Wichita Humane Society officials are trying to determine what to do with the remains of about 1,500 animals buried in a pet cemetery behind a society building that will close soon.
The animals were buried in the Mrs. William H. Whipple Pet Cemetery from its opening in the mid-1960s until it stopped accepting burials in the late 1980s. The cemetery is behind a 50-year-old Humane Society building that will close when the group moves to a new campus.
"The land was sold, and we've got to close it down," said Jennifer Campbell, the Humane Society's director of communications. "We've got to figure out what we are going to do with it, and with those animals."
While records of what animals are buried are sketchy, Campbell said the Humane Society hopes to contact as many owners of interred animals as possible to discuss how they want their pets' remains handled.
"We want to respect the spirit with which they were put in there," Campbell said.
About 30 or 40 people responded after the Humane Society placed a request in its July newsletter asking people to call if they knew about animals buried in the cemetery, said Kim Janzen, the Humane Society's director and chief executive.
Some people have asked that their pet's remains be cremated and returned to them in an urn, Janzen said. The Humane Society, which runs a crematorium, is offering to perform that service for free.
Most of the people "are fine with leaving their pets and taking the headstones," Campbell said.
Volunteers have tagged and numbered each grave and are creating a database with the information such as owner's name, pet's name, date of birth and date of death.
The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories said more than 600 active pet cemeteries operate in the United States.
The Humane Society hopes to contract with someone to clear the pet cemetery site, which will involve digging up the 1,500 headstones and the remains. The unclaimed remains will be cremated.
"We hope to have some kind of memorial at the new campus," Janzen said.
The Humane Society does not plan to open a pet cemetery at the new campus, which the Humane Society will share with the Wichita Animal Shelter.