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.
Doyle Shugart, who owns two Deceased Pet Care cemeteries in Bethlehem and Douglasville, Ga., and is chairman of the cemetery association's ethics and standards committee, has heard of no legal hurdles elsewhere. He said regulations vary from state to state. Pets are banned from most human cemeteries, he said, but some allow an urn of animal ashes in a person's casket.
One of Shugart's cemeteries includes a section called "Horseshoe Gardens," for the cremated remains of horses. It's open to the horses' owners, too.
At least one famous pet cemetery won't let humans in. David Stiller, president of the board of directors for the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, where Charlie Chaplin's cat and Humphrey Bogart's dog are buried, said, "We don't think we're a human cemetery and we don't want to get into that."
He said he wouldn't be surprised, however, if there was some "unauthorized scattering" of owners' ashes over pets' graves.
Several owners are leaving instructions in their wills, said Bill Remkus, owner of the Hinsdale Animal Cemetery in Willowbrook, Ill., where the ashes of 35 people are interred.
"More people are asking about it and putting their wishes in writing. They don't care anymore what other people think," he said.
Martin says Hartsdale will bury any animal, "as long as someone says, 'This is a pet.'"
He says 90 percent of the animals are dogs and cats, but records also show birds, guinea pigs, ferrets, iguanas, turtles, monkeys, rabbits, fish, rats and a lion cub. Celebrities from George Raft to Mariah Carey have buried pets there.
"There is a legend of an elephant, but I can't verify that," said Martin, who took over the cemetery in 1974 and plans to have his ashes buried there.
In 2008, a travel guide listed the cemetery among the world's 10 best places to be entombed — along with the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids.
One headstone topped with an urn in Hartsdale is marked for Jack and Peggy MacPherson "and their beloved pets." The MacPhersons are in the urn, the pets under ground.
"We don't allow that any more," Martin said. "The urn is too precarious."
One no-nonsense marker simply says "Planted Here" and names Alfred H. Profe, who lived from 1920-1996. Then it adds "forever with pals" and names his pets Patches and Yahootie.
Prices at Hartsdale vary depending on the size and location of the plot, Martin said. It costs $1,300 to put a cremated cat into an inexpensive plot. Opening the grave to add a human's remains — or another cat's — costs $235.
The perpetual care requirement is an upfront $1,800 payment.
Levy, who lives in the Bronx, has been burying pets at Hartsdale since 2001 — her dog Snow and cats Putchke, Pumpkin and Twinkie. Another cat, Shaina, is still alive but is listed on the grave marker. Levy has two plots because she buries the animals in cherrywood caskets and no more than three can fit in a grave.
"I've never seen a human cemetery as beautifully kept," she said. "Besides, you really cannot compare a human cemetery with a pet cemetery. People are obligated to bury their dead, whereas burying pets shows there's extra love."
Levy said she always told her pets, upon leaving the house, "Mommy will be home soon," and those words are inscribed on the older grave marker. The newer one, which is heart-shaped, says, "Mommy's home."
AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.
Hartsdale Pet Cemetery: www.petcem.com
Deceased Pet Care: www.deceasedpetcare.com
Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park: http://www.lapetcemetery.com
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