Followers of religions believe in life after death, well, not all of them to be fair. This gives them an imaginary eternity, a feeling of perpetual comfort and salvation from the suffering or the unreached on earth. This often does not include only humans, but pets, dog cats, mice, and other animals as well. Religious people grant their pets a soul, so when they die, they believe that their pets are not in “animal heaven”. But that is where it commonly ends.
In several countries animal cemeteries have opened and are operating successfully. Paris has one of the oldest grave yards for animals called Asnières followed by Père Lachaise, Montparnasse or Montmartre and also Asnières-sur-Seine, north east of the main city. The ritual of burying pets has presumably come from the fact that animals are often parts of the family or house community and are even treated like children. One of the graves, with a stone bought by a pet owner states: “Darius was a magnanimous kitty of exceptional intelligence.” and another engraving reads: “You and your little sisters have replaced the child I never had.”
Observing animal cemeteries shows more of the human nature, as religion does not have a deep influence on these grounds. Knowing that many believers imagine, that their pets have souls like they imagine having, and that they will reunite in “heaven”, seems to have no big impact on animal burying rites. Animals are generally more or less disposed or often just buried in the back garden of people’s homes.
In France for example, during the 19th century, dogs and cats were just dumped in rivers or landed in waste containers, or just thrown into the street. This leads to enormous hygienic problems, giving way for the government to permit the first animal cemetery in 1899. The idea came from a woman called Marguerite Durand, who also founded the first feminist daily newspaper called “La Fronde”. Mrs. Durand gave herself the nick name “Tiger” and she was even later buried in the animal cemetery Asnières.
For some people this goes too far, yet for others it reflects even Humanism, the way humans treat not only their fellow humans, but also those animals mainly regarded as pets. Inscriptions suggest love is the greatest indication for these rites, where money doesn’t even seem to play a significant role. Prices range from 800 to 15,000 Euros, depending on the size of the grave and the tomb erected on it. Interesting is, that religious set-ups like small chapels, symbols and even religious celebrations are prohibited.
In Germany, animal cemeteries are very popular too, and the prices are far cheaper. Pets are very common, and as a country where pets are even supported by many organisations helping unemployed people with animals, it is no wonder that pets can not only be held by the ones who can afford. An example is the animal cemetery “Tierfriedhof Dortmund”. Here one can find graves for birds and mice for 30 Euros per year. Dogs, depending on the size will be classed from 65 to 100 Euros per annum.
The department of social welfare, called Hartz 4, describes the owning of pets as followed:
“Everyone has the right to keep a pet or multiple pets. This pet should only be of no danger to oneself or others present, and must be kept under appropriate conditions. Also recipients of Hartz 4 have a right to claim house livestock.”
In Switzerland the following regulations take place, supporting the care of the following basic expenses:
"Food, clothing, personal expenses, household supplies, postage, telephone, radio and TV license fees, electricity, gas, garbage fees, premiums (costs) for household and private liability insurance and their deductibles, subscription to public transport, maintenance of bicycle or moped, pets, hobbies, toys, gifts, club fees and the like. "(Social assistance regulation, § 8 )
Pets, hence belong already to the basic needs in many countries, as they are companions, and even helpers, assisting the blind or disabled.
One thing all cemetery companies have in common. When pets die, they are objects of disposal, and that is done in a way many people are not aware of. This would be a German example:
From the vet the pets are usually taken to the knackers (persons in the trade of rendering animals that have died on farms or are unfit for human consumption) to there be torn, crushed and overcooked in industrial mills and fully automatic industrial boilers.
They are then recycled, at least all those are still usable or sellable. This is mostly the animal body fat, as raw material for lubricating oil, soap or glue, and bones as feed for other animals.
For the pet owner, this comes with a charge of 30 to 80 Euros. This fee that is payable to the vet for the collection of the animal carcass.
For the case of the pet owner dying before the pet does, a group of American Atheists set up a pet care company, active in 27 states called “Eternal Earth-Bound Pets”. All employees are Atheists and animal lovers, following the ethical moral of saving and rescuing animals.
For a fee of 135 USD, they will guarantee that if the owner of the pet dies, within ten years after issuing the receipt, their pet will be saved and taken care of. Every additional pet will be charged with 20 USD.
As Atheists, we know that nothing lies beyond, and the way beyond, if one would do this or the other regarding the burial of a pet, obviously lies within our lives. The pet itself surely has no use; the same way a dead human body has made people tend to follow rites to satisfy their mind during life. But isn't it also a bigger need to give during life? I often state: “Don't put flowers on my grave, if you haven’t given me flowers during my life.” The wish to have a place of remembrance is surely human, but it also shows that it is still earthly and not heavenly. Maybe if humans don't try to build what their imagination or indoctrination of “heaven” has set their mind to, life and death would receive its natural fit and value, in an appropriate way.
By Thomas Fleckner