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Pet Cemetery

This article is more than 11 years old.

The ritualized burial of animals goes back centuries, but in the Boston area there's only one place to bury your pet: the Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery.

Set on 10 acres in Dedham, it's the country's oldest pet cemetery owned and operated by an animal welfare agency, the Animal Rescue League of Boston. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov takes us there.

Audio for this story will be available on WBUR's web site later today.

TEXT OF STORY:

[SOUND OF CARETAKER LOWERING CASKET]

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: On a clear spring day, the caretaker of Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery lowers a small box into a perfectly formed hole. Bill and Sally Dugan watch with drawn faces.

SALLY DUGAN: Today we are burying Bonnie. She's almost 11 years old, a Brittney Spaniel. We had her since she was a pup. We took her from the humane society that found her in the woods and we adopted her. And we've had her all these years and she got sick with cancer of the liver and the time has come.

[SOUND OF PILING DIRT IN GRAVE]

BRADY-MYEROV: Bonnie is wrapped in her favorite afghan. As dirt fills the hole, the Dugans, who are in their 70s, say this is their fifth dog buried at Pine Ridge, and it will be their last. Bill Dugan is overwhelmed.

BILL DUGAN: She was a very good dog we had her for 11 years.

BRADY-MYEROV: How will you remember her?

BILL DUGAN: Just as a good friend.

BRADY-MYEROV: The couple has no children, and say they treated their Brittney Spaniels like children. Thus a proper burial was in order. The Animal Rescue League charges $900 for the grave, burial and maintenance. Any extra goes to the animal shelter on the grounds. A raised engraved granite headstone can cost around $500.

SALLY DUGAN: It says Dugan 1998 Bonnie. Then down the bottom they loved us we loved them.

BRADY-MYEROV: Bonnie is laid to rest in the newer part of the cemetery. Pine Ridge caretaker Michael Thomas takes me to the older section, which opened in 1907.

[SOUND OF WALKING, BIRDS]

MICHAEL THOMAS: As we come down here, that large stone is Igloo. That's Admiral Byrd's dog.

BRADY-MYEROV: Admiral Richard Byrd explored Antarctica by airplane in the 1920s.

MICHAEL THOMAS: This dog accompanied the admiral to the South Pole. Igloo was a fox terrier. Everything thinks he's a husky.

BRADY-MYEROV: Thomas, who's worked at the cemetery for 38 years, can't say how many pets are buried here because the Animal Rescue League hasn't always kept track. He estimates between 20,000 and 30,000.

THOMAS: Mostly dogs and cats, but we have a couple of small turtles the Woolworth turtles. We've got rabbits, guinea pigs, iguanas. We're going to move over to our probably most famous or infamous person who has her pets here. And that would be Lizzy Borden. She was acquitted of killing her parents with an axe in Fall River.

BRADY-MYEROV: The headstone says 'Borden' at the base of it, and her dogs are buried here, and it has their names inscribed: Donald Stewart, Royal Nelson and Laddie Miller, sleeping a while.

[SOUND OF CEMETERY, BIRDS]

BRADY-MYEROV: Looking at the headstones, Thomas points out how some years the pets have human names and other years, names like Lucky, Jingles and Brownie.

THOMAS: There's Ringo Star...

BRADY-MYEROV: Look at that Ringo Star is here 1968-1975; doesn't say whether Ringo was a dog or a cat...

THOMAS: No, it doesn't.

BRADY-MYEROV: But Thomas says the sentiments on the headstones remain the same — loving endearments to cherished friends. These days, Thomas does an average of four to five burials a week and up to 5,000 cremations a year. He says there are two main reasons people choose the pet cemetery over leaving the animals with the vet or burying them in the backyard.

THOMAS: Number one, it's illegal and it's a board of health ordinance, and other people don't want them in the back yard because...what happens when they leave.

BRADY-MYEROV: Thomas, who is 58 and says he has a face for radio, has seen hundreds of people grieve for their pets, each differently. Some have religious ceremonies. One played "Stairway to Heaven." Thomas says burying pets is an enduring tradition that spans generations.

THOMAS: This whole center is empty. We've got plenty of capacity my career will be long over and we'll still have space here.

[SOUND OF BIRDS IN THE CEMETERY]

BRADY-MYEROV: For WBUR, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov at the Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery in Dedham.

This program aired on May 6, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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