A growing number of Americans want to share their final resting place with their best friends – even if they are cats, dogs or iguanas – and are reserving plots at pet cemeteries.
The 200-member International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories estimates that a quarter of pet cemeteries take in humans and the demand is growing.
“We hear about it all the time in our membership, people asking for it,” said Donna Bethune, the group’s executive secretary.
Pet owners “oftentimes maybe don’t have extended family and their pet pretty much was their family, like their child to them. And there’s not a family plot where everyone’s going to be”, she added.
At New York’s 115-year-old Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, 20 miles north of Manhattan, president and director Edward Martin said the remains of about 700 people had joined the 75,000 or so buried animals.
Inscriptions on the mostly small headstones at Hartsdale, which claims to be America’s first animal resting place, reveal the sentiments of some of the people who decided to join their pets after death.
Mr Martin said human remains had been added to animal graves at Hartsdale since a woman had her ashes sprinkled over her dog’s grave in 1925. Burying human remains goes back to at least 1950 and the scattering of ashes is no longer permitted.
He believes the increasing number of humans – 10 or 12 in each of the past few years, compared with three to five before – may be related to “more people getting used to the idea of cremation”. Hartsdale and most of the other pet cemeteries contacted said they require humans to be cremated before joining their pets.
Doyle Shugart, who owns two Deceased Pet Care cemeteries in Bethlehem and Douglasville, Georgia, and is chairman of the cemetery association’s ethics and standards committee, said regulations varied from state to state. Pets were banned from most human cemeteries, he said, but some allowed an urn of animal ashes in a person’s coffin.
But at least one famous pet cemetery is closed to humans. David Stiller, president of the board of directors for the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, where Charlie Chaplin’s cat and Humphrey Bogart’s dog are buried, said: “We don’t think we’re a human cemetery and we don’t want to get into that.”