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Spending more time — say, forever — with your pet

By Jim Fitzgerald

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 5 2011 12:55 p.m. MST

In this Jan. 19, 2011 photo, a tombstone marks the grave of two pets and their owner at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y. More Americans seem to be deciding to be buried with their favorite animals _ in pet cemeteries. At the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in the New York suburbs, the number of humans interred each year has more than doubled recently. Many inscriptions reveal owners' sentiments about their pets.

Seth Wenig, Associated Press

HARTSDALE, N.Y. — Rhona Levy has her burial planned out. She'll be cremated, her ashes will be divided into two bright red urns and she'll be taken to the cemetery.

Then, half of her will go into a plot with Snow, Putchke and Pumpkin, and the other half will go in nearby with Shaina and Twinkie.

The New Yorker is among what appears to be a growing number of Americans who want to share their final resting place with their best friends — even if those friends were cats or dogs or iguanas — and are getting buried or reserving plots at pet cemeteries.

"I've elected not to be married — it just didn't happen, I was engaged a few times — and I didn't have children," the 61-year-old Levy said. "And these little furry kids, they just became my first and foremost love. So I wanted to be close after I died."

The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, with 200 members, estimates that a quarter of the nation's pet cemeteries take in deceased humans, and the demand is growing.

"We hear about it all the time in our membership, people asking for it," said Donna Bethune, the group's executive secretary. Pet owners "oftentimes maybe don't have extended family and their pet pretty much was their family, like their child to them. And there's not a family plot where everyone's going to be."

At the 115-year-old Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, which claims to be America's first pet cemetery, president and director Edward Martin Jr. estimates the remains of 700 people have joined the 75,000 or so buried animals.

Inscriptions on the mostly small headstones at Hartsdale, which slopes up from a busy boulevard but was appropriately hushed after a big snowfall, reveal the sentiments of some of the people who decided to join their pets after death.

A headstone for Edward A. Way, who died in 1976, bears what sounds like a tribute to a perfect marriage: "Here we sleep forever, I and my beloved Bibi, my loving companion for fourteen years, together in life, together in death."

Bibi's grave is alongside, labeled "Miss Bibi Way, 1959-1973." Cemetery records indicate she was a cat.

In 1995, Arthur Link's ashes were interred at Hartsdale, joining his wife Marjorie and 16 of "Our Longtime Friends." The 16 cats each has a name engraved on the black granite monument: Aspen, Fritzie, Ginger, Gidget, Muffin, Bambi, Cricket, Snoopy, Gina, Patches, Foxy, Buttons, Dudley, Omar, Khayyam and Valentino.

Martin said human remains have been added to animal graves at Hartsdale, 20 miles north of Manhattan, since a woman had her ashes sprinkled over her dog's grave in 1925. Burying human remains goes back to at least 1950, and the scattering of ashes in no longer permitted.

He said he thinks the increasing number of humans — 10 or 12 in each of the past few years, compared with three to five before — may be related to "more people getting used to the idea of cremation." Hartsdale and most of the other pet cemeteries contacted said they require humans to be cremated before joining their deceased pets.

Martin said lawyers have told him that because cremation is a "final disposition," there's no regulation against putting the ashes of pet owners in with their dead ferrets or goldfish.

Dan Shapiro, spokesman for the New York Department of State, which regulates cemeteries, isn't so sure. He said there's no specific regulation that says humans can't be in pet cemeteries, but added, "there's nothing that says they can."

He said the remains of a human in a pet cemetery might be deprived of the guarantees — such as perpetual maintenance — that a human cemetery offers. But Martin noted that a payment for perpetual care is required before human remains can be interred at Hartsdale.

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