Stone in America magazine, February 25, 2006
In 1896, a prominent New York City veterinarian, Dr. Samuel Johnson, offered his apple orchard in then-rural Hartsdale, N.Y. to serve as a burial plot for a bereaved friend’s dog. That single compassionate act served as a cornerstone for what was to become America’s first and most prestigious pet cemetery.
Today, over a century later, this beautiful hillside location is the final resting place for nearly 70,000 pets, continuing a long history of caring and excellence that is the hallmark of this serene and lovely pet burial ground.
As a 20-year resident of White Plains, I have often found myself on Central Park Avenue for a day of shopping. I always notice the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory (aka “the Peaceable Kingdom”) when driving past, and have utilized their services when my own pets have passed away. The ashes of my cats Rogie and Clarabelle are scattered there, as well as those of the matriarch cat of my family, Jambi, who succumbed to kidney disease on Jan. 25 at the advanced age of 22.
For those of us who truly love and appreciate animals, the death of these beloved companions is an emotional and sorrowful experience. Many of us with backyards choose to bury our pets at home and create our own “memory gardens” to honor these departed members of our families. Thousands of others, however, have chosen to bury their pets at this beautiful, tranquil location.
I visited the cemetery on a recent day and spoke with president Ed Martin Jr. about the history of “the Peaceable Kingdom” and the diverse services available to area pet owners. The cemetery has been family owned and operated for decades. Martin is also the author of “Dr. Johnson’s Apple Orchard: The Story of America’s First Pet Cemetery.” Many of the Martin family’s pets are buried there.
In addition to securing permanent burial plots for pets, people can have their animals cremated and dispersed in the “scatter garden” area or choose to receive the ashes of their pets in special urns to be taken home. All arrangements for services offered can be made with the friendly and caring members of the staff.
Walking through the rolling grounds and reading the loving inscriptions on the headstones is an uplifting experience. “We want the cemetery to be a celebration of our pets’ lives rather than a place of sadness,” Martin said. “Providing people with a beautiful location to which they can come and fondly remember the unconditional, non-judgmental devotion their pets have provided is of the utmost importance to us.”
Deeply touching inscriptions are everywhere, memorials to the pets we have loved, lost, and continue to remember dearly throughout our lives. Even in the middle of winter, members of the grounds crew tend the graves carefully and respectfully. A constant stream of people brought fresh flowers, stuffed animals and cards to lay at their pets’ graves during my visit.
Special events are held during the warmer months, including a June celebration at the “War Dog” memorial, a September “blessing of the animals” and a tree lighting ceremony at the end of the year. All events are open to the public and at these times, donations of items (such as food, blankets, beds and toys) for local shelter animals are welcomed and appreciated. At the June and September ceremonies, shelter pets are brought to the cemetery and are available for adoption. Nellie, one of the cemetery mascots, was adopted by the Martin family at one such event.
There is a yearly newsletter available to anyone wishing to receive it, whether you have a pet buried on the grounds or not. Registration can be made at petcem.com. In fact, anyone whose interest has been awakened by this article should visit their very user-friendly and information-rich Web site for more details.
The Web site also provides a list of “celebrity” animals who are interred there. Just a few of the well-known people who have chosen Hartsdale Pet Cemetery as the final resting place for their beloved pets are actresses Louise Lasser and Gloria DeHaven, sports figure Joe Garagiola, singer Mariah Carey, musician Gene Krupa and our own mayor, Joseph Delfino, whose cat is buried at the cemetery.
Clearly, the love and connection we have for the pets in our lives is not a new experience. It is not a trend that will disappear. Our feelings of grief when these beloved family members die and leave us are not uncommon, although many people who have never known the love and companionship of an animal might question our sadness and our need to memorialize them in some profound way. It is a comfort to know that the people who run the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery have experienced the exact same emotions and strive daily to provide a peaceful location in which we can express our love and thanks to the animals who have touched our lives and our hearts.
Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory is at 75 North Central Park Ave., Hartsdale; 949-2583; 800-375-5234; petcem.com
What kind of records does the facility keep?
Hartsdale records are maintained on a network of eight computers. All burials and cremations are entered on a daily basis. All burial plots indicate the owner’s name and address, the pet’s name, type of care (perpetual or annual) type of flower care (perpetual or annual), plot size, monument information, etc. With respect to cremations all individual cremations include the cremation number, owner’s name and address, pet’s name, attending veterinarian or clinic, date of cremation, date pet’s remains returned, etc. In addition the cemetery maintains copies of burial right certificates, cremation certificates and pet records.
How can I be sure that I am getting my own pet's remains back?
As indicated above the pet holder can always make arrangements to be at Hartsdale for the cremation. However if the owner cannot be present they can be assured that the staff at Hartsdale takes great care in assuring that the pet owner gets the correct ashes back. They accomplish this by verifying/checking the paperwork that is generated from the specific description, case number if applicable, owners name and pets name. This is done at a minimum of three times and the cremation itself is then witnessed by two of our staff.
Can I witness the commencement of the cremation process?
Yes. Hartsdale has what is termed a witnessed cremation. What this entails is that the pet holder makes an appointment to be at Hartsdale at a specific time and date. Upon arriving, for their appointment the pet is placed into a temporary casket and the pet holder is able to spend time with the pet in our viewing room. When the pet owner is ready they may then follow the pet to the crematory and witness the pet going into the unit. Then when the cremation process is complete, normally between 1½ to 3 hours depending on the size of the pet, the pet holder leaves with the cremains.