Hi everyone! I have an amazing post for you today! It’s written by Natalie Lykins, the Office Manager at Sorrento Valley Pet Cemetery (SVPC). SVPC is San Diego’s oldest and best pet cemetery & crematory, and I couldn’t be prouder to work with the great people there (like Natalie) who help their clients through one of the most difficult times of their lives. Natalie wrote this article exclusively for my blog – which means it’s just for you! – and I think you’ll find it fascinating! Enjoy!
(All photos were taken by & belong to Natalie Lykins and SVPC.)
10 Things You May Have Wondered About Pet Cemeteries & Crematories, But Were Too Afraid To Ask
1) Are pet cemeteries really the way Stephen King described them in the novel, “Pet Sematary”?
Not at all! Most pet cemeteries are very beautiful, peaceful places with elaborate, well-kept landscaping. They are designed to invoke relaxation and allow families/individuals to remember their pets in a pleasant atmosphere. Many live animals make cemeteries their homes as well. At Sorrento Valley Pet Cemetery, several species of birds have taken up residence. We also have many rabbits and raccoons that frequent the grounds.
2) Can pets have large, elaborate funerals, just like some people do?
Of course they can! Our pets are members of our families. Why should they not receive what any human family member would? Pet cemeteries are very adept at accommodating to each individual. SVPC has held very large funerals, consisting of almost 30 people, processions from the chapel to the burial site, various readings, and many other types of ceremonies. We have also held very simple, dignified funerals with only the immediate family present. It is important to us that the family/individual feels that the burial ceremony is appropriate for their specific pet and is in no way a “cookie-cutter” ceremony.
3) Are all pet cremations the same, or are there different types?
There are 3 main types of cremation; communal, individual, and private. Communal cremation is when many pets are cremated at one time with no form of separation between each pet. Individual cremation refers to when a few pets are cremated at once, usually three to four, with some form of barrier between each pet. Rows of bricks are a popular form of barrier. Private cremation is when only one pet is present during the cremation process. SVPC only performs private cremations for the public. If you come through our doors, we can guarantee you that your pet will be cremated by itself.
4) Can working at a pet cemetery ever be kind of, well… gross?
I will not lie. There are some moments that are not pleasant. Just like when a human being passes away, pets lose their bowels after passing. Many people are not prepared for this when their pets pass in their home and bring them into us all wrapped up with their feces and urine. When we unwrap the pet to do a paw print or place the pet in the cremation chamber, we get a nice, poopy surprise. Also, people cannot always get their pets to us right away and therefore have to keep their deceased pet in their home for a day or two. Many of our clients know what to do and either place their pets in their fridge or, if they are too large, pack ice on top of them until they can get them too us. Sometimes people do not do anything, and by the time we receive the pet, decomposition has already begun. The smell is something you do not forget. But no matter what condition a pet is in when it gets to us, it is still a dearly loved family member and deserves the best care possible.
5) Are there companies that make special caskets just for pets, or do you have to build each one?
In these modern times, we are lucky enough to have companies out there that produce caskets that are especially designed for pets. This wasn’t always the case. At one time, pet caskets were not readily available. Infant caskets were the immediate answer for small pets, and child caskets for larger ones. At SVPC we have pet caskets available up to 32″. Anything larger than that we custom make in-house out of cedar. The only downside to the cedar caskets is that they decompose over time. If you want your pet to naturally return to the earth, a wood casket is the way to go. If preservation is your main concern, plastic or fiberglass is the best choice.
6) What is left when a cremation is finished?
There is a very common misconception that what you get after a cremation are “ashes”. This is not true at all. When a pet’s body breaks down in the cremation chamber, everything burns away, only leaving the bones. When we open the door after a cremation is finished, all that is left are very brittle, bright white bones, NOT ashes. The bones are then brushed out of the cremation chamber and placed into a processor. The processor is really a big blender that spins the bones really fast, banging them against each other until they become a fine powder. This powder is what people tend to think are “ashes”.
7) Where are pets kept while they are waiting to be buried or cremated?
This is a very common question clients have when they come into the cemetery. They are very concerned that their pets are going to be tossed into a freezer and frozen until it is their turn. This could not be further from the truth. I cannot speak for all pet cemeteries and crematories, but at SVPC we do not freeze pets. We have a very large walk in refrigerator. Inside, there are many racks for the pets to rest on. Each pet is either in a bed (small pets/cats/small dogs) or wrapped in blankets with a pillow under their head (large dogs/farm animals). All of the pets rest comfortably until they are set to be buried or cremated.
8) Do clients ever make strange requests?
I do not consider any request “strange”. Whatever the request may be, it means something to the individual client. Many people ask for specific things to be cremated with their pet, such as a special toy, a favorite treat, or a blanket. This is a pretty normal and common request. Every once in a while however, we do get requests that are a little outside the norm. A past client did request one of his dog’s canines be removed so he could make it into a necklace. Unfortunately, I would not do this, because it would require quite a bit of force, and possibly breaking his dog’s jaw. I personally felt like I would be disrespecting the dog if I treated his body in that way. Instead, we offered to pick out a canine after the cremation and put it in a vial that he could wear on a necklace. It was a happy medium for both of us.
9) Do people visit their buried pets often?
At the SVPC cemetery, we have many clients who visit on a weekly basis. Sometimes they even come multiple times in a week. One particular family brings lawn chairs and spends over an hour at their pet’s plot, talking to him and filling him in on their life. We actually become very close with many of our burial clients. They usually stop in to say hi when they visit and to thank us for changing the water in their flower vases. Our burial clients have become their own small community. It is really a lovely thing to see and experience.
10) Isn’t working at a pet cemetery incredibly depressing?
Once again, I cannot lie. Working at a pet cemetery can be very difficult at times. My job is to take on the pain of other people and sympathize with what they are going through. In a way, this makes me re-live losing my own pets over and over again. There are some days that are extremely difficult. I own a pug, so whenever someone comes in with a pug, it is especially hard. When you love and care for animals the way I and the rest of the staff at SVPC do, seeing them deceased day after day can definitely have an effect on you. The animals are not the only difficult part of the job, however. Everyone deals with grief differently. My job is to help my client and their pet, no matter what state of mind they are in. Sometimes, people can barely make out words between their tears. Other people get angry over simple things to mask how they are really feeling. This can be taxing over time. But through all of the sadness and depressing moments, there is one thing I always remember. I am giving this pet the respectful, dignified end it deserves. Then I get to give this pet back to it’s family. That is what means the most to me personally. I know I speak for the entire staff when I say that it is so incredibly rewarding to return a pet to the family that misses it so much. That is what keeps us doing what we do.
Thank you for such an in-depth & honest look behind the scenes at SVPC, Natalie!