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As an animal chaplain who works with people to help them prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss, I think this pet cemetery is a wonderful idea, especially for those who prefer to bury rather than cremate their pets. It is largely illegal in the city to bury animals, and then there’s always the concern that if you do it anyway you may someday move to another home and have to leave behind your departed animals’ graves. I just helped a woman through the euthanasia of her beloved cockatoo, Cuddles, yesterday. She lives in a condo and is Jewish—her faith disallows cremation—so she had to bury her bird in her mother’s garden. She may still someday have to face her mother moving from that house and leaving Cuddles behind. Having access to a permanent, preserved burial space might have brought her an additional measure of comfort.

In my research and writing of my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” people all over the globe submitted stories of how bonded they were with their animals and how important memorializing them is to their own heart’s healing. I agree fully with Ms. Ayl, in the following article, when she writes, “Places like this and memorializing your pet are very important. Humans need symbolism. It’s very powerful. It’s very healing.”—Sid

Where Pets Rest in Peace

The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas offers a final resting place for beloved animals as well as comfort for their grieving owners.

By Reza Gostar | Email the author | August 11, 2010

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Flory DeVoe buried her dog Bijou at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas. Credit Flory DeVoe

About 40,000 pets are buried at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, and each tombstone and grave tells its own uniquely bittersweet story.

Although not the largest pet cemetery, the park is the second oldest in the country. A far cry from Stephen King’s “Pet Cemetery,” the Calabasas memorial park has a tranquil atmosphere where many animal lovers have found comfort.

Kathleen Ayl, pet loss support specialist, says people need emotional healing when a beloved animal dies.

“The amount of grief someone goes through is in direct proportion to the amount of connection they shared,” said Ayl.

According to Ayl, places like the memorial park and the burial or cremation ceremony help people find closure and aid them in the recovery process.

“People need to be aware that there are beautiful places that handle your animal in a loving and spiritual way and in a very respectful way,” said Ayl. “Places like this and memorializing your pet are very important. Humans need symbolism. It’s very powerful. It’s very healing.”

At the center of the park grounds a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the animals, stands with his arms outstretched. Names such as Mittens, Spanky, Corky and Chipper are etched into the flower-adorned headstones surrounding it.

A statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the animals, is one of the statues scattered throughout the park. Credit Reza Gostar

The park’s prices vary depending on the size of the animal and the amenities requested, employee Donna J. Robinson explained. The cost for a cremation depends on the pet’s weight and runs from $90 for a small cat to $310 for a large dog. For a headstone, casket, plot and service the total can range from $550 to $1,250. For larger pets such as horses the price can go up as high as $4,750.

People come to the Calabasas park for different reasons. Raphael Briliant was visiting with her rescued boxer Marcelle, who she explained is still a little aggressive as a result of his past abuse. Briliant, who had her cat Esmeralda cremated at the park, finds the grounds’ peacefulness redeeming and a start contrast to the brutality and neglect that she often witnesses in her rescue work.

“I remember walking through the park and reading some of these things . . . When you work in rescue and you see some people give up on their pets,” she said as tears formed. “Then you read some of the testimonies here and you realize that there are good people out there.”

Clarence and Flory DeVoe came to the Calabasas park because they didn’t want to bury their dog Bijou in the backyard. They wanted a more dignified and traditional service.

“The animal is a big part of the family,” said Clarence DeVoe of his pet. “My wife still talks about Bijou . . . I took my grandson down there a few weeks ago.”

The park can be a setting for young ones to learn about life and death and respect, Clarence DeVoe said.

Many people come to the park asking about a great-grandmother’s or great-grandfather’s pet. Some of the records date to 1928, the park’s inception, said Robinson.

A group of pet owners formed Save Our Pets’ History in Eternity (SOPHIE) to preserve the cemetery, which was founded by Eugene C. Jones and his family. A nine-person board of directors runs SOPHIE.

David Stiller, president of SOPHIE’s board, offered to show a Patch reporter around. The first stop was a mausoleum, which was erected in 1929 and stands at the highest point in the cemetery overlooking the grass below. Inside the building are the cremated remains of birds, dogs and cats safeguarded behind engraved marble-covered niches.

The oldest structure in the park is a mausoleum built in 1929. Credit Reza Gostar

In the oldest part of the park, Stiller walked toward his cat Majesty’s grave, laid to rest 21 years ago, and quickly arranged the flowers placed on top.

“My cat Majesty was the kind of cat that would not be in the sun, so his little plot is in a shaded area underneath a big tree,” Stiller said. “This is the real, real old section if you look at the headstones . . . 1937, 1936, 1929.”

Many famous names can be found at the park including Hopalong Cassidy’s horse Topper, Rudolph Valentino’s Great Dane Kabar and The Little Rascals’ playful Pete the Pup. In other areas of the park, visitors can find Charlie Chaplin’s cat or Humphrey Bogart’s dog.

credit Reza Gostar”]

“We will be here for another fifteen years, roughly and then we’ll be full,” said Stiller. “We have an endowment to maintain the insurance, the water and the groundskeepers in perpetuity.”

I know it’s a hot button to bring up the teachings of “The Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan. People seem to either love him or hate him and his philosophy, and I’m not going to open that whole discussion here. What I am here to say, however, is that I used his techniques today and spared myself and my three Westies—Blanche, Keely and Ambrose—from falling victim to an attack by a charging rottweiler mix.

Here’s what happened. I was walking my pooches along Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis when I saw coming toward us a 20-something man and his two big dogs, a huge white Pyrenees Mountain dog and a rottie mix. His two dogs nearly overwhelmed him with their bucking, barking and general “I want to kill those Westies” behavior.

FYI: A Pyraneese Mountain Dog (not THE dog in the story)

A Rottweiler mix similar to the one in the story.

My dogs, to their credit, stayed quiet and calm. (I’d like to take a moment to brag about my dogs if I may. I’ve received several comments from strangers, while we’re out on our walks, who have noted what well-behaved Westies I have. This was not always so, and I thank Mr. Millan for his dog-walking tips that have taken 95% of the squirrel-chasing chaos out of our strolls.)

Anyway, back to the story. We steered clear of those aggressive dogs and went on our merry way. Some time later, on our return trip, however, I saw we were going to cross paths with them again. I casually took my dogs several yards off the sidewalk to give them a wide berth. The Pyrenees went ultra ballistic this time, which I found worrisome, because the dog had to weigh well over 120 pounds. But what really startled me was the 70–80-pound rottweiler mix—who broke free of its collar and came charging at us!

The young man hollered fruitlessly to recall his dog, as he was still struggling with the Pyrenees. Normally, I’d have screamed bloody murder to see my dogs and myself under attack, but something clicked in my brain and I immediately thought WWCD? (What would Cesar do?)

I stood with legs firmly planted, pulling my dogs (who were surprisingly calm and still during this) somewhat behind me. I used a visualization technique to see myself as the pack leader protecting my pack from this intruder. The energy I sent out was filled with pure “You will NOT touch my pack!” authority.

I then used a loud, assertive voice to yell sharply, “Hey! NO!!” as I pointed down to the grass for him to drop there, and I—with heretofore never experienced complete confidence in a crisis—stared down this bully breed. With his hackles still raised from the attack, that rottie stopped dead about four feet away from us and dropped to the ground. His owner, still 20 yards away, continued to call to the dog ineffectually. I gave the rottie one last “NO!!” when he looked like he might challenge me, I added a final “Don’t you even think it!” look and calmly walked away with my astoundingly balanced pack of Westies.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the term “Minnesota Nice,” which refers to Minnesotans’ typical tendency to be hyper agreeable/passive so as not to upset anyone else, despite how detrimental such behavior may be in certain situations. In that split second, I said to myself, “Screw Minnesota Nice! I don’t give a ‘bleep’ what this guy thinks of my tone being used on his unruly dog. One of us humans has to show them who’s pack leader, and it obviously isn’t him!”

How empowering!

I’d never been prouder of my dogs or myself—in relation to my dog parenting. Had I not watched a gazillion episodes of “The Dog Whisperer,” I am certain I’d have screamed and tried to flee as the charging dog bore down on us, no doubt redoubling his predatory instinct. I shudder to think what the result would have been of that strategy.

(My certainty arises from past experience. I actually had that very thing happen several years ago when a neighbor’s pit bull broke free and came charging, clearly hoping to make me and my former Westie, Ludwig, her lunch. It didn’t help that the owner hysterically screamed for us to “RUN!!!!” as her pit bull went into attack mode because she knew she’d be unable to stop her dog. I barely got the two of us into our yard and shut the gate when Jasmine, her 10-month-old pit bull puppy, who was normally friendly, at least to humans, crashed into it and kept leaping and snapping at us until her owner came by to subdue her with a broom!)

That was a pretty traumatic experience for me, but thanks to Cesar Millan, I no longer automatically lump all the bully breeds into the “BAD DOG” category. I bawled when I learned of his pit bull Daddy’s death. But, I do harbor a great resentment toward owners of those breeds who either encourage aggressive behaviors in their dogs or simply don’t take seriously their responsibility to properly control and train them—for the sake of other people and their pets, as well as for their own dogs’ sake. To those people, I say,  “BAD OWNERS! BAD OWNERS!!”

Now, I just hope that young man I encountered today starts some kind of training course to get better control of his two clearly potentially dangerous, dog-aggressive canines.

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