US cities see boom in pet cemeteries

When Jim LaMar's border collie, KC, died in 2012, he had her cremated and kept the remains with him in his California home.

At the time, he had a few other options in the area around Bakersfield - there had been a pet cemetery years earlier, but it had fallen into disrepair.

But in his job as president of Greenlawn Funeral Homes, which runs two human cemeteries in the area, LaMar said he kept meeting other people who also wanted somewhere to bury their pets.

So, he eventually convinced his bosses to set aside an unused part of one of the cemeteries he oversees for pets of any kind - and last year, KC was the first one to be interred there. Since then, five more families have buried their pets there, and more have inquired.

"People have told me, 'I don't want to bury my dog in the backyard because one day it might be a parking lot or a shopping centre. I want to know I can go visit them with my kids'," LaMar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

More and more pet owners appear to feel the same way - and traditional cemeteries are taking notice, as the affection Americans have for their animals drives a boom in pet cemeteries around the country.

"There's a huge industry in the human market for including pet cemeteries because people are seeing their pets more as family members," said Donna Shugart-Bethune, executive director of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories.

That raises a concern for Patricia E Salkin, a land-use expert at Touro College in Illinois, who worries that local jurisdictions may be caught unprepared amid the rising demand.

Relatively few cities have specific regulations for pet cemeteries, she said.

"So what do you do with the growing interest of people in the US who want to bury their pets or be buried with their pets?" Salkin asked.

"The message to local governments is to consider setting aside an allowable use for pets to be buried, with or without their owners," she added.

While there are no official data or federal regulations regarding pet interments, Shugart-Bethune estimates there are about 700 pet cemeteries across the United States today.

Much of the recent boom was driven by a 2014 law change in New York state, which overturned a longtime ban against burying animals in the same area as humans, said Shugart-Bethune, whose organisation has members in 15 countries.

At least three other states have followed suit, she said.

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