Dennis Barlow, protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s 1948 novel The Loved One, is an employee of Happier Hunting Ground, which provides funeral services and burial grounds for pets.
When Arthur—the pet Sealyham (terrier) of Walter and Theodora Heinkel—dies, Dennis sells the Heinkels all that his company has to offer: cremation, a top-of-the-line urn, religious rites, a white dove (to be “liberated over the crematorium”), and an annual card of remembrance (to read, “Your little Arthur is thinking of you in heaven today and wagging his tail.”)
Yet as the narrator informs us,
Not all his customers were as open-handed and tractable as the Heinkels. Some boggled at a ten-dollar burial, others had their pets embalmed and then west East and forgot them; one after filling half the ice-box for over a week with a dead she-bear changed her mind and called in the taxidermist. These were the dark days, to be set against the ritualistic, almost orgiastic cremation of a non-sectarian chimpanzee and the burial of a canary over whose tiny grave a squad of Marine buglers had sounded Taps.
Well, happy days are here again. From Bloomberg Businessweek we have learned that the pet funeral industry is thriving:
Back in the 1970s, Shugart’s Deceased Pet Care in Atlanta—the brainchild of Doyle Shugart, a human funeral director—was almost an underground operation. “(Customers) would ask him to come in an unmarked car,” says daughter Donna Shugart-Bethune. “They didn’t want their neighbors to know.” The company now offers more services, according to Shugart-Bethune, “than you’d find at a human funeral home.” There are the expected high-ticket items, like bronze grave markers ($1,765) and velvet-lined caskets ($1,135). But there are also unconventional options, like freeze-drying and embalming. “My dad really perfected the art of embalming pets,” Shugart-Bethune says. Business has been so good that the operation recently moved to a two-floor, 8,000-square-foot building with enough room to accommodate multiple pet funerals.
Peternity, an online superstore, is like a Target for pet grieving. Products range from headstones ($80 to $425) to urns (a “hand veneered” version goes for $1,500) to stained glass portraits ($200) to garden sculptures (upwards of $2,750). Colleen Mihelich, the Brea (Calif.)-based founder and creative director, created the site in 2003, and according to her records, 2011 sales have been up 14,043 percent since inception, with an anticipated 29,460 percent increase in 2012.
From satire to business opportunity in a few short decades.