cards and laminated bookmarks.
Some pet cemeteries may host an annual memorial event just for pets, and have a special table set up for folks to set up framed pictures or displays honoring their pets. A sponsored paver brick program is available in some cemeteries, where a nicely landscaped courtyard is paved with incised tributes to faithful friends. At the time of death, a paw may be pressed into a molding compound or an ink print is taken, which may mean a great deal to the individual or family as time passes.
Responding to those who have come to you to take care of their pet in a thoughtful, caring way will forge a bond between you and your customers. The pet’s family may require your assistance in the future at the loss of another pet, or might recommend your services to others if you have helped them deal with this difficult transition in a meaningful, memorable way. Many Americans regard the loss of a pet as significant as a death in their human family, and pet loss professionals perform a valuable role in death care today. FBA
Rick Gentry is the Manager of Operations at Lamcraft, Inc., based in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He can be reached phone at 800-821-1333 or by email at [email protected] You may also visit their website at www.lamcraft.com.