Funeral services help pets depart in a warmer and more dignified manner
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2021-09-30  ·   Source: NO.40-41 OCTOBER 7, 2021


A pet cemetery in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on April 1 (VCG) 

It was the fear of facing her pet dog's death that made Wu Tong switch careers in 2015. Her dog, Little Q, named after the movie Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog, was over 9 years old in 2015, an old age for a dog. Thinking of her dog's approaching death caused Wu to feel anxious. Describing herself as an introvert, Wu said the dog, a cocker spaniel, was the best company she had in the world.

"She (the dog) likes to stay at home so I don't want to bury her outside after she passes away," Wu said while appearing on a TV program in 2018. "I want to keep her at home." While searching for urns online, she was disappointed to find most of them were either too ugly or too somber, so she decided to make one by herself.

Majoring in architecture in college, Wu is no stranger to designing. She designed a wooden urn in the shape of a house with a pitched roof. She also designed a small wooden headstone, on which she engraved a portrait of the dog and the words she wanted to say to her. She then attached a small, round box to the headstone for keeping the hair, nails and other keepsakes of her pet.

"Many people are put off by the topic of death," Wu said. "We will all die one day and we must learn to face it in a calm way."

The urn and headstone set, in a cute style and made with lighter colored wood, created a calmer and more peaceful atmosphere. Expecting that her creation may appeal to many other pet owners, Wu quit her job of working for a travel magazine and established her own studio, Q Planet, specializing in designing urns, caskets, headstones, and other keepsakes for departed pets. Since 2015, she has designed headstones for over 7,000 pets.

A warm goodbye 

The headstone is 12.5 cm tall and 7.5 cm wide, smaller than a regular smartphone. Customers can choose from three colors and select the font for the epitaph engraved on it.

She gives a number to each headstone and records each pet's story according to the number. On the studio's WeChat page, she shares touching stories of pets and their owners.

It was also in 2015 that Beijing resident Li Chao decided to get into the business of providing pet funeral services, after his dog Jojo had passed away earlier that year.

He searched online for a pet funeral service provider and chose one, but felt bad about the whole process. "It seemed they only cared about money," he said. "They charged a high price for the cremation and when I stayed there in deep mourning after the dog was put into the cremation chamber, the staff began chatting and playing cards right next to me." This awful experience made Li decide to start his own business providing pet funeral services, both in order to offer better service for bereaved pet owners and also to make up for what happened to Jojo. "Love is a must in this business," Li said. "People with no pet might have no idea how much the pet means to its owners."

Operating a pet funeral service is no easy job. The service is open round the clock and it is common for Li to get a call in the middle of the night to drive to a client's home to pick up the remains of a pet. The emotions involved in seeing owners cope with the departure of their pets also weigh heavily on him.

He still remembers one winter night when he got a call to pick up a golden retriever from a residential community in Beijing. It was an old man who lived alone with his dog. The man had difficulties walking, but still insisted on going downstairs to say goodbye to his pet. While he was putting the remains of the dog in the car, the man stood there, silently. When he was about to leave, the man patted the trunk of the car, holding back his tears and said "goodbye, my old buddy." As he drove away, Li could see the man still standing there, waving to the car.

"China is becoming an aging society," Li said. "A growing number of seniors now choose to have pets as company. When these pets leave, their owners will feel even lonelier."

Based on the data Li has collected, approximately 220,000 pets die in Beijing each year, but only 10 percent of pet owners choose to use a cremation service. The other 90 percent just bury the remains either in the gardens of their residential communities or in parks.

Rest in peace 

The situation in Beijing is similar to that in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province. Lu Weibing, a 56-year-old Hangzhou local, also started a pet funeral business in 2015.

"Several years ago, when a large garden in the center of a roundabout in Hangzhou was renovated, people were astonished to find bundles of animal bones in the upturned earth," Lu told Beijing Review. Lu cited official statistics, saying that there are now approximately 870,000 pets in Hangzhou and that, each year, about 45,000 pets pass away. "The pet funeral service is in great demand," Lu said. "Cremation services should become known to more pet owners."

Lu's company offers a mobile cremation service, more suitable for senior pet owners. People can also bring the remains of their pets to Lu's business for cremation. Lu takes paw prints, cuts some hair or nails to be kept as mementos, and then leaves the owners alone with their pet to say goodbye. "We will ask whether the pet owners have religious beliefs and act according to their requirements," he said.

Lu's company charges for its services according to the pets' weight. For a pet of less than 5 kg, common for many pets, the whole set of services is priced at 680 yuan ($105). They also have a memorial hall to store the pets' ashes, charging 1 yuan ($0.15) each day with no limitation on the time period.

Now, his business has spread to over 40 cities in China and a total of 67,000 pets have found their final resting places with the company's help.

"We have seen a growing number of new companies offering such services in the last couple of years," Lu said. "More regulations on this industry are expected to come out in the following years."

Lu has a 14-year-old toy poodle and Wu's cocker spaniel, 16, is also still alive. Last August, Wu started recording video and audio clips for pet owners, memorializing their departed friends and uploading them onto China's short video platforms.

She also began to offer psychological guidance as a service on her online shop, but so far, only very few customers have placed their orders. "I hope to do more work in this field as many pet owners really need this kind of help," she said.

"Born a dog, died a gentleman" is the epitaph of a dog named Sport in the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery of New York City. Wu likes it a lot. The headstone she prepared for Little Q features a Mobius band, representing infinity. Under that is the epitaph Wu has prepared for the dog— "The best gift of my life. Thank you. Love you forever."

(Print Edition Title: The Special Farewell)  

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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