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Pet Cemeteries Growing in Popularity in Germany

Every year millions of dead pets are simply disposed of in the garbage. But more and more Germans are deciding that dearly departed animals also deserve a proper final resting place.

Grave at pet cemetery

Sadly, at some point, pets too must go and meet their maker

Countless Germans share their lives with animals -- be they dogs, cats, rabbits or gerbils. Sometimes, they're better companions than friends and relatives, and yet when pets die, they're often just chucked in the bin.

But increasing numbers of Germans are deciding their pets deserve proper burials.

"Just throw away my beloved Bruno?" Anneliese Miller told DW-RADIO. "That would be out of the question for me."

Three weeks ago, the pensioner from Bonn had to bid farewell to her beloved Dalmatian. That was hard enough, but the thought of her pet ending up being processed into cosmetics, detergent or Christmas tree candles would have been unbearable.

So Miller got in touch with Thomas Schoenfelder from the Rosengarten animal mortuary.

"The first discussion is the most important one," Schoenfelder said. "It's a question of getting to know the customer's feelings and explaining what steps have to be taken.

Formalities aside, the main issues are where the animal is to be picked up and what kind of burial the owner wants.

If veterinarians are left to decide, cadavers of dead pets are recycled for use in industry -- it's not a pretty story.

From pet to product

Animal mortuary

This is where owners decide about what to do with their pets' remains

In rendering plants, the animals are skinned and then subjected to temperatures of up to 133 degrees Celsius to kill off bacteria and other disease-causing agents.

The cadavers are then cut into small pieces and boiled in large cauldrons. Animal meal and, above all, animal fat are valuable commodities used in the production of everything from industrial oils, glue, tooth paste and vitamins.

More than 100,000 tons of animal cadaver material is processed annually in Germany. But what makes good economic sense to some is a horrific nightmare to animal lovers.

So owners are increasingly willing to pay hundreds of euros to have their pets cremated or buried.

"You can choose between individual or collective cremations," Schoenfelder said. "If you have your pet cremated alone, you can take the ashes home, or they'll be scattered in a field."

Owners are thus free to decide whether to keep Fifi's remains on the fireplace or bury them discretely in the backyard.

Resting in peace

Pet cemetery

Just like a human cemetery -- only the graves are smaller

The other alternative is a pet cemetery like the one run by Evelyn Schaefer from Kerpen near Cologne.

At first glance there's not much difference between a cemetery for pets and one for humans. There are gravestones lined up in neat rows and even a small, chapel-like space for mourners to take leave of their loved ones.

Only the size of the graves and the names inscribed on the headstones alert visitors to the fact that this is a graveyard for animals.

"If you don't know better, you'll hardly see a difference," Schaefer said. "The only thing you won't find here is a pastor."

Cemeteries are the most expensive form of disposing of dead pets, with costs running as high as 800 euros ($1,000).

Outsiders might shake their heads at the idea of incurring expenses like that for a deceased Dalmatian, but Anneliese Miller says it's a matter of faith.

"I think that animals have souls, too, and that you'll see each other again some time and somewhere," Miller said.

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