March 17, 2010

My Trip to the Pet Cemetery

Today I did a committal service of (human) remains at the local pet cemetery. Hartsdale Canine Cemetery is one of the oldest of such places, and it's not far from us. Apparently--who knew?--if you have previously interred your pet there, you can have yourself buried there as well, provided you get cremated (at another facility, that is, they don't do people.) One of the gravediggers told me that they have over seven hundred people buried there in just this fashion.

'You can't make this stuff up,' as the saying goes. You sure do 'see it all' in the ministry. As one of my classmates once accused me, riffing on Jerry Seinfeld's critique of his dentist's conversion to Judaism, "I think you joined religious life just for the bizarre stories!"

I was there a few minutes early and so had time to browse around the departed Fluffys and Muffins of this world. Here are a few that caught my eye.

One of many called "my little pumpkin."

I don't know if "Pet" was her name, or if she just lived namelessly for fifteen years. Cats don't know their names anyway.

And maybe you thought he was buried in Egypt! No way!

I also saw a cute mausoleum with various little urns displayed behind a grate, along with a lovely statue of St. Francis. The light wasn't right, though, and I couldn't get a picture.

Discuss what all this means.


pennyante said...

I'm surprised that you don't think cats know their names. My Missy always acknowledges her name when I use it. She flicks her tail... or looks in my direction... Anyway, I am certain you didn't mean to insult a cat's intelligence, which I found is often seems to be higher than their slaves...errr, owners... :)

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I agree. My cats seems to know their names. If I call Murjan, Intrepid and Simone stay fixed where they are, but Murjan comes bounding out to meet me. Ditto for the others when their names are called. Perhaps it is tonal, differing sounds having different suprasegmental values and therefore coming across as differing frequencies, rather than morphemic processing. Nonetheless, they do seem to know their names. (They do at least as well as my children do in that regard!)

Lee Strong said...

Wait - the Church won't allow us to scatter cremains in a place the deceased loved, but we can put them in a pet cemetery??

Brother Charles said...

The principle involved with the disposition of cremains is that they have to be treated in the same way one would treat a body, i.e. integrally entombed or buried. So as long as you bury or entomb, it's ok, but scattering or keeping them in the house are not.

ben in denver said...

I think what Lee Strong is getting at is that this does not seem to meet the spirit of canon 1240.

Brother Charles said...

Yes, Ben. Thanks for calling me on it, and forgive me, Lee, if I was being obtuse.

It's true that this burial does not represent the best we could hope for in our Catholic funeral rites, but I guess that we have such a struggle where I work to get people to bury the dead at all, I am ready to settle for less to meet the minimum requirements of the faith.

But you are quite right.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Excuse my ignorance; I am still learning. What is Canon 1240, and what are proper Catholic funeral rites?

Brother Charles said...


Thanks for the question. The (Latin rite) Catholic funeral rites go something like this: There are various stations that compose the liturgy, usually consisting of some kind of prayer in the day prior to the funeral itself (e.g. Wake or Vigil service), the funeral liturgy proper (usually Mass, but not always), the Commendation (typically appended to the end of the Mass, but not always)and the Committal service when the body or ashes are buried/entombed.

Therefore the typical progression: Vigil (wake) service the day before, funeral Mass, and cemetery committal.

Canon 1240 is in the section of Canon Law that deals with cemeteries. It reads:

Where possible, the Church is to have its own cemeteries or at least areas in civil cemeteries that are designated for the deceased members of the faithful and properly blessed.If this cannot be achieved, however, then individual graves are to be properly blessed.

Therefore the objection raised is that in this case it was certainly possible for the deceased to be buried in a proper, Catholic cemetery, which would have been the best case scenario.

Anonymous said...

Father Charles, thanks as always for using an example from your priestly ministry as a teaching tool. Burial in the pet cemetery, while perhaps not optimal, is not inconsistent with Canon Law. It is also preferable to the scattering of ashes that has become all too frequent, even for baptized Catholics. In my own family, I had an aunt who, when she died, had no wake or funeral, but was immediately cremated and her ashes scattered on the coast of Maine at a later date. This woman was raised as a devout Catholic and even had a sister who was a nun in the African missions, but lost the practice of her faith at some point in her life.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, I can't help but feel sorry for these people who wish to be burried with their pets. I'm an animal lover myself, but the key and operative word is "animal". I never cross that line and imagine they are spiritual beings or share human intellect or higher reasoning. When they die, they die. If God has "pets" in heaven, that's up to Him.

What makes me sad is that these people in question don't seem to have made any substantial connection with humans. Maybe it's me, but that would equate to missing out on a key part of the human experience.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that having a stong connection to your pets means that you are necessarily deficient in terms of your human relationships. In fact, many human relationships are enhanced by interaction with animals (thinking specifically here of dogs that are used in nursing home therapy). While we cannot ascribe to them a higher intellect or a soul, I would like to think that there is a place in heaven for animals whose lives are devoted to providing loving companionship to humans. You are right Qualis Rex, that is up to God to determine, but as a dog owner I would like to think that if I make it to heaven the animals that I loved in this life might be a presence there.

Jeanne said...

I love the fact that you did this. I joked with my husband yesterday (okay, only half joking) that when I'm cremated, my remains are to be buried in the pet cemetery.