Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The heartbroken can go to Hartsdale.
When I was about 10 my teenage stepbrother Johnny (who rarely let me into his room...) told me he wanted to read me a story about a cat. Church? that's a strange name for a cat... Years later, despite nightmares from my earlier exposure, it was my idea to go and see the movie Pet Cemetery with my Mom and 2 friends for my birthday, after that I slept with closet shut, bedroom door open, hallway light on for weeks.
Today myself and two very good friends went to the pet cemetery in Hartsdale New York and it was a really soothing place . My dog Lulu had died very unexpectedly last weekend from a neurological disease and we were there to view the remains and have her cremated. Sounds almost like a funeral doesn't it? It felt like one. When I called Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory to arrange the private cremation I was surprised when they offered a viewing, a wake for dogs. The woman added that at the viewing you could bring toys and blankets, essentially your dogs treasures and maybe a few useful items to be cremated along with them, you could also witness them being placed in the crematorium and take the ashes home that same day. So much like an ancient ritual, kings buried in tombs with food and servants and everything needed for the afterlife. After you have your animal euthanized they are taken away somewhere in the back, and if you have asked for a private cremation you are trusting a series of people to respect your animal and yourself and return the remains of YOUR animal, and you can only hope and trust they will do it. When my cat died it happened like that, it was unsettling, it felt too abrupt, I wanted to be involved. But today at the cemetery we went into a little room to say our goodbyes, Lulu looked like she was sleeping (they are furry and don't look as unfamiliar as people can), we had brought her favorite toys, pictures, goodbye letters, bones and collar, as well as my black scarf which she loved to steal and sleep on. We saw her and her things placed in the furnace and the door went down... We were told to come back in an hour and half for the ashes.
There are animal people, and for lack of a better term non-animal people, you know what I am talking about right? If you are a "non-animal person" you will not be troubled by what happens to the remains of a pet, they are not people after all, and you can always get a new one, but if you are an animal person it might bother you, you want to give them dignity and respect, they may not be people but they are family, you had a significant love between you, a special friendship, history and you will want to acknowledge that somehow. The Hartsdale Canine Cemetery begun accidentally in 1896 by Samuel Johnson, a veterinarian who offered room in his apple orchard to grieving pet owners with no place to bury their furry loved ones "It was almost as if he had found a cure for a dreaded disease; this was something people deeply wanted and needed - and greeted with great relief." this place came to be known as Peaceable Kingdom, and walking the grounds you can agree. The pet cemetery is on a hillside, beautiful flowering trees, terraced with crooked staircases, toys, bones, and holiday decorations on many graves, there is personality here, pictures of pets with their names and nicknames, respect and humor, this is a place where people have said in so many different ways that you are my special friend and I love you, you matter. Rituals are important to people, a real need, and when you can't have it things don't feel right. I'm heartbroken over loosing my dog, she was only 6, I had big plans for us. This place allowed me and so many other pet owners to say goodbye in a way that felt proper, at a place where this is perfectly understood.