Bye bye Fido: the growing popularity of pet funerals
By Imke Hendrich and Birgit Reichert Nov 18, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - Finding a final resting place for a dog, cat or even a parakeet remains an important ritual for many pet owners. Some pet owners aren't shy about spending a lot of money to bury their favourite animal in a decorated coffin.
One pet owner put his dog's security blanket into the animal's casket, another put a stuffed animal next to his dead cat inside its cardboard box coffin.
'Sometimes for the pet owner, it's like a child or a close relative has died,' said Ulrike Mauthe of Germany's association of companies that provide animal burial services. It's becoming more and more common for pet owners to have a place where they can mourn their dead animals, she said. 'A funeral has become a reverent alternative to sending the animal's body to be rendered.'
Many animal owners are put off by the fact that in a rendering works the animal carcasses are put into a grinder with other animal wastes and the resulting product has some industrial uses.
'The notion that their darling little animals are reduced to rubbish is just terrible,' said Karin Mitschke of an animal cemetery in Berlin.
About 800 cats, dogs, hamsters, ferrets and birds are buried at the facility where she works in the Steglitz area of the city.
'Many graves are lovingly kept,' said Mitschke. It's also common for owners to put something into the casket or grave with the animal. Food, letters, photos and favourite toys are good examples,' she said.
While her facilities sells coffins, a Munich pet cemetery offers an entire array of animal caskets to choose from.
The selection ranges 'from cardboard cartons to bejeweled wooden coffins lined with velvet,' said Klemens Wehner, the cemetery's proprietor, adding that the most expensive animal funeral he oversaw cost 1,700 euro (2,389 dollars). The average amount spent, however, is between 400 and 500 euro.
Wehner has run the cemetery for two years and about 350 animals are buried there. The only condition is that the animal must not have been a farm animal or productive livestock. The city doesn't allow them to be buried in the cemetery. This has disappointed some horse owners who hoped his facility would be able to provide a final resting place for their animal.
The association of animal funeral companies said it is an emerging business segment. Ten years ago pet burial services were practically unknown. Now there are 120 in Germany.
'Pets often become a substitute for other social partners. The strength of the ties people feel for their pets are equally as strong,' said Mauthe, explaining the reason for the need to treat pets similarly to the way people are treated when they die.
About one-third of the pet owners who bring their animals to pet burial services want their animals buried in the ground. The rest request cremation.
It's not unusual for the urn containing the ashes to be in the form of a cat or dog with a photograph of the animal. These often are placed in the living rooms of the pet owners.
Andrian Schmitt, who has an animal burial service in Ludwigshafen, said pet owners can do what they want with the ashes. 'Some want to spread them in the Alps, while others scatter them in the backyard,' he said.
When the animal's body is buried, the size of the pet is a factor, said Elena Eichinger of an animal rescue facility in Mainz. Little dogs are easily laid to rest, she said, but large dogs are harder to fit into the graves.
Not everyone considers it good that there are pet owners who create pompous graves for their house pets, said Andreas Lindig, chairman of the German animal protection association in Rhineland- Pfalz. Animal cemeteries should look different from cemeteries for people, he said.
A memorial slab, a bit of greenery or flowers and a photo is sufficient to create a place for a deceased house pet. He rejects the idea of gaudier decorations such as crosses, angels and large statues.
For many pet owners the funeral itself is of great importance because it provides a moment to say goodbye to their darling animal. Often the entire family is at the cemetery to participate in the ceremony, said Eichinger, recalling the time 10 people showed up for a funeral for a cat.
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