Cultural anthropologists have historically illustrated how funerary beliefs and practices provide insight into people’s thinking about life on earth, and our relationships with other people, nature and other animals. This section explores how such beliefs apply to funerary practices involving animals, with implications for:
- how we view our relationships with animals,
- their roles in our lives,
- the discrepancies in how people treat animal bodies of those who are loved vs. those considered ‘food’ or ‘material,’ and
- how we relate to ‘nature’ and its role in our everyday lives.
We will also illustrate how some consider burying the remains of a beloved animal in a ‘whole-family burial plot’ as a beautiful conclusion to earthly life, while others might sadly regard such a practice as an offense.
We are the first generation to behold the Internet and experience the many ways it alters our world and lives. In just a couple of decades, privacy has become an increasingly rare phenomenon. A few have shared extremely private matters of the heart – their experiences with natural burial. We thank them for their courage and vision in sharing these stories with the rest of us.
Examples from Modern Times
Below are stories of pet burials as well as those about animals who would not fall into the category ‘pet’. We will post an exploration of the term ‘pet’ in the future, but for now – in this section – we include stories of time-honored tributes to animals who were loved, respected, and considered either family or friend.
Paw Paw, Martha Stewart’s dog, Connecticut, USA
Read Martha Stewart’s moving tribute to her beloved dog, Paw Paw, in her 2008 blog. At right, Francesca and Sharkey paying last respects to Paw Paw before his burial. Martha writes, “April 12th, 2008 was an early spring day. It was the day Paw Paw was laid to rest amidst the crocus and greening grass.”
Dian Fossey & Digit, Karisoke, Rwanda
Rwanda. Famed primatologist, Dian Fossey, filmed a moving burial of the remains of her beloved friend, Digit. A young silverback mountain gorilla, Digit was killed by poachers on the last day of 1977 while defending himself and the other 13 members of his family who subsequently were able to escape.
During the night of December 26, 1985, Fossey, too, was murdered; her remains were laid to rest beside Digit’s grave in the burial ground she established behind her cabin at her Karisoke Research Center (now cared for by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International).
[Spoiler Alert] In the final scene of the 1988 film, Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey’s tracker and companion, Sembagare, is shown arranging rocks around Digit’s and Fossey’s graves in such a way as to unite them in a single family plot.
- The International Primate Protection League published a special edition of its April 1986 newsletter, with remembrances of and tributes to Fossey from around the world.
- Read about Evelyn Gallardo, the woman who designed Fossey’s headstone.
- Take a virtual tour of Africa’s Virunga Volcanoes with famed conservationist, Ian Redmond, and visit the graves of Fossey, Digit and the gorillas (www.vEcotourism.org).
- Read poetry referencing gorillas and Fossey at the Ape Alliance.
Titus, Karisoke, Rwanda
Rwanda. A more recent gorilla burial (September 2009) has been documented by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Karisoke staff and researchers provide a loving burial for Titus in the same burial ground where Dian Fossey rests.
Dorothy, Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, Cameroon
Cameroon. “More than a dozen grief-stricken chimpanzees joined in an extraordinary expression of mourning as an elder in their family was laid to rest at a West African animal sanctuary” NY Post. A follow-up story provides the details of Dorothy’s captivity and deliverance to the Sanaga-Young Chimpanzee Rescue Center. The original story was presented by National Geographic (10/09).
Learn more about A touching video showing the family of chimps gathering to look upon their beloved Dorothy at her burial. Set to the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as sung by Israel “Iz” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’Ole. (Note: We could only find the video on GodTube.)
Frank Inn and Benji, Los Angeles, USA
Elias Franklin Freeman (a.k.a. Frank Inn) was a celebrated animal trainer for Hollywood films and TV. Among the most famous of his animals was Higgins, the dog who played Benji. According to Wikipedia, he said that he and his helpers had over 1,000 animals under their care. There was one animal who, as legend would have it, was most dear – Higgins.
Inn’s daughter had said that he made plans for his funeral before his death, which included a special made coffin with pockets for the cremains of all his former pets, including Higgins. Unfortunately, the cemetery told the family that, upon Inn’s death in 2002, they could not honor those plans due to the interpretation of the CA cemetery law. We are trying to obtain more information about this story – but it illustrates the need to modify laws to allow for Whole-Family Cemeteries.
Barney, Guernsey, England
Barney was an independent cat who made his home at the St. Sampson’s Parish Church cemetery on the island of Guernsey off the coast of England. After his family who lived next door moved a mile away, he kept returning to the cemetery where he comforted mourners during funeral services and visits for 20 years.
Alan Curzon, cemetery sexton who looked after Barney, said that “he was a complete sweetheart, he loved everyone who came through the cemetery. He would wait with me at the gate when we did burials and he would make himself known to the newcomers and he gave a lot of comfort to people. He would rub against their legs as they placed flowers on the graves.” He added, “there were many, many people in the town who loved Barney.”
Since Barney passed on, he was laid to rest in a special place within the cemetery. But the greatest tribute will be in recognizing cemeteries as places that provide comfort and healing to animals of all kind – human and nonhuman. For more information, read here.
Fala, Chief, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Springwood, Hyde Park, NY, USA
The Rose Garden at the FDR Presidential Library is the burial site of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Two family dogs, Fala, FDR’s constant companion, and a German shepherd named Chief (1918-1933) who belonged to their daughter Anna, are buried near the sundial in the Rose Garden.
“In April of 1945, President Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia. Fala attended the funeral but seemed lost without his beloved master. He went to live with Mrs. Roosevelt at Val-Kill, where he spent his time running, playing and chasing squirrels and cats…On April 5, 1952, Fala passed away and was buried in the Rose Garden next to the sun dial not far from the graves of President and Mrs. Roosevelt on what would have been his twelfth birthday April 7, 1952.”
While the quote says ‘not far’ the graves are about five yards away (about four and a half meters).
Visit our webpage on religious practices and animal burial.
More to come …
updated March 8, 2016