It’s unusual for a cemetery to operate as a nonprofit, and perhaps even more uncommon for that same entity to consider nontraditional services, such as pet burial. Enter New Tacoma Cemeteries Funeral Home and Crematory. 

Now, before you start conjuring flashbacks to one of the on-screen adaptations of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, let us assure you that burying pets is considered a “business-as-usual” service at New Tacoma’s University Place property, located on Chambers Creek Road. In fact, the cemetery is committed to providing families all the same services for their dearly departed Coco or Fluffy that it offers for deceased humans.

“We learned very quickly that, in many cases, pets are not just pets,” said company president Ron Messenger. “They are members of the family, and treated as such in life and in death.”

In 2008, after asking a consultant to help them develop a pet-burial program, New Tacoma’s board of directors agreed to open the Chambers Creek Pet Memorial Park. The pet graveyard sits alongside the organization’s traditional burial grounds, with a barrier in between. “In the state of Washington, pets can’t be buried in the same areas as humans,” Hammond explained. “We had to put a road in dividing the areas.”

Specialized pet services include “… full burial of pets or the option of cremation with burial of the urn,” according to the company’s website. Cemetery placement includes selection of a pet grave marker, or there is the option of taking the pet’s remains home in a personalized urn. 

According to Messenger, his company fills a necessary void. 

“Many pet owners are completely uncomfortable with the typical ‘mass’ cremation offered by most veterinarians or the thought of burying their pet in the backyard,” Messenger said. “We give options such as private cremation (only one pet cremated at a time) or burial in a beautiful, respectful setting.”

Messenger also pointed out that state law on practices for the handling and care of deceased pets is virtually non-existent, unlike the strict laws that govern the burial of humans. He said one of the goals he and sales director Jim Hammond initially pursued was implementation of policies for pet burial, such as an identification process, cremation authorization, grave selection and verification, through the final process of selecting a grave marker, headstone, or urn.

“We saw the importance of treating pet families the same way we treat any family with a loss,” Messenger said. “We looked at our rules and laws around funeral and cemetery operations, and fully adopted them to our pet side, as well.”

Business has grown steadily, mostly via word of mouth, Messenger said, although the company also has utilized print advertising and partnership programs. Nearly 100 families per year use New Tacoma’s pet cremation, burial, and memorial park services.

Hammond indicated the business concept of offering pet burial services isn’t yet a widely adopted practice in the cemetery industry. “There aren’t many anywhere, but it’s becoming more popular,” he said, indicating the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association now has a branch dedicated exclusively to pet-burial services.

And, as word keeps spreading about New Tacoma’s unique pet-burial program, Hammond confirmed the team is now getting requests for pet burial pre-arrangements and seeing families return to bury multiple pets.

Families also are getting more creative when it comes to marking the graves of their deceased pets. “We’re seeing new ideas, such as an upright sculpture of a cat, or other (such) monuments,” Hammond said.