Hartsdale, N.Y. — Rhona Levy has her burial planned out. She’ll be cremated, her ashes will be divided into two bright red urns and she’ll be taken to the cemetery.
Then, half of her will go into a plot with Snow, Putchke and Pumpkin, and the other half will go in nearby with Shaina and Twinkie.
The New Yorker is among what appears to be a growing number of Americans who want to share their final resting place with their best friends — even if those friends were cats or dogs or iguanas — and are getting buried or reserving plots at pet cemeteries.
“I’ve elected not to be married — it just didn’t happen, I was engaged a few times — and I didn’t have children,” the 61-year-old Levy said. “And these little furry kids, they just became my first and foremost love. So I wanted to be close after I died.”
The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, with 200 members, estimates that a quarter of the nation’s pet cemeteries take in deceased humans, and the demand is growing.
“We hear about it all the time in our membership, people asking for it,” said Donna Bethune, the group’s executive secretary.
At the 115-year-old Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, which claims to be America’s first pet cemetery, president and director Edward Martin Jr. estimates the remains of 700 people have joined the 75,000 or so buried animals.
Inscriptions on the mostly small headstones at Hartsdale, which slopes up from a busy boulevard but was appropriately hushed after a big snowfall, reveal the sentiments of some of the people who decided to join their pets after death.
A headstone for Edward A. Way, who died in 1976, bears what sounds like a tribute to a perfect marriage: “Here we sleep forever, I and my beloved Bibi, my loving companion for fourteen years, together in life, together in death.”
Bibi’s grave is alongside, labeled “Miss Bibi Way, 1959-1973.” Cemetery records indicate she was a cat.
In 1995, Arthur Link’s ashes were interred at Hartsdale, joining his wife Marjorie and 16 of “Our Longtime Friends.” The 16 cats each has a name engraved on the black granite monument: Aspen, Fritzie, Ginger, Gidget, Muffin, Bambi, Cricket, Snoopy, Gina, Patches, Foxy, Buttons, Dudley, Omar, Khayyam and Valentino.
Martin said he thinks the increasing number of humans — 10 or 12 in each of the past few years, compared with three to five before — may be related to “more people getting used to the idea of cremation.” Hartsdale and most of the other pet cemeteries contacted said they require humans to be cremated before joining their deceased pets.
Martin says Hartsdale will bury any animal, “as long as someone says, ‘This is a pet.”’
He says 90 percent of the animals are dogs and cats, but records also show birds, guinea pigs, ferrets, iguanas, turtles, monkeys, rabbits, fish, rats and a lion cub. Celebrities from George Raft to Mariah Carey have buried pets there.
“There is a legend of an elephant, but I can’t verify that,” said Martin, who took over the cemetery in 1974 and plans to have his ashes buried there.