Jennifer Sabih: So your beloved pet has passed and you don’t want to give him the standard burial in the backyard with an old shoe box. What are your options? Well, one of them lies here, at the pet cemetery in Calabasas. Hi Marie, I understand you are the funeral counselor at the most interesting cemetery in Southern California, and you are going to give us a tour.
Marie Beavers: I sure am. Come on in. Let’s go.
Jennifer Sabih: Riding along through the 10 acres of sloping green hills at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park and it looks and feels much like any Southern California cemetery.
The largest pet cemetery in the western U.S.-- is the final destination for more than 40,000 animals, where workers take special care to make sure each mourner is treated with the same care as had they had lost a member of their human family.
Jennifer Sabih: Everybody knows dogs and cats are buried here, but you guys have a lot of other interesting animals here, correct?
Jose Mercado: Yes to hamsters, to fish to guinea pigs…got snakes, reptiles, even a lion. As long as it’s a pet, it’s their loved one, so all pets are welcome.
Jennifer Sabih: And this would not be an L.A. pet cemetery if there weren't some famous animals buried here, correct? And right here, we have one of the most famous – the MGM lion. Besides the MGM Lion are any other famous animals buried here at the pet cemetery?
Artemio Cristerna: Right there is the other doggie Petey, from “The Little Rascals."
Jennifer Sabih: That’s Petey from “The Little Rascals?” This gravestone is one of the cemetery’s most popular draws. Kabar...my faithful dog, owner Rudolf Valentino!
Marie Beavers: Here we have the famous topper, for anyone who remembers Hopalong Cassidy, this was his beloved horse.
Jennifer Sabih: Further down Hollywood Animal Walk of Fame, we’ve got another horse. And this is...
Marie Beavers: Here we have Smoke, a horse that belonged to Chief Thundercloud who is more known as Tonto, part of the famous duo of the Lone Ranger series.
Jennifer Sabih: Horses are the only animal too large for a casket...for every other from the tiniest of turtles to the greatest of danes, there's a casket to fit both the size of the pet and the owner's wallet. Can you give us a rundown of approximately something like this would cost from what to what?
Marie Beavers: That depends on the size.
Jennifer Sabih: The most expensive is what?
Marie Beavers: The most expensive would be our hardwood casket.
Jennifer Sabih: How much is that?
Marie Beavers: It's over a thousand dollars.
Jennifer Sabih: And the least expensive?
Marie Beavers: That would be the little 10-inch casket which is like 10 bucks or something.
Jennifer Sabih: If somebody says, that seems crazy to spend all that money and all this effort to bury a pet what would you say?
Anyone who's ever lost a beloved pet can empathize with Sherry and Steve Harris. As far as they're concerned, Patches was part of the family...for 15 wonderful years.
Sherry and Steve Harris: Just like any friend, or pet friend, or human friend, you're saying goodbye to them. And it hurts to lose them ‘cause you know, you're not going to see them again just like a real person. It’s just a way of honoring them.
Jennifer Sabih: Four of the Harris family pets are buried here. Though at first, a cemetery designed for animals did take a bit of getting used to for Steve. When Puff died four years ago, Steve, quite sensibly, he thought, buried him in the backyard.
Sherry Harris: And I threw a Tizzy fit. I didn’t want that. I wanted him to be buried over here.
Jennifer Sabih: Steve won't make a mistake like that again. Indeed, the Harris family dogs got top of the line funerals. Famous or not, all the animals here get the star treatment. And when it comes to their final disposition…well, they have the same options people do.
So this building has been here a long time, 1929. What exactly is this, Marie?
Marie Beavers: This is our mausoleum. We have police dogs here, bomb squad dogs, we have service animals of every kind. Rigth here, when you first walked in, you see Sonny who is a 9/11 rescue dog.
Jennifer Sabih: But what really got my attention was the service add-ons.
Marie Beavers: Whatever the family wants or needs to help them through this time of grief is what I can offer. If they want a clergy, if they're too upset to drive I can get a limousine to pick them up. Do they want bagpipes? Do they want a dove release? Do they want a butterfly release? Maybe? We did a cricket release recently because the cat liked crickets.
Jennifer Sabih: What’s the most elaborate funeral for an animal you’ve seen here so far?
Marie Beavers: The pet being taken to the gravesite by horse and carriage adorned with flowers and a violinist at the gravesite.
Jennifer Sabih: The Harris's chose a simple service for Patches. No horse drawn carriage, no limo--they drove in themselves from Palmdale. It bought them much needed comfort…peace of mind....and a place to visit now and then to reflect upon the joyful times they spent with a cherished member of the family. I’m Jennifer Sabih, for “SoCal Connected.”
Honoring the memory of a loved one at the cemetery isn't just a ritual reserved for humans. At the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park and Crematorium, pets can have the same dignified treatment, if not more.
Since 1928, more than 40,000 pets have had a special place at this Calabasas-based pet cemetery.
As KCET Departures' Hadley Meares writes, "many of the graves seem to be lovingly tended with much greater frequency than the human ones I usually encounter."
The facility also has a special mausoleum and crematorium for those who wish to choose from a variety of funeral rituals.
In this "SoCal Connected" segment, KCET's Jennifer Sabih takes a closer look at the nation's second largest pet cemetery.