My Friend

Pet Cemeteries, Memorials,
And Other Ways to Remember,
A Collection of Thoughts,
Feelings, and Resources

Michele Lanci-Altomare
All the neighborhood kids had dogs, cats, or rabbits. Me? I had ducks. Stop laughing. What other pet, on hot summer days would go swimming all day down at the lake with you?

My ducks were white Pekins, and since they looked exactly alike, and since they marched around the yard in single file, quacking, my sisters dubbed them "Pete" and "Repeat." Turned out they were female but --- no matter --- they were still "Pete" and "Repeat" to the one who loved them. After a year or so, they started, each day, to offer up their ultimate sacrifice, one or two of their babies for me to scramble, with bacon and toast, for breakfast.

They met me at the gate each afternoon, when I came home from school, followed me to the doorstep. At six in the evening I fed them and shut them up in their duck house for the night. We always got up early each morning to investigate the new wet fine green world, tracking through the grass, quacking (I had a good strong quack, too.) When I took the leaky rowboat out in the lake, they would swim along beside me, making circles, making contented duck muttering noises.

We also, alas, had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. You know about hunting dogs and birds. One day, in the spring, when I was late coming home from school, Rover decided to make sport with Pete and Repeat. The two got panicked, ran too fast, tried to get away from him. Rover had to jump them to hold them down, and a little blood was spilled, and then more, and when I finally arrived, the oak and ficus were filled with white feathers. Pete had been torn limb-from-limb, Repeat was savagely wounded, fated soon enough to die.

I was inconsolable, curled up in my bed, telling my family to leave me alone. I was wishing I had never been late: my school-friends and I were playing stick-ball; I didn't want to leave; I should have left, I should never have been late.

Now I hated my school-mates, wished the dog were dead, wished my two white and cheerful friends were back with me again, through the fields again. I fell asleep and dreamed of snow falling on their little house. If there had been a pet cemetery in my small town, I would have insisted that Mom buy me a plot, erect twin headstones, the sad names carved boldly in marble.

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Who would ever guess that there are so many Pet Cemeteries? Lanci-Altomare lists 125 of them in the United States, with names like "Harthaven," "Pet's Rest," "Trail's End," "Pet Haven," "Garden of Love," and, gulp, "Final Paws" and "Paws in Heaven." New York and Pennsylvania lead the list with twelve, Florida has ten. There are also several crematoria. There is help for the grieving on the internet, and twelve colleges --- including Cornell University and the University of California at Davis --- have "Pet Loss Support Hot Lines."

The Craig Road Pet Cemetery in Las Vegas is pictured with a memorial to a dog named Duke:

    Burying a beloved pet can be nearly as emotional as burying a human family member. No one knew this more than Duke, who sensed the proper decorum as he attended funerals and greeted visiting families. If the family wanted to relieve the stress with play, Duke was there to fetch stones for as long as they would throw them. If they wanted quiet, he understood. If they needed a furry head to pet, his was always there.

He died in his sleep on March 30, 1999, and his tombstone says, "Guarding Heaven's Gates, DUKE, Our Faithful Caretaker."

In some cemeteries, people leave behind a stick --- "a fetch stick," to let their pet know " they were there to visit." "The Peaceable Kingdom" in Hartsdale, New York, is the final resting place for nearly 70,000 pets, and one headstone shows J. Edna Hoover: The Greatest Little Girl to Walk this Earth on Two of Four Legs.

The cat once known as Tisha Roberts at the San Diego Pet Memorial Park proclaims, I Am Too a People --- and at the cemetery in Las Vegas, a rabbit named Charles Clayton has his picture graved in stone, next to the words, You'll Be the Thump in My Heart 4 - Ever. It's signed, Luv, Jennifer.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

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