Harwich Pet Cemetery Nearing Completion

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Conservation , Animals

Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley displays the gazebo put in place at the new pet burial grounds along Queen Anne Road. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The town's pet burial grounds to be located on Queen Anne Road are beginning to take shape and could be open in the month of October, providing a tranquil sanctuary for deceased animal companions.

The cemetery commission sought and was granted the use of the 2.5-acre parcel of town-owned land to establish the pet burial grounds in town meeting a little more than a year ago. In recent months the lot was cleared, grass planted and a gazebo put in place, but additional landscaping, pathways and amenities will be added before the facility is put to use.

“We haven't opened yet and people are calling me every day,” Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley said. “I have 11 inquiries and names on a list from people wanting to pick a spot for pets that have already passed. I've also had a lot of 'pre-need' calls from people whose pets have not passed.”

Kelley said the burial grounds will be for cremated animals and there are people who are holding the remains of cremated pets who want to have proper burial grounds. The cemetery administrator said she had a request a couple of weeks ago from a woman about interment of her recently cremated horse.

Kelley said the plan is to sell the lots just like cemetery lots, allowing people to reserve spaces, paying in advance for selected locations. She said there are people who might have a few pets and want them to be interred in adjacent plots.

The burial grounds will assure people they have a place to visit their pets, the cemetery administrator said. When pets are buried in a private yard, people sometimes lose the right to visit, if they sell that property and move to another location.

“My kids are still very attached to the pets they grew up with,” Kelley said. “People are attracted to their pets and they are looking for this opportunity.”

Showing the near and dearness of pets, Kelley pointed out the state of New York passed a law nearly a year ago allowing for pets to be buried in cemeteries with humans and there have been bills submitted to allow for similar burials in Massachusetts. But the town regulations only allow human remains to be buried in Harwich cemeteries. This provides the pet burial option, she said.

There is still work to be done there, the cemetery administrator said. Kelley said she is working with Paul Sweetser, the town surveyor, laying out the plots. The plan is to have all the memorials the same size, though memorials for horses would have to be a little larger, she said. Sweetser is also calculating what will be needed in the amount of materials for the walking path proposed there.

With the memorials being the same size, the stone markers for the pets will also be the same size. The plan is to have flat stones that will allow for lawn-mowing and maintenance without interference. There will be a lot of landscaping, Kelley said, including a vegetative screen from Queen Anne Road.

The plan, Kelley said, is for the area to serve as a pet walking park as well. The animals will have to be on a leash. The walking path will begin at the parking lot on the east side and loop around the gazebo and circle back to the parking lot. There will be pet waste disposal bags and station receptacles along the pathway.

“There are a lot of people who do not like to take their little dogs to Thompson's Field because other dogs run loose there,” Kelley said. “They're excited about this park.”

The cemetery commission has already received several inquiries from area veterinary offices willing to donate benches and there have been landscaping companies interested in contributing plantings there, Kelley said.

“It has been overwhelming the support we have received from the pet community,” she added.

The cemetery administrator said they have also just started looking into providing a section for public service animals. She said quite a bit of interest has been expressed, including from one K-9 group and from a police equestrian organization. She said a service animal section could be reserved for seeing eye and therapy dogs, police canines and horses, animals which have dedicated their lives to public service.

“I don't know how it will be structured. That will be up to the cemetery commission,” Kelley said.

The commission is drafting the rules and regulations for the burial grounds, but they did not have a quorum for last week's meeting. She did say the cost of a memorial will be one price for Harwich residents and there will be a premium price for non-residents.

“I have no doubt it will more than pay for itself,” Kelley said. “The cemeteries generate quite a bit of funds, which go back into those cemeteries.”

She said they would likely establish a separate account for this burial ground, establishing a perpetual care fund. Kelley, who served as a past president of the New England Cemetery Association, said there is a huge interest in this project. This is the first municipal pet burial ground in Massachusetts, but there are a couple of other communities off Cape preparing to purchase land to establish them. Those communities have called Kelley and want to follow Harwich's steps in putting one in place.

In early discussion about establishing the pet burial grounds there was also talked of establishing a crematory at this location. Kelley said that plan is on hold at this time, and no funding has been sought for that purpose. Should a decision be made to proceed, she said, a lot of public outreach will be done beforehand. Kelley did say there are two municipal crematoriums in the state. One in Duxbury and one in Plymouth, but they address only human remains.

The commission is trying to come up with a name for the burial grounds, she said, and hopes to have one soon. Kelley said they hope to have the pet burial grounds open by mid- October. They will have a ribbon-cutting at the opening, she added.