Business Down at Some Pet Cemeteries?

October 6, 2009
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In a drizzling rain, family and friends gather around an open grave to bid farewell to Rusty.The 5-year-old dachshund from Boca Raton died after suffering an injury to his spinal cord that surgery could not fix.

The tearful send-off, held at the Broward Pet Cemetery in Plantation, is proof some bereaved pet owners will spare no expense in securing a special resting place for their animal companions.

But these days, with the economy in recession, fewer pet lovers are willing to spring for such a pricey farewell. Business is down at all three South Florida pet cemeteries, in Plantation, Boca Raton and Miami, managers and owners say.

“In this economy, who can afford it?” said Karen Mintz, who lives in Weston with her out-of-work husband and 10-year-old son.

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The family spent hundreds to bury two beloved cats in a companion plot at the Broward Pet Cemetery. The two felines they have now won’t get the same treatment.

“We’ll have them cremated because it’s cheaper than having a burial plot and a headstone,” said Dan Mintz, who was laid off last year from his property appraiser job with Broward County.

Sandy Ketcham, the manager at Broward Pet Cemetery in Plantation, said she typically handled 30 funerals a year, but that number has dropped along with the economy.

“People don’t have the money to spend like they used to,” she said. “The economy has affected everybody. People are pinching their pennies.”

Volusia County pet cemeteries report no ill effect from the recession.

Dottie Tuggle, who owns the 30-year-old Noah’s Ark Boarding Kennel and Pet Cemetery in DeLand, said high-priced burial packages may be on the decline, but her basic $500 offering remains in high demand.

“I can see where people don’t want to spend $3,000 for a burial, but they don’t hesitate to spend $500,” Tuggle said. “We have a good reputation, so our selling is done before people even call us. And many people choose to plan ahead and make arrangements before they lose their pet.”

Nancy Lohman, whose family owns Lohman Funeral Homes Cemeteries & Cremation, said her pet business does not seem to have been adversely affected by the recession. The company operates a pet cemetery at Daytona Memorial Park.

“We’re only 1 year old, so who’s to say what our business may have been in 2005 or 2006?” Lohman said. “But I am surprised the South Florida companies are having a tough time of it. We are actually surprised how many people are going for the more elaborate packages.”

For example, Lohman said, five clients opted for cremation benches — solid granite benches faced with onyx, with niches for the pet’s and the pet owner’s cremated remains. The benches sell for $5,000 to $6,000 each.

“These are people’s family members,” Lohman said of the deceased pets, “especially for those who are widowed or who live alone. And (the benches) is the only option for you and your pet to be together.”

Laws governing cemeteries do not allow animals and humans to be interred in the same area.

At Lohman’s, cremation costs $195 to $375. Burial packages cost $1,295 to $1,895, Lohman said, and include the burial space, casket, opening and closing of the grave and a granite marker.

Still, some say a proper burial for a beloved companion is worth the price.

“It’s hard when you lose a friend,” said Ketcham, who presided over Rusty’s funeral, saying a short prayer and comforting the grieving owners.

Source: News Journal-Online

Senior Business Writer Jim Witters contributed to this South Florida Sun Sentinel report.

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