LOVED TO DEATH: A SHORT HISTORY OF PET CEMETERIES
Reader's Digest UK|May 2021
Lynne Wallis looks at the fascinating tradition behind grieving our beloved pets and its evolution since the Victorian era
Lynne Wallis

Wee Bobbit, begins the touching inscription on the headstone of a small Victorian London grave. In memory of our darling little Bobbit… so lonely without our darling sweetheart. The Dickensiansounding Bobbit was born in 1885 and passed away just six years later. A child who had perhaps tragically succumbed to diptheria or measles? Bobbit was in fact a family dog whose owners believed—as so many Victorians did—in an afterlife, not just for themselves but for their pet pooches too. This loving family were convinced they would see their beloved Bobbit again. The inscription ends on a longing note, When our lonely lives are over, and our spirits from this earth shall roam, we hope he’ll be there waiting, to give us a welcome home.

New research from Newcastle University on the changing nature of our relationships with our pets from the Victorian era onwards shows they began to be regarded as family members around the same time the UK’s first pet cemetery opened in 1881 in London’s Hyde Park. The role of both cats and dogs had already shifted far beyond fulfilling a functional working role—with cats employed for pest control and dogs mainly for security—to meeting an emotional need.

Upper class Victorian households were the first to embrace their pets as part of the family, according to historical archaeologist Dr Eric Tourigny, the author of the new research. Entitled Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?, the study tracks human-animal relationships through the archaeological survey of pet cemeteries and explores not just the changing relationship between humans and their animals, but the Victorian belief that pets, like their owners, had an afterlife.

“Only very affluent families could afford to have their dogs cremated and buried with elaborate headstones” says Tourigny. “The very first pet cemeteries would have the initials of the person who wrote the inscription in the bottom right hand corner. A little later, as those grieving the loss of a pet became more comfortable with expressing their emotions. You can see 'mummy' or 'daddy' written there, and the dog will even have the family name, for example, 'Spot Smith.' The Victorians grieved their pets as they would any other family member.”

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