1905 Hillside Blvd.
Colma, CA 94014-2872
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
In 1946, Earl Taylor, employee of Colma's breathtaking Cypress Lawn Cemetery, had an idea. It seems families were approaching the administrators inquiring after the possibility of having their beloved, deceased, pets interred on their plots. Such requests had to be denied owing to current legislation...but Earl determined these people should not be turned away. Accordingly, he and his wife, Julia, started a small business in Colma. It began as a little something for little somethings, and we're certain no one thought it would one day become what it has today. We are referring to Pet's Rest Cemetery...a place we are told is more visited than any of Colma's 17 other cemeteries. Indeed, on any give day the current proprietors (Phillip and Irene C'de Baca) can expect to receive phone calls from all over the world with inquiries about their little graveyard. They say it is not uncommon to see tour buses pulling up to this spot held sacred to the memory of so many faithful furry, feathered, finned, scaled, shelled, striped and spiny friends of humans. According to the official web site, the 13,000+ burials at Pet's Rest range from typical household critters all the way up to a monkey, a cheetah, an ocelot and a mountain lion! Along with two new, state-of-the-art crematories, Pet's Rest boasts a chapel which, appropriately enough, began life as a bee house!
Driving up to the pet cemetery, one cannot miss the rusty, neon sign.
Catching a glimpse of sparkling windmills, plastic flowers and crooked wooden memorials from the road, we feared we might be in for a kitschy, silly experience. Surprisingly, this was not the case. We won't go so far as to describe our stroll amongst the pet memorials as profound, but it was, nevertheless, somewhat sobering to ponder the influence of these creatures on their human companions.
The cemetery is disordered and as diverse as a metropolitan "ghetto" in the process of being revitalized. The small, homemade, bone-shaped wooden sign denoting the resting place of "Max" stands just below the slightly more elaborate grave sight of "Mimosa." "Mimosa," was a dog, judging by the grey plastic edging set in the shape of a Snoopy-like dog house around the plot and the tiny stone canine within its borders. Also inside the fence is a granite stone engraved as follows:
Mi "Pippita" Amada
January 3, 1977 - January 7, 2001
Elsewhere, a porcelain portrait of a white bunny named Penny is affixed to a grey granite stone which declares, "She never knew she was a rabbit." The implication, we presume, is that Penny thought of herself as bipedal...just like her surrogate parents. Silly? Perhaps. But there is something touching about the display of devotion nevertheless.
There's also the grave of "Jim Jim" Hass... a yellow parakeet whose human buddies proudly engraved the boast ("Vocabulary over 200 Words") on a grey stone featuring a carved and painted rendering of Jim on his perch. The stone also bears this inscription:
A handful of custom carved marble figures, mini-mausoleums, a regal figure of Bast and a few ledger-like slabs rival some of the (admittedly less-spectacular) monuments to humans we have seen.
It strikes us as a rather sad reflection of current sentiments about death (and, in a broader sense, the general behaviour of human beings) that, for what their graves lack in financial output, pets elicit far more personal, profound and loving inscriptions than many of their human counterparts. Is it because animals give unconditional love? Is it because people feel more strongly about their pets than they do about their families and loved ones? We're not up to speculating, but it does suggest there is often something left wanting in human relationships that animals are inherently able to provide. Who can say for certain? In any case, Pet's Rest is easily the most unusual cemetery we've yet visited and we are glad we included it on our tour. It's no Victorian Valhalla, and we still greatly prefer memorials to humans to those of animals, but there's something to be said for this humble graveyard where the pure love given by pets is honoured with such unabashed sincerity.
Recently, the peace of Pet's Rest (or part of it) has been disturbed by the sound of shovels. That's not terribly unusual, of course, the pets have to get into the ground, after all. But these shovels are being used to dig some of the undersized coffins out of the soil! Sadly, one-third of the pet burial ground is on land leased from Cypress Abbey. In 1986, the former owner of Pet's Rest began interring animals on property belonging to Cypress Lawn Cemetery. At the time, there was an un-written understanding that the animal cemetery proprietors would be able to purchase the real estate--at least, that's what Phillip C'de Baca (Pet's Rest's current owner) claims. Cypress Abbey Corporation, title-holders to the land in question, allowed Pet's Rest to sign a 20-year lease in 1986. That lease expired in May, 2006 and Tom Atwood of the Abbey Corporation has, thus far, been unwilling to extend the lease or sell the property. Thus, pet owners whose faithful departed non-human companions happen to have been buried on the wrong side of the boneyard are having to make a choice. C'de Baca has offered to let them choose a new plot on the land he owns outright or they may have their pet's remains exhumed and cremated...all on his tab.
Jerry Cole had just buried his cat Bullet, whom he described as "the love of [his] life," five days before receiving notice of the lease's expiration. Like many grave owners, he'd never been told the land was leased in the first place, so he had no idea Bullet (or any of his five other cats, five dogs and a duck) might one day become illegal aliens! Reportedly, Mr. Cole (who already had the remains of his five dogs transferred to another part of the cemetery) spent several hours in his local church fingering the worn beads of his rosary in order to be able to deal with the trauma of having his other buddies moved. But there was one ray of light in his otherwise dark drama. Tinkerbell, his deceased pet racoon, was buried on the "legal" side of Pet's Rest and thus does not need to see the light of day in his … uh... unpresentable condition.
Attorneys are currently arguing for both sides, but it seems likely Mr. Atwood and the Abbey will stand firm. They have plans to inter humans in the formerly critter-occupied turf. But there again, one can see a bright side. Perhaps some of the disgruntled pet owners can grab plots near the remains of their (mostly) four-legged pals.