Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Life pulses in the countryside in the hamlet of Ancaster, Ontario. Away from the town, the meticulously maintained Ancaster Pet Cemetery (founded by Hamilton veterinarian Dudley Collins) is a peaceful, park-like setting that is filled with tiny plots, a mismatched array of graves with markers that give the visitor a clue to what decade the pets were buried here. A stroll through a pet cemetery offers an interesting glimpse into the lives of pets and their people and at the timelessness of the human-animal bond. The inscriptions on the headstones and plaques bear mute witness to the grief each person felt at the loss of their pet. The treed cemetery is also a veritable sanctuary for chipmunks and birds. A visit to this three-acre park, which has been in operation nearly 50 years, will likely find you with little (human) company, so it’s also a great place to spend time with a camera.
We loved this place so much that we chose to bury our dog Coco here in June 2017. Green burials are becoming much more popular, which is a return to old ways, if you will. In the Toronto area, there are very few options beyond cremation for pets. The Ancaster Pet Cemetery (zoned as a cemetery rather than farmland) allows you to bury your pet in a shroud, box, casket, or simply laid in the ground. We preferred burial over cremation since the idea of cremation seemed violent to us and also, I liked the idea of our dog having a connection back to the earth—being connected to a place and being returned to the earth from whence she came, gradually, over time.
Without question, people do this out of love and loyalty to their beloved pets (the cemetery contains the remains of not only dogs and cats, but horses, service animals, and even a tiger). Coco’s resting place will be a great source of comfort to me in the coming years, and the cemetery is an interesting place to visit. Being here drives us to reflect not only on the mortality of the pets buried here and their owners who may have passed on years ago, but on our own mortality. Pet cemeteries are not creepy abandoned places but moving, provocative places, with powerful memories, full of love. I like to think of this place as a public park that just happens to have a lot of permanent residents.
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Thou who passest on the path, if haply thou dost mark this monument,
Laugh not, I pray thee,
Though it is a dog’s grave; tears fell for me,
And the dust was heaped above me by a master’s hands,
Who likewise engraved these words upon my tomb. ~ Unknown