Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: Memorializing Our Pets

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Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has this Perspective on how we remember the animals we have loved.

On a beautiful fall day on my last trip to London, I visited my two favorite landmarks in Hyde Park: 1) The Animals in War memorial, which commemorates animals who have died in wars and conflicts; and 2) a secret Victorian pet cemetery installed in 1881 when a local family persuaded the gatekeeper to let them bury their beloved dog in his favorite spot in the back garden of the gatehouse. A tiny tombstone still stands bearing the inscription, “Poor Cherry. Died April 28. 1881.”

By the time the private little cemetery closed in 1903 when it ran out of space, 300 little graves filled the back garden. Touching inscriptions on headstones for companion dogs, cats, and birds can still be seen:

“Daisy: dearly loved and deeply mourned.”

“Darling Dolly – my sunbeam, my consolation, my joy.”

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“Prince: He asked for so little and gave so much.”

In Paris is the Cemetery of the Dogs, dating from 1899 and considered the oldest public pet cemetery in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. Forty-thousand animals are buried here, including such famous dogs as Rin Tin Tin.

America's largest and oldest pet cemetery — installed in 1896 — is in Hartsdale, New York, a five-acre property that is the final resting place for more than 80,000 animals.

The story of animal burials in general and “pet” burials in particular is a fascinating one, a changing one and a very old one. Many human cultures buried animal remains, and archaeologists have unearthed ancient pet burials dating as far back as 14,000 years, revealing much about our ever-evolving relationship with animals.

There was a time when dogs and cats were seen merely as utilitarian. Then they became companions, and then family members, evidenced by the care with which they were buried and the affection about which they are written. Today, only 1% of companion animals are buried in pet cemeteries, though the trend is increasing.

But whether they have their own public plot, are buried in back gardens or cremated and kept in special boxes or urns, what’s certain is that our relationship with our non-human animal friends — be they furred, finned or feathered — is complex, ancient and worthy of remembrance.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an author and animal advocate in Oakland.