The Continuing Evolution of Pet Funerals

by M-Gillies

Poor little Sue is a pet buried in the small pet cemetery surrounding the Cheek mansion in Cheekwood, Tennessee - founders of Maxwell House coffee. The little cemetery contains the remains of nine pets buried in a semi-circular pattern. Photo by Ned Horton

In the Chauvet Cave of France, archeologists made a 26,000 year old discovery when torch wipes on the cave wall and footprints made by a child and a dog revealed that the child had been navigating through a dark corridor accompanied by a canine companion – the oldest indication of canine domestication.

In the fossil site of Predmosti in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, an ancient burial ground was discovered to not only hold the remains of humans but that of animals as well. From mammoth, bear ice-age horses to wolves, wolverines and dogs, the burial ground is thought to be between 24,000-27,000 years old.

But more recently, in 2006, archaeologists working in an ancient cemetery in Peru soon unearthed the well-preserved remains of 80 dogs buried among the remains of roughly 2,000 individuals, with each dog buried in its own grave next to its owner. Many dogs had been wrapped in llama-wool blankets and laid to rest with llama or fish bones placed near their noses. Meanwhile, in the city of Carthage in Tunisia, the remains of a third century young adult was found in a carefully made grave with an elderly dog at its feet, a glass bowl placed behind the dog’s shoulder.

These findings have gone on to show that since prehistoric times dogs and humans have not only been companions, but have been including in the memorial process of funerary rites. From virtually every part of the world, at some point in time, societies have been ritualizing the burial of animals – a ceremonial tradition that is only now becoming more widely accepted.

With roughly 164.6 million animal companions in the US alone, according to the US Pet Ownership Statistics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that pet memorials and tribute celebrations are taking place more frequently as a means of honoring our pets.

Perhaps the best known culture to conduct funerals for animals would be the ancient Egyptians, the forefathers of embalming. For many years, dating as far back as 1,000 BC, the Egyptians were recognized for their elaborately mummified dogs, cats, monkeys and birds, along with the substantial parcels of land along the Nile that had been set aside expressly for the burial of animals. In fact, while it was a cultural norm for animals to be interred in the tombs of their owners, the wealthy spared no expense for their animals’ burials, particularly in the instance when a royal guard dog named Abutiu died in 2180 BC. It was after the dog’s death that, at the behest of a grieving pharaoh, the animal was given an elaborate ceremonial burial in the Giza Necropolis along with its own sarcophagus.

Even Alexander the Great honored the death of his dog Peritas with a funeral procession to the grave along with a large stone monument, annual festivities and a city named after the canine companion.

While the practice of pet burials fell out of favor as the rise of Christianity saw pet rituals attributed to paganism, the nineteenth century saw the creation of a pet cemetery in London’s Hyde Park, complete with tombstones. In 1896, a prominent New York City Veterinarian offered his apple orchard to serve as a burial plot for a bereaved friend’s dog and within a short amount of time, became America’s first pet cemetery known as the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory. Meanwhile, in France, a new cemetery known as the Cimetière des Chiens was constructed in response to a new law which stated that corpses of pets could not be discarded in the streets to be dumped in the Seine, but were to be buried in proper graves at least one hundred meters or 328 feet from the nearest dwelling.

Since then, in recent years, the practice of pet burials is increasing as pet owners are not just seeking funerary options for their animals, but also seeking dual burials with their pets. In fact, the trend has seen acceleration as funeral homes have begun catering to the funerary needs of pets, offering both services and burials or cremations.

Back in 2004, the first stand-alone pet funeral home opened in Indianapolis, but as time passed pet funeral homes, pet crematories and pet cemeteries grew across the country with upwards to 750 funeral homes catering specifically to pets, while many human funeral homes have been or are looking at ways to offer services for pets.

But this phenomenon didn’t start or end in the United States alone. Across the world, pet burials have grown increasingly popularly, particularly amongst citizens of the UK as well as Japan. In fact, the head of the Pet Visiting Cremation Car Association of Japan, Masamitsu Fujimoto said in a 2009 article for Daily Yomiuri, “The number of firms operating these kinds of services was around 10 in the Kanto region about five years ago, but today the number has surged to about 100.”

With owners choosing animal companions as surrogate children or even considering them as family members, combined with the number of pet hotels, spas, nannies and even hospice care for animals, it’s almost inevitable that pet owners would soon turn their attention to memorializing their animals’ death through funerary ceremonies. And just as a family member would grieve over the loss of a loved one, pet owners do suffer the loss of the human-companion animal bond.

Though the death of a pet may be a long time into the future, the options have increased for many pet owners when it comes to pet burials and interments, which include: pet cemeteries, home burials, communal burials, individual cremations and spreading of a pet’s ashes.


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