Cemetery Musings: Pet Cemetery

A musing is defined in the dictionary as “a product of contemplation; a thought”.  As I wander through cemeteries, I am often thinking about the stones above the ground and the individuals that lie beneath. Why that epitaph, that symbol, that style of writing? These are just some of the “cemetery musings” that cross my mind.

As a devout Stephen King fan, when my husband mentioned going to check out a pet cemetery, the first thing I thought of was traversing to an old Native burial site where the ground was sour and the animals, or people, came back….(if you don’t get it…read Pet Sematary or watch the movie).   Little did I know, but he meant an actual cemetery devoted to pets.  I was surprised to hear that there was such a thing and one actually existed here in Maine.

After doing a bit of internet research, I found that there are numerous pet cemeteries across the United States, with Maine having at least two.  One site stated that nearly every major city in the US has one although most of them have been founded fairly recently. This is due to growing pet-burial legal restrictions imposed by city health departments and the inhumane aspects of some city pet-disposal programs. In short, in many cities it is no longer okay to bury Fido under the tree in your yard.

The practice of pet cemeteries goes back to at least the Pharaoh’s of ancient Egypt who had one for cats at Luxor. In China, early emperors maintained a dog cemetery complete with tombstones of marble, lapis lazuli, ivory, silver and gold. Queen Victoria had her dogs interred at a cemetery in the Isle of Wight and the city of Paris boasted a large pet cemetery on a river islet.  (Want to read more? Go to http://www.petcem.com/historypetburials.html). The first and most prestigious pet burial ground is Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory in Hartsdale, New York.  Founded in 1896 it is the only pet cemetery to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is home to the beloved pets of many, including famous people, like Mariah Carey. Famous animals of note are also buried here, like Sirius, the only canine to lose his life in the search-and-rescue efforts following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.

In our travels, John and I had come upon many different cemeteries. Hidden ones, tiny ones, family plots, and even one devoted to a horse and the many dogs of Governor P. Baxter (on Mackworth Island, Maine). An actual place that people, who didn’t know each other, could buy a plot and bury their loving and devoted furred or feathered friend was an entirely new concept.

Pet Haven Cemetery is located at 77 Lincoln Rd Saco, ME. Being the intrepid explorers we are, we set the GPS and wound through the back roads. As John and I approached Pet Haven, I was surprised at its size but even more amazed at the elaborate headstones and decorations marking many of the plots. Wow….was all I could think. As I started to walk around, I was humbled by the love and dedication many of the owners gave to their pets.

The grounds are flanked by two sets of columns, one at each end of the cemetery. The first pair is made of stone and shows the date 1955. The second pair is made of brick and shows the date 1983. I believe this may mean the original part of the cemetery was started in 1955 and it was expanded in 1983, unfortunately I couldn’t find any information other than the address and a few reviews on the internet. Can you believe they have a rating on the Better Business Bureau? It is an A+ and lists it as being a 7-acre wooded parcel, with perpetual care, started on June 1, 1955.

Within the grounds was an assortment of markers, from engraved marble to simple wooden crosses written on with paint or markers. Some plots only bear the marker given to them by the cemetery while others have pictures laser etched into the stone. While walking around, we found sites primarily devoted to dogs and cats. It was amazing how close many of the plots mirrored the cemeteries their human counterparts are buried in. Trinkets, small stones, letter and pictures were left on gravesites and the upcoming Christmas holiday was obvious as many wreaths, poinsettias and trees adorned the plots.

I truly enjoyed walking around, looking at and reading the stones and mementos that were lovingly left there, even though it also made me sad. I wondered if, as with human cemeteries, any of the animal’s spirits still roamed and romped across the grounds, playing with the many toys. Not in a creepy Stephen King sort of way but in joyful abandon as they did when they were alive.

The only drawback to my visit happened as I moved around the back of the cemetery. The unmistakable hint of something stinky assailed my nose….really…no…it couldn’t be. Yes…  I had stepped in a pile of dog feces…imagine that…stepping in dog feces in a pet cemetery…kind of ironic.

If you get a chance, go to 77 Lincoln Rd in Saco and visit the Pet Haven Cemetery. Walk around, enjoy the stones and read the epitaphs, but please remember to look down at where you are walking or you may take home an unwanted memento of your trip.

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