Pet lovers lay their best friends to rest

Pet lovers lay their best friends to rest

"You will never be alone. Your family will love you forever," reads an engraving on a tombstone in the northern suburbs of Beijing.

A 70-year-old woman surnamed Li sweeps the tomb, but it is not dedicated to a relative; it is the final resting place of her dog, which died five years ago.

The tomb is surrounded by plastic flowers and snacks, and a photograph of the dog is pasted on the tombstone. Its name was Nini, and it was the family dog for 18 years.

Like many other pet owners in China, Li spent more time with her dog than her children, "since they were busy with their jobs".

"I miss Nini," Li said. "She was our spiritual sustenance."

The family is delighted with the peaceful plot at Baifu Pet Cemetery.

The administrator, Zhang Youwang, said the cemetery offers a range of services including cremation, burial, tombstone inscription and memorial services. They have buried more than 3,000 dogs, cats, rabbits, lizards, tropical fish and tortoises.

The cemetery was founded by a member of the China Small Animal Protection Association in 2002.

The association says China has 170 million pet cats and dogs. With an average death rate of 5 per cent, 8.5 million pets die each year.

The tombs are similar to those dedicated to people. They are made of marble or concrete, and can cost tens of thousands of yuan.

Each tomb has a 30-year lease, with a fee paid annually.

"The urns range from 100 yuan ($21) to 1,000 yuan, and cremations cost from 400 yuan to 600 yuan," Zhang said.

In the past, owners would often dump their dead pets, and some even threw them in the trash.

"It brought about a severe problem for the environment," Zhang said.

In Beijing, the problem grew so serious that a new set of regulations was passed last year banning the improper disposal of dead pets.

"So cemeteries like Baifu not only play an important role in sanitation, but offer a special space to remember pets," Zhang said.

However, not everyone supports the idea of pet cemeteries.

As burial land grows scarce and land values skyrocket, there has been much debate about whether such services are driving up prices for human burials.

In some extreme cases, the price of burials has led people to claim they "cannot afford to die", Zhang said.

He frequently hears others say that people should leave enough land resources for themselves, rather than use it on pets.

For those opposed to using a pet cemetery, the association recommends cremation.

"It is becoming commonplace for developed countries to have specialised funeral services for pets," said a spokesman for the association. "China could be more open and tolerant toward pets and their cemeteries."

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