“Boots was the first pet at the Majestic Pathway Garden,” Wanda Hagan says. “I wanted him near me.”
Since opening in 1928, Ann Arbor’s forty-acre Arborcrest Memorial Park on Glazier Way has been offering a bucolic final resting place for dearly departed human family members. Now it serves their pets as well.
In 1983, two years after Hagan purchased the cemetery, a stray tuxedo cat appeared–one who would ultimately expand the cemetery’s definition of family members.
“Boots just had an unbelievable ability to console people,” says Hagan. “And if he knew that someone didn’t like cats, he’d stay back.”
Boots brought consolation to the grieving for nearly eleven years, while visiting the cemetery’s office for regular meals, affection, and shelter. “He kept an eye on everything,” recalls Hagan. “No other wildlife bothered him.”
When he began to suffer from the effects of diabetes in 1992, Boots went to live indoors at Hagan’s home in Britton, Michigan. As his condition worsened in 1999, Hagan made the decision to open Best Friends Garden, a section of the cemetery solely for family pets. A second section, the Majestic Pathway Garden, was later added.
When it became apparent in 2001 that Boots was suffering, Hagan bravely put him in the car for a final trip to the vet. “He died while we were en route,” she says somberly. “He knew how much it would hurt me to put him down and gave me that final gift.”
Boots now rests under his favorite maple tree, where a richly engraved black granite bench tells his story. A nearby memorial pays tribute to Sandy, Hagan’s dog, who passed away in 2008. Monuments, angel statues, pinwheels, and other memorials commemorate the lives of other beloved pets–Hagan estimates that there are between 200 and 300 now buried at Arborcrest.
“I honestly can’t tell you how many kinds of animals we have,” she confesses, but says that in addition to dogs and cats, she recalls sheep, llamas, snakes, rabbits, gophers, parrots, and ferrets among the cemetery’s honored departed.
In addition to pet burial plots and memorials, Arborcrest offers pet caskets and funeral services and support. Costs for plots run from free–“We sometimes have a little boy or girl who’ll find a dead bird and want us to bury it”–up to $200, a fee that includes digging the grave, interring the body, and doing the paperwork. The cost of a memorial runs from $75 and up for the stone and engraving. There is a one-time $75-$150 fee for memorial maintenance.
The popularity of cremation has extended to pets, a service Arborcrest provides thorough a vendor. The cemetery also sells urns, mausoleums, and other final resting places for pet cremains, including within the caskets and urns of family members. In one recent interment, the ashes of two dogs who had died earlier were tucked in with their owner’s.
Hagan says that she’s seen music played, words spoken, and clergy in attendance at pet funerals. At one memorable service for the canine companion of an Ann Arbor professional man, “over fifty people attended,” she says. “The man was recognized … for the constant companionship of his dog as much as his success.”
“Lots of people grieve the loss of a pet as much as they do any other family member,” Hagan says. “It’s the end of a life, and we take it very seriously that someone has chosen us to serve them.”