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Fewer than 200 pet animals are buried at Bo'ai Companion Animal Burial Service Center in Beijing. Photos by Xu Lin / China Daily
More pet owners want to give their animals a dignified burial. Wang Kaihao and Xu Lin check out the options in Beijing.
Since 2008, 43-year-old Bai Yusheng has been visiting a cemetery along the North Sixth Ring Road in Beijing's Changping district at least twice a year, to clean the tombs of his two beloved cats. "It's just like what one would do for deceased relatives," Bai says. "Whenever I pass by the cemetery, I will visit them. I update them about my life and reminisce about our happy times," he says. His cats are buried in the Bo'ai Companion Animal Burial Service Center, which was established to safely handle dead pets during the SARS outbreak in 2003. It's also the capital's first officially registered pet crematory.
The center, with a capacity of more than 600 animals, has sold less than 200 tombs so far. Each tomb, measuring 3 square meters, costs 2,500 yuan ($395), and comes with a tree in the compound.
Bai considers the price affordable, as it also covers a burial ceremony similar to that for human beings.
The center, with an area of nearly 1.67 hectares, not only provides animal cremation and a cemetery, it is now home to 100 stray cats and 20 dogs.
It costs 500 yuan to cremate a pet of 20 kg and below, and 800 yuan for animals weighing more than 20 kg. The center also provides a door-to-door service to pick up pet owners who require its services, for a fee.
"SARS was a special case that led to the opening of the center. But since then, there hasn't been any cause that calls for the set up of similar institutions," says founder Wang Pingxi, who is also head of Beijing Protection Association of Small Animals.
According to the center's general manager, Liao Yumin, cats and dogs make up the majority of the animals they cremate, with other animals such as rabbits and turtles.
"Most of our customers come to us out of love for their pets, which used to bring them a lot of joy. Some customers don't want the ashes. They choose cremation to protect the environment," Liao says.
"I've heard various touching stories about the relationship between human beings and their pets. Many treat their pets like family members and want to give them a proper burial. One woman even flew from abroad to plan her dog's funeral."
According to Qi Qinghua, head of Beijing-based Wangkang Animal Hospital, there are not many channels to handle animal remains. He only knows of five pet crematories in Beijing.
He says having pets was banned in China before the 1980s, and has only begun to gain popularity since 2000. So there are many aged animals.
"The ratio of infectious diseases has decreased in recent years and two thirds of my animal patients suffer from old-age infirmities. I have prepared cinerary caskets in hospitals, just in case," Qi says.
Liao estimates more than 400 cats and dogs die every day in the capital, but the center only receives about 30 animals every month.
He says it's important to raise public awareness of dealing with dead animals properly because they produce disease-causing bacteria and there are many zoonotic diseases.
He says some pet owners pay hospitals a small fee to burn their dead pet together with trash in garbage incinerators. Pets with infectious diseases must be cremated and not buried. Their belongings, such as feeding bowls, must also be burnt and the home must be carefully disinfected.
He says under normal circumstances, it is safer if the animals are buried more than 1.5 meters deep, and the earth must be layered with three coats of disinfectant.
Qin Xiaona, head of Capital Animal Welfare Association, is a solid supporter of deep burial.
"We can't change the current situation where cremation is the most common way of dealing with corpses in China," she explains. "But for animals, we should apply deep burial because it saves energy and harmonizes with the environment and the cycle of life."
She says there are some forests in the southern and western outskirts of Beijing that are ideal for burials.
"The process shouldn't be complicated. A tombstone is not necessary and it is good for animals to peacefully return to nature."
But, the idea does not suit everyone.
Qiu Hong, a former car dealer, from Qingdao, Shandong province, opened Heaven Pets Service, the province's first pet crematory in August.
"Nearly everyone around me buries their pets under the ground," says Qiu, who has been aspiring to set up a pet crematory since her 17-year-old cat died in 2010. "But, our ground is rock-based. I can't dig more than 30 cm deep."
Qiu also makes an effort to give pets graceful farewells. The company offers delicately designed coffins and holds funerals for animals in a mourning hall decorated with flowers. The ashes can only be kept in the institutions for three years at most.
"Ultimately, we expect owners to spread the ashes in the ocean," she says.
"It is unnecessary to reserve land as pets' burial grounds. Our emotions and memories are more important. We respect our animal friends, but we should also respect nature."
According to Liao, there is market potential but currently, there is no proper system. He hopes the government will regulate the market and register more pet crematories.
Shanghai launched a rule in May 2011, requiring pet owners to send all animal remains to professional institutions, rather than handling deceased pets themselves. But most Chinese cities, including Beijing, do not have official guidelines on how to deal with the matter.
"There are no laws in China about pet cremation and the funeral industry. The situation is different in Western countries such as France and Germany, where there are mature laws," Liao adds.
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At the center's columbarium, cabinets are rented to pet owners.
(China Daily 09/13/2012 page18)