Freckled with plastic flowers and granite headstones, Nashville’s only pet cemetery rambles up a green hillside, the metal chimneys of the ramshackle crematory barely visible from the road. Two cement dogs stand guard at the entrance of the trailer/funeral parlor. The undertaker is a young man in a trim red beard and knitted cap with mud on his pants. He introduces himself as “The Pet Grave Digger”, his gentle humor immediately evident because his whole manner proves a stark contrast to Hamlet’s grave digger and the craggy grave-diggers of Hollywood horror movies.
We tour the grounds and the new crematory. He is candid and kind. “People bring their pets here to honor the love they shared, to give the pet a dignified burial.” He shares an industry secret, “When your vet offers to dispose of the pets body, unless you specify that you want a return of the cremated remains, or you request that the body by part of a mass cremation, more likely than not, the body will be dumped in a mass grave at a local landfill.” Every Tuesday, he travels a southern route, picking up euthanized pets, some for individual cremation, some for mass cremation, others head to the landfill. “I don’t like doing that, but when I bought the business a year ago, that was part of the package, but I don’t offer that service to my new accounts—only mass cremations or individual cremation or burial.”
The burial services aren’t cheap, starting at $750 which doesn’t include the casket or the headstone. But the pet cemetery maintains a trust that guarantees that the grounds will be maintained in perpetuity (or something close to it anyway.)
The undertaker’s father is a Baptist preacher, but defines his Christianity much more loosely. “God knew what he was doing when he created pets—he offered them to people as an experience of unconditional love. I don’t think humans can truly love each other unconditionally, we all bring too much baggage to our relationships, even with our own children. But a pet can love you unconditionally, and that gives you just a taste of what it feels like to be loved by Christ.”
A large poster of The Rainbow Bridge Poem seems a startling display for a devout Christian. “Oh the bible says there are animals in heaven—and that poem touches so many people, it’s just another way of approaching it.” But, of course, not everyone agrees with this interpretation of the Bible. Sitting in the funeral parlor, surrounded by urns and cutesy animal illustrations yellowed with age, he continues, “One family that owns several plots, just buried two cats, only weeks apart. Mr.B--- , who is Southern Baptist, always says a prayer at the graveside and concludes with an assurance that one day he will join the cats in heaven. One of his brethren is offended by this—and they have had several rounds of arguments at their church. But Mr.B--- says that until he knows for sure, he will certainly hope to see his beloved pets again in the afterlife.”
Of course, the irony in all this is that the undertaker’s only pet is a hermit crab.
Preview of Coming Attractions
Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.