Pet cemeteries: bereaved Scottish owners remember precious animals

“He was my baby,” says Adele Al-Bedri. “He was a ball of energy and we had so much fun. You pretend nothing will happen to him, and when it does, it hits you hard.”

Pasha, a large brown bundle who was born as a puppy and has rarely left her side since then, was diagnosed with cancer early last year.

As lumps formed under his soft fur, Adele helplessly braced herself for the inevitable.

Five months since Adele last held Pasha in her arms, and still so sunk in grief that she can’t bring herself to walk the paths they once shared, she comforts herself with the knowledge that his final resting place is a peaceful spot in the Loch Lomond landscape marked with a plaque bearing his name under a cherry blossom tree.

Dozens of other equally popular family pets rest near Pasha, with their graves marked with sweet tributes to guinea pigs, cats, budgies and even a Shetland pony.

Pasha, Adele says, was buried in a touching “funeral” in keeping with the family’s Muslim beliefs, with a brief prayer while his coffin was lowered into the ground and flowers laid around.

“We came back a few days later and it was just beautiful,” she adds. “I needed to know that he was safe.

“It helps to know that his grave is there and that in years to come someone will see it and know it’s Pascha.”

Windy Park Pet Cemetery between Gartocharn and Balloch is one of the few pet cemeteries in Scotland where grieving owners lay their family’s four-legged or feathered friend to rest with the kind of solemn dignity and tender care one can offer to a family member.

Sometimes, says owner Anne Skea, the farewell includes a prayer and a speech. Occasionally someone pulls out a cell phone and plays soft music, some might film it to share. There are always tears.

“It’s like a normal funeral, we have strings and the family lowers their pet’s basket or box into the grave. It’s her last chance to say goodbye to her pets,” she says.

Bereaved owners come from across the country, often in deep despair or traumatized by their sudden, unexpected loss.

“We see people of different religions,” adds Anne. “Maybe they want their pet to be buried facing Mecca within 24 hours, sometimes they don’t want me to touch it and want to clean and prepare it for religious reasons.

“Sometimes cremation goes against their religion.”

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Pets are laid to rest in an eco-friendly wooden coffin or wicker basket, the interior is upholstered with soft fabric. Many place their favorite toys inside before the lid closes for the last time.

“Some want to wrap their pet in their favorite blanket,” adds Anne. “A woman had her cat wrapped in a cashmere shawl, which she liked to sit on.

“There’s a dog buried in its owner’s jacket. The lady used to walk the dog with it and said she wouldn’t need it anymore…

“None of this surprises me,” she adds. “People are very attached to their pets. That gives them a chance to say goodbye.”

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At Central Pet Cremations in Falkirk, Margaret Mason sees distraught owners anxious to give their pet the best ‘farewell’ possible. Most mourn cats or dogs, but one was a 63-year-old gray parrot whose 86-year-old owner had cared for him his entire life.

“Pets are members of the family, they bring so much love and company. When they go, they leave a big void,” says Margaret, whose son David and wife Samantha started the company 12 years ago.

“Owners want to know that their pet is receiving individual attention. Large cremation companies deal with a large volume of pets. It may take some time to get the pets’ ashes back.

“And vets are busy, they don’t always have time for their pets.

“We have a farewell room where you can take time to say goodbye and trust in an individual cremation.

“It’s a holistic service,” she adds. “We know how it feels to lose a pet.”

The ashes are returned in litter tubes, wooden, brass or pewter urns with paw prints and inscriptions. But the demand for alternatives is increasing: there is a wooden urn in the shape of a “sleeping cat”, a plush teddy bear with a zipped compartment for storing the ashes and frames with space for ashes, collar, name tag and photo.

Cremation was out of the question for Adele for personal and religious reasons. Looking out across the Clyde from her home in Langbank, it’s a comfort to know that Pasha lies peacefully on the other side as grief takes over.

“He’s been part of our family since my two sons were little and they all grew up together,” she adds. “They all needed plenty of food, long walks and sunshine; They had so much energy, romped and played together.

“He wasn’t just a pet to get rid of, he should be treated with dignity and respect.”

As Pasha’s illness progressed, Adele – aware of what lay ahead – prepared by taking him to Windy Park.

“He was sniffing around and I think he knew because he started crying,” she says. “But I wanted him to be part of everything, it was his journey.

“We took him on his last walk and he had so much fun – we gave him everything we wouldn’t normally give him.”

“It helps to know that his grave will be there, someone will see it and know it’s Pascha,” she adds.

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The cemetery opened in 2014 after Anne helped a family friend bury a rabbit and found that some grieving owners found the task of caring for their deceased pet too onerous or wished for something more personal than cremation their pet to leave at the vet.

Construction on the family’s 40-acre farm required a Veterinary and Phytosanitary Authority license (there is an annual inspection), planning permission and SEPA approval. There are now 110 small graves with wooded areas for the ashes of cremated pets.

Naturally born rivals in life, peace reigns in the cemetery: dogs rest in harmony with cats, lying next to budgies and rabbits.

Not far from Pasha are the remains of Mr. Kitten, Belinda Price’s 19-year-old cat, who died last year, and her other cat, 13-year-old Dita, who was lost to a short illness the previous year.

“When Dita got sick, I told the vet that I couldn’t just hand her over to someone who would put her in a bag, put her in an incinerator and then give me some ashes back,” says Belinda.

“Dita was gone within three weeks, it was traumatic. Mr. Kitten was old and I knew the end was coming, so I arranged for him the lot next to Dita.

“Knowing that they have a beautiful place, that they’re good looking and that they’re together helped me deal with it.”

Funerals come at a price, of course: at Windy Park, a cat and small pet costs £485, with dogs starting at £585. However, for owners who have often spent thousands of pounds on vet bills, the fees seem secondary to the convenience they bring.

“People just expect it to be just getting over it,” says Belinda, who regularly makes the hour-long journey from her home in Glasgow to lay flowers at her cats’ graves. “You say ‘it’s just a cat’ or ‘it’s just a dog’, but it’s part of your life.

“Animals give you joy, comfort and lots of unconditional love and suddenly they’re gone. We’ve never been with them long enough.

“When I visit it’s quiet, the Highland cattle are around and each grave has its own name: you realize you’re not the only one feeling this sadness.”

Grace Reader

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