Tuesday, January 8, 2019

...the pet cemeteries of non-fiction...

Other than the fictional ones you may cite, most people are not aware of any pet cemeteries. The most famous pet cemetery in the United States was established in 1896. Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, located south of Sleepy Hollow in New York, was quite unique in its time. By the 1920s, Hartsdale became *the* place where celebrities and the rich buried their furry loved ones.

Aslan on my dad's floor pillow in front of our stove surrounded by toys in a house that never allowed pets.
I rarely visit memorial parks unless I am going to see family members or loved ones. This memorial park is a bit special. Depending on how long you have known me, for nearly a decade I was “Mom” to the best Doberman ever. His name was Aslan and he was much more of a lapdog/ angel than anything you see portrayed in movies. It has been nearly 13 years since he left this realm. And just like in life, he is still very near to me. I never considered a pet cemetery for him although there are over 600 operating pet cemeteries in the United States.  I suppose I just wanted to keep him close.

This morning, I visited Faithful Friends Pet Cemetery in Sandston, VA, which is part of Washington Memorial Park. Both Faithful Friends and Washington Memorial Park are owned by the Texas-based company, Dignity Memorial. There are several other memorial parks owned by Dignity in the greater Richmond area.

Memorial parks began in the 20th century; their emphasis is more of a focus on beauty and the memory of the living, with much less emphasis on death. You will not see any obelisks or elaborate grave markers. The markers are level with the ground, which makes maintenance at memorial parks much easier than other cemeteries with headstones. Most taphophiles and even cemetery-tourists do not visit memorial parks very often. Arguably, most Americans do not visit cemeteries very often but I’m trying to change that in my very small way.

On the Faithful Friends Pet Cemetery website, it reads, “Families can choose an everlasting tribute and place of final rest for their beloved companions—from dogs and cats to parrots and rabbits.”

The pet cemetery was established in 1949 at the same time Washington Memorial Park was started. Many memorial parks have fountains or focal points. Faithful Friends Pet Cemetery has a large ark with, what appears, as wooden animals.

Brandes (2009) argues that there are three developments of pet gravestone inscriptions over the past 100 years including a growing use of human names for pets; the evolving definition of pets as kin to their owners; and, an enhanced religious and ethnic identity given to the pets.

As I walked around the graves, I completely forgot all about my interest in research. I was swept up in the sweet epitaphs with statements “loved by all” and “beloved family member.” My heart hurts for them; my heart still hurts for me.
National Pet Memorial Day is the second Sunday in September.

Brandes, Stanley. “The Meaning of American Pet Cemetery Gravestones.” Ethnology, vol. 48, no. 2, 2009, pp. 99–118.
DiNisio, Julie. “Faithful Friends Pet Cemetery.” The Original Quail Bell Magazine, 29 Sept. 2011, www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-real/faithful-friends-pet-cemetery.
International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, www.iaopc.com/pet-owners/you-have-choices.  
Dignity Memorial, www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/sandston-va/washington-memorial-park/9730.

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