Q: Much to my boyfriend’s chagrin, at around this time of year I unearth my ever-expanding collection of horror movies. First up to bat is an old favorite, the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” (here’s guessing I’ll be having nightmares about Zelda for the next three weeks). Since last watching it, I’ve adopted two pet kitties that I love very much so I’m guessing, as a new pet owner, I’ll be viewing the movie from a slightly different perspective. This isn’t to say that if something horrible happens to Merle and Mona I’ll be so overcome with grief that I’d consider throwing ‘em in a burlap sack and heading on over to the local cursed Indian burial ground in hopes they’ll be resurrected as zombie kittens. What I’m wondering is if there are any natural — and non-supernatural — burial alternatives for dearly departed pets? I know eco-sensitive burial methods are increasingly popular with humans, but what about for pets?
A: Funny you mention “Pet Sematary.” I watched it at way too young of an age and convinced myself that the pet gerbils I had wrapped up in Kleenex and buried in the backyard of my childhood home would come back to life … to get me. Thank goodness Teddy the family Shih Tzu was cremated and placed in a decorative urn on the mantle. Even my overactive imagination knew that there was no way that Teddy could come back — mad, mangy and with a chip on his furry little shoulder.
Stephen King films and reanimated rodents aside, ecologically sensitive burial methods have indeed risen in popularity as of late, thanks much in part to the shaky economic climate. For budget-conscious families and green-minded mourners alike, cremation has emerged as an especially attractive alternative to old-fashioned burials that cost an arm and leg and are extremely resource intensive — those resources being toxic embalming chemicals like formaldehyde, and concrete, steel and timber. Then, of course, there’s the land itself and the copious amount of water and landscaping chemicals needed to keep the carefully manicured plot where your great Aunt Enid is interred looking its best. Although cremation, in the end, is greener than traditional $4,000 metal casket-in-the-ground burials, it isn’t without environmental minuses, specifically in terms of energy use and emissions.
When it comes to sending a pet off into the great beyond, the options — and their eco-drawbacks — are similar: burial in a pet cemetery — or zoological necropolis, if you will — or more commonly, cremation. There’s also the bury-in-the-yard option, although you may want to check in with any local ordinances that may prohibit this if you plan on interring anything larger than a hamster, canary or goldfish. If you go this route, you should also probably not plan on moving anytime in the near future. And then there’s freeze-dry taxidermy for those who really can’t stand the thought of parting with their furry companion.
There is a natural pet burial movement, although it’s a relatively small one. Founded in 2010 by Eric Greene, the Green Pet-Burial Society is a nonprofit organization that offers “support for a gentle return” and seems to be the go-to resource for those curious about pet burials where eco-friendly/biodegradable containers, shrouds and unadorned pine boxes placed in natural settings are favored over plastic boxes and immaculately landscaped pet cemeteries. The Green Pet-Burial Society works in cooperation with the Green Burial Council in certifying eco-friendly pet cemeteries and maintains a list of participating providers including green cemeteries like Dust to Dust in Swansea, S.C., and the Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve in Glendale, Fla., that allow pet remains to be buried in family plots.
Some pet cemeteries, such as Pennsylvania’s Keystone Pet Cemetery, offer “Bio Cremation,” a process that uses alkaline hydrolysis instead of fire and boasts a dramatically reduced carbon footprint: It cuts natural gas usage by 90 percent, electricity usage by 66 percent, and CO2 emissions by 90 percent.
So there you have it — the small but growing green pet burial movement. Not to be a Donald Downer, but if you have the chance, I’d also check out my fellow columnist Morieka Johnson’s advice on pet estate planning (yes, estate planning … there’s quite a few wealthy animal heirs out there) and grieving. In the meantime, enjoy frolicking with your kitties and try to, for your boyfriend’s sake, have sweet dreams, free of Zelda from “Pet Sematary.”
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