Our Pets: Burying with Love and Taboo | CNN

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Editor’s Note: Eric Tourigny is a lecturer in historical archaeology at Newcastle University, UK. His research interprets osteological and material culture remains alongside historic texts to examine changing human-animal relationships in Europe and North America over the past 500 years. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.


Why do we lay our deceased family members to rest in a cemetery? The main reason is to help those left behind mourn and find closure. A cemetery is not just for the departed; it is also a place for the living to seek solace.

But what about when those we bid farewell to are not human but our beloved pets?

Eric Tourigny

Barcelona, Spain has unveiled plans to open the first public pet cemetery in the country. This pet cemetery, anticipated to launch next year, will provide both burials and cremations, expecting to handle around 7,000 ceremonies annually.

As someone deeply engrossed in studying pet burial practices globally, this news from Barcelona was surprising. Despite being a densely populated city where half of the households own pets, the absence of a public pet cemetery until now is remarkable.

How is it that a city with a canine population of 180,000 dogs didn’t have a public pet cemetery before? According to Eloi Badia, Barcelona’s Councilor for Climate Emergency and Ecological Transition, the demand from the public led to this municipal initiative.

Public pet cemeteries have a history dating back to the late 19th century in Europe and the Americas. London saw its first public pet cemetery in Hyde Park in 1881, followed by New York’s Hartsdale pet cemetery in 1896, and Paris’ ornate Cimetière des Chiens in 1899.

My interest in the history of modern pet burial customs piqued during an archaeological exploration of a centuries-old home in Toronto. I encountered the burial of a large dog in the backyard from records showing occupation between 1840 and 1870.

This elderly dog had lived a long life but battled joint issues and severe infections in its final months. The level of care it received suggested a deep bond, leading to its burial behind the family residence.

Reflecting on how people handle their pets’ bodies after death, I pondered if these actions mirror the relationships they shared in life. Why go through the effort of a thoughtful burial when simpler options exist?


Why do people bury their pets?

People bury their pets to honor their memory, show love and respect, and find closure after their pet’s passing.

Are there public pet cemeteries?

Yes, there are public pet cemeteries in various parts of the world, providing burial and cremation services for pets.

How long have pet cemeteries been around?

Public pet cemeteries have a history dating back to the late 19th century in Europe and the Americas.

1712516547 96 Opinion ‘Until we meet again brave little cat The heartbreak
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        During past times, it was common to dispose of deceased pets in the river or even sell their remains for various purposes.

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        Maintaining cleanliness is a key reason for opting for pet burials, avoiding the unpleasant sight and smell of decomposing animal bodies in public areas or private spaces.

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        While the simplest method would be to discard a deceased pet with regular household waste, such a lack of ceremony fails to provide closure for what was often a significant bond between the owner and the pet.

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        Just like human burials, pet burials represent a cultural practice that evolves with time, mirroring the changing dynamics between a society and its beloved animals.

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        My <a href="https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2020.191" target="_blank" rel="noopener">research on historical gravestones and inscriptions in Britain</a> spanning from the Victorian era to the present demonstrates the shift in human-animal connections. In the 1800s, gravestones often honored a "beloved friend" or "loyal companion," illustrating the significant role pets played.

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        By the early 1900s, pets had transitioned into family members, as indicated by the inclusion of family names on gravestones and affectionate messages from "Mommy and Daddy."
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        The evolving societal perspective on animals in the hereafter is also evident. In later years, gravestones increasingly hinted at a future reunion. For instance, the epitaph of Denny, the "brave little cat" interred in an east London cemetery in 1952, expressed the wish for a future meeting with the pet.

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        It is intriguing to ponder the messages on epitaphs at Barcelona's new pet cemetery, offering insights into modern relationships between Catalans and animals.

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        The evolution of how we handle deceased animals reflects a deepening bond during their lives. Previously prohibited by law, recent years have witnessed a shift in some regions, such as New York, permitting <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/nyregion/new-york-burial-plots-will-now-allow-four-legged-companions.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the joint burial of cremated humans and pets</a>, impacting funeral practices for both species.

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        One striking parallel between current and historical pet cemeteries is the evident sorrow and social stigmas surrounding grief for animals.

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        The bond between an individual and their pet can be as profound as those with fellow humans. Despite this, individuals today, as they did over a century ago, struggle to express their grief openly, concealing their emotions due to societal norms.

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        Organizations like the RSPCA provide reassurance to the public <a href="https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/bereavement" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on their website</a> that mourning a pet is a natural sentiment. In the UK, groups like the <a href="https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-and-pet-loss" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Blue Cross</a> offer support for those dealing with pet loss.


Why choose pet burial over other disposal methods?

Pet burials offer a more ceremonious and emotionally fulfilling closure, recognizing the bond shared with a beloved pet, unlike disposing of them with regular waste.

How have attitudes towards pet burials evolved over time?

Historically, pets were seen as cherished friends, later transitioning into family members. Modern practices show a deeper emotional connection, allowing joint cremation burials with humans.

Is grieving for a pet socially accepted?

While the bond with a pet can be significant, societal norms often lead individuals to hide their grief over pet loss. Organizations provide support and guidance for those experiencing such feelings.Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss Grief Center and other resources offer counseling services to support individuals grieving the loss of a pet.

The bond between humans and animals has been cherished for centuries. In modern times, society is beginning to recognize the significance of these relationships on our overall well-being. As such, mourning the loss of a beloved pet is becoming more accepted, with rituals akin to those observed for human losses.

In Barcelona, a new pet cemetery provides a space for pet owners to honor and grieve their departed companions, albeit with a cost of €200 ($217) per service. While this cemetery offers a formal place for remembrance, it may not be financially feasible for everyone in the city.

For those who opt for alternative ways to commemorate their pets, options such as keeping cremated remains at home or scattering ashes in a meaningful location are popular choices. Virtual pet cemeteries and online forums also offer platforms to express grief and honor the memories of beloved animals.

Ultimately, whether through a pet cemetery or other means, it is important to find ways to express and process grief while cherishing the relationship shared with pets throughout their lives.


1. What services do resources like Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss Grief Center offer?
Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss Grief Center and similar resources provide counseling services to support individuals coping with the loss of a pet.

2. How has society’s view on mourning the loss of pets evolved over time?
In modern times, society is increasingly recognizing the importance of human-animal relationships and adopting rituals similar to those used to mourn human losses when grieving the loss of a pet.

3. What are some alternatives to pet cemeteries for honoring departed pets?
Alternatives to pet cemeteries include keeping cremated remains at home, scattering ashes in meaningful locations, and utilizing online forums and virtual pet cemeteries for remembrance and grief expression.

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