Grief & Healing among Interspecies Families
Promoting Whole-Family Cemeteries
Bringing Green Burials to Pet Cemeteries
Creating Wildlife Preserves through Conservation Cemeteries
To promote and encourage options for natural or green burial of beloved pets’ remains in sites protected in perpetuity, and to encourage discussion on interspecies families.
The Green Pet-Burial Society is a program of Family Spirals™.
Some may balk at spending money to bury a dog’s or cat’s remains in a pet cemetery. The choices that we make at such times are deeply personal and private.
This website addresses the lack of options for ‘natural’ or ’green’ burials within Pet and Whole-Family Cemeteries. For information on the human-animal bond, and bereavement for a beloved pet, visit our Resources webpage.
Why Pet Cemeteries?
When a pet dies, most people choose to cremate the body. Home burial is another common choice. Since 1896 - with the first pet burial in the U.S. at (what would become) the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery - burial in a pet cemetery has been another option, especially for city dwellers. There are several reasons why one would choose burial at a pet cemetery.
- Local ordinance might prohibit home burial.
- Landowners may prefer not to bury at home since they might sell their land and thereby lose access to their pet’s grave (with additional concern about future land use).
- This option may appease the wishes of a grieving family member.
For those who don’t own land:
- The option of burying one’s pet in a human cemetery in the family plot might be prohibited by cemetery policy and/or by state cemetery law.
- The idea of burial in public lands is most likely prohibited (and poses a variety of concerns).
- Burial in a pet cemetery is a viable option – yet overall, pet cemeteries are under-regulated, and often favor underground entombment rather than a natural burial.
Cemetery Interment Practices
2. Underground entombment
- styrene plastic caskets
- metal caskets
- metal containers
3. Earth burial
- wood caskets – ranging from those with nails; toxic glues, stains, and lacquer; plywood; polyester liners; to solid pine with tongue and groove construction and nontoxic glues
- other eco-friendly containers made from sustainable materials
- shrouds or blankets
One’s choice may be based on a variety of criteria – religious beliefs, other cultural beliefs, cost, aesthetics, and/or environmental concerns; attitudes about the decomposition of the body may be chief among them. If a body is entombed above or below ground, decomposition still occurs – but in isolation. Some regard earth burial as a cleansing and wholesome ritual. An earth burial is the only option that allows the body to reconnect with and nourish the earth and fulfill a widely held view based on Genesis 3:19
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Over the years, burials at pet cemeteries have become more socially accepted as they model themselves, in large part, on human cemeteries and attend to maintenance, landscaping and supportive services. We assume that they’d cater to diverse burial preferences, yet preference for a natural burial is rarely satisfied. While some cemeteries allow for untreated wood caskets – or no casket – one’s pet may still be interred in an underground mix of plastic and metal containers with toxic chemicals applied to the surface.
The Need for Permanent Status
The name ‘cemetery’ or ‘memorial park’ might imply that pet cemeteries are similarly regulated as human cemeteries – THEY ARE NOT. Most pet cemeteries have NO legal permanent status, and are privately held.
History holds many incidents of pet cemetery owners selling their land. This often entails attempting to contact pet owners before remains are disinterred so that they can be reclaimed, otherwise, remains may be put into a mass grave. The whole notion of a green burial coincides with preserving the land in perpetuity, i.e., acquiring permanent legal status.
Green Burial Grounds – Proposed Standards
The Green Burial Council (GBC) certifies three categories of cemeteries. In December 2011, the Green Pet-Burial Society wrote to the GBC proposing a modified version of their former four-category standards. We will keep you posted of their response.
1. Hybrid cemetery – a portion of the cemetery is a conventional mixed-media cemetery, with another section dedicated exclusively to green burials (i.e., interment in eco-friendly container or shroud). Without a dedicated section, there is little appeal for those seeking a more natural burial.
2. Low-impact cemetery – the entire cemetery has a policy of only using eco-friendly containers or shrouds in a park-like setting. Additionally, the cemetery adopts a program of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Above the surface, these cemeteries may appear to look like traditional cemeteries or memorial parks.
3. Natural burial ground – same as a low-impact cemetery but in a more natural environment (e.g., little landscaping, no irrigation, modest or no markers). This cemetery provides a more naturalistic experience.
4. Conservation burial ground/wildlife sanctuary – a natural environment regulated in partnership with a nonprofit conservation organization or government agency. Such lands provide havens for native wildlife (important to any lover of animals!) and encourage natural flora to become reestablished. Depending on the condition of the land, as well as local wildlife populations, the preserve may require reconstruction activities. This may involve human-made structures such as those that provide shelter, facilitate breeding, or serve as feeding stations. If such structures are to be permanent, they may also serve as markers for particular graves.
Cemetery Cat Photo Credit: Chrissy Gombos
last updated February 27, 2012