A loyal dog can be as cherished a companion as there is. A horse can live up to 30 years and bring its owner joy every day. Cats? Well, cat lovers will defend their beloved, fuzzy friends to their dying day.
And even then, many are determined not to let go of the leash.
In the U.K., an increasing number of pet owners are making plans to be buried alongside their furry-tailed companions.
Penny Lally runs the West Penwith Woodland Burial Place in Cornwall, England. She started her business as a natural cemetery for people in 2001 on her own farm's property. She maintains some plots for people alone, but others are open to people and their pets. The only thing that differentiates the grave sites from those of people are the headstones.
"A lot of people who wanted to be buried here also wanted to be buried with their pets," she says.
"British people love their pets. They live as part of the family," she said. "They give a massive amount of love back so why not?"
Once each plot is full a tree is planted atop each grave. Eventually, the plots grow into naturally wooded forests which are designated as Memorial Gardens.
Lally says she is receiving more and more requests to purchase these kinds of plots for people and their pets.
However she does think it is important to maintain separate areas for people who do not wish to rest in peace next to an animal they never knew. Some pet owners buy plots large enough to bury several pets over many years.
Her Web site states: "The death of a pet is a deeply distressing and a sometimes traumatic event for pet owners. At this time it is important that the body of that beloved animal is dealt with in a way which makes its passing as acceptable as possible, which is important for a treasured member of the family."
Pet Burials Have a Long History
Lally says she has buried more than 30 owners alongside their animals and has over 100 plots reserved.
She also offers pet owners the option of cremating their pets. Her company offers a guarantee that you won't end up with someone else's pet. Some customers even make arrangements for the ashes of their pet to be placed inside their casket when the time comes.
Carole Mundy buried her beloved 16-year-old Golden Retriever, Dylan, in Lally's Pet and People Cemetery. "My dog really was the best dog in the world," she says. "He was always there for me. He went through a lot of bad times with me and he was my very best friend."
Mundy plans to bury her three additional dogs and two cats in the same plot as Dylan when they pass away. She and her husband, Robert, have reserved two plots next to Dylan's final resting place.
And while some religious groups have voiced concern, Mundy says, "I personally don't have very strong religious beliefs and as far as I am concerned I would much rather be buried with my animals than anywhere else, if it is not consecrated ground so be it."
The West Penwith Woodland Burial Place is not unique. Several other cemeteries in the U.K. offer a similar service.
The practice actually dates far back into British history when Anglo-Saxon warriors were interred with their horses. Long before that, Egyptians were known to mummify dogs, cats, birds and monkeys.
According to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory in New York, "long parcels of land along the Nile were set aside expressly for the burial of animals, though it was equally acceptable to inter pets in tombs of their owners."
Today, in London's Hyde Park, on tiny pet headstones dating back to the 1800s you can still read, "Not one of them is forgotten before God."
Pet Cemeteries an Expanding Market in U.S.
In the U.S., pet funerals and burials are "definitely an expanding market," according to Robert Fells of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.
To accommodate interest some cemeteries are dedicating new sections specifically for the purpose. Due to legal restrictions and sensitivities existing areas are not allowed to expand to include pets.
Back in the UK, Penny Lally is all for expanding the market and offering pet owners a choice they may not know they have when their four-pawed friend passes away. "We treat them all with great respect," she says.
As for Lally, she plans to be buried alongside her dearly loved horse, Super Sam. She already has the perfect spot for Super Sam and his tree in mind.