According to the American Veterinary Association (AVMA), there are 70 million pet dogs in the United States and 74.1 million pet cats. What’s more, six out of 10 pet owners consider their pets family members.
So when a pet passes away, giving them a proper burial is a no brainer. Luckily for Philadelphians, West Laurel Hill Cemetery and Funeral Home recently began providing a full range of pet services for families.
“We talked about having pet services for at least 10 years,” says Deborah Cassidy, director of sales, marketing and family services at West Laurel Hill. “Pets are people — they are important members of the family.”
The pet services arm of West Laurel Hill falls under the name, The Laurels, and its development was comprised of three separate parts.
“First, we needed to find the location,” Cassidy says. “We have a space that can be expanded up to three acres, but now we only have an acre developed. Then we had to renovate the house and then renovate an area near the house where we put the actual aquamation center in.”
So what is aquamation, exactly? According to Cassidy, it’s a more environmentally-friendly spin on cremation, with 1/10 of the carbon footprint of flame cremation.
“A regular crematory is 1800 degrees whereas aquamation is all water-based,” she says. “Pets are placed into the unit and it’s mostly water and a small part lye. The residual that’s left is eco- friendly and we can even use it to water grass and things like that.”
In Pennsylvania, aquamation is only legal for pets, and this is the first pet cemetery in Pennsylvania to provide the service, according to Cassidy.
Offering this option for pet owners is part of West Laurel Hill’s larger commitment to sustainability.
“We have a huge sustainability initiative,” Cassidy says. “Between our reclamation site, our green burial site Nature’s Sanctuary, changing our lights to LED and the internal processes that we do, we’re always thinking about sustainability. We started it about three years ago.”
Of course, if you want to give your pet a traditional burial and forgo cremation, that is still an option.
“There are three different packages for that: small, medium and large, depending on the size of your pet,” Cassidy says. “Prices range from $1,000 to $3,000. That includes the casket, the transfer, the interment fees, the grave itself and the marker.”
Since The Laurels opened, five pets have been buried, including their first pet, Maximus — a beloved Spanish Water Dog from the Glassman family.
“The arrangements, the support, the help and the site, were beyond any expectations we could have had,” says David Glassman, Maximus’ owner. “The service was presided over under a tent by our Rabbi on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Because of the West Laurel Hill staff, it was both a celebration of Max’s life with us and a way to mourn his passing. West Laurel Hill understands the value and important role pet’s share in a family, and the trauma experienced by everyone when they pass on.”
There is currently room for 600 pets to be buried, but more space will become available when the time comes.
“We usually wait until we’re halfway full to begin the next phase of development,” Cassidy says. “We don’t want to have to turn someone away.”
The Laurels at West Laurel Hill is located at 225 Belmont Ave. in Bala Cynwyd.
For more information, visit: westlaurelhill.com.