In 1886 a vet in New York State offered to bury his client’s dog and that would be the start of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. Hartsdale continues to operate today and is the resting ground of thousands of buried animals (including a lion) and shattered ashes. It is often seen as a better way of honouring your pet than what would essentially be getting rid of them as if they were waste. Burial in a cemetery also gives space for death ritual and mourning in a more formal way than burial in the back garden. It also means you can revisit your beloved pet if you move house.
Over time the nature of the burials have become more elaborate. Headstones can be more moving and less constrained that those for humans, there is less tradition guiding them and this frees up space for expression, it also opens up space to ask things like do you gift your pet your surname and if you do or don’t do that what does that say about the role of the pet in your family unit
Over the Atlantic, in London, we find the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery from the 19th century. In the same era a pet cemetery was established in Paris. During this time, the status of domestic animals grew and in turn so did the desire to commemorate them in death.
When Hyde Park Pet Cemetery opened it was illegal to bury animal remains in public spaces, meaning that most animal bodies, including pets, were left out with the rubbish or burnt. This was starting to butt up against the idea of pets having more value than other animals. Hyde Park was not run for profit and was almost solely for dogs, closing in 1902 as it was full. Since then other animal cemeteries have popped up including one in Ilford which has memorials for individual animals deemed to have been heroes during the Second World War and the remains of thousands killed by their human ‘companions’ at the start of the war.
Of course, whilst pet cemeteries may be a relatively new idea, burial of animals is not. It is possibly the most traditional way to deal with animal death, with the oldest known pet burial being 14,000 years old. Evidence shows that cats and dogs have long been buried and it seems to be that this has been intentional and carried out because of a connection with the humans who buried them. In the classical world, dogs were found buried with gravestones that carried touching messages, much as in the pet cemeteries of today. More recently, urbanisation made burial harder as demand for land increased and many people didn’t have their own space they could use.
“Spatial limitations, as well as societal aspirations and emotional needs, were the key factors in the emergence of the contemporary pet cemetery… After the Second World War, however, pet cemeteries sprang up around the United States and Western Europe.”
– Michal Piotr Pregowski
Animal cemeteries are “a place of visible death” (Hilda Kean) which offers a role in the grief process akin to that of pet obituaries and today they can be found across the world. There are about 700 across the US, about 75 in the UK and in 2009, the Australian Yellow Pages listed 138 pet cemeteries and crematoriums. You can even visit the graves of celebrity animals at Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park.
- Human and animal space in historic ‘pet’ cemeteries in London, New York and Paris by Hilda Kean
- Pet burials blur the line between human and animal rites
- Killing Animals
- Mourning Animals: Rituals and Practices Surrounding Animal Death, edited by Margo de Mello
- Art, Meat, and the Lives and Deaths of Animals
- Animal Death, Jay Johnston and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey
- How We Mourn Our Dead Pets