A twisting Jane ends at the bottom of the hill, and nearly an acre of the hill, and nearly an acre of dormant brown grass stretches to the water's edge. Ducks create trails in the rippling lake. Five huge oaks guard the brown lawn and its rainbow carpet of flowers. A little closer, the grass is browner, with black granite markers nestled in neat rows.
"Prissy - Our Valentine Baby - 1950-1961"
"Moon Baby - You Gave Us Joy - Mom and Dad"
"Sandy, Be A Good Boy.
We'll Be There Soon ... "
The flowers are bright and cheerful. Artificial flowers never die. But pets do.
Mrs. Donna Linden, owner of the San Diego Pet Memorial Park, believes pets deserve humane treatment in death as well as life. With her short, frosted hair and sensible black penny loafers, she looks like a a suburban housewife, not an animal undertaker.
Near the Park's office door, a large marker is decorated with a miniature Christmas tree and a plastic wreath. Two pale yellow plastic bananas also adorn the grave. A photo of a smiling spider monkey is embedded in the granite. "Joker We Love You," the plaque reads.
The office is warm and woody. I sit down on a red chair and with horror in her voice, Mrs. Linden describes how a pet would be disposed of by a veterinarian. "The pet is either sent to a sanitary refuse fill area in a plastic bag, or he becomes lard, fur scraps, and bone meal in a local rendering plant!" The emotion in her voice makes one want to invest $30 to $200 to provide a serene resting place for a beloved pet.
"They all know when it's their time," she says softly. She adjusts her black knitted vest, and picks an invisible thread from her black and white plaid slacks. A tired, yellowing Christmas tree stands sagging in the center of the room. Glass bulbs with silver sparkle lettering weight down its limp branches.
"Each Christmas people bring us balls with their departed pets' names on them, to hang on the tree." A cascade of needles hits the rug as she brushes past the tree. "Well have to take it down soon .. ,"
The picture windows behind the tree offer a fine view of the cemetery and lake. If my deaf and blind thirteen-year-old spaniel really existed, he soon would join the others beneath the artificial bouquets on the lawn. "Jacky's" snapshot could also join the others in Mrs Linden's small cedar chest.
"We take these pictures as a free service to the family. See how natural our pets look?" White poodles are cuddled into pink satin lined coffins. Black mutts sleep peacefully amid blue tufting and bows.
In many portraits she passes to me, a live cat or dog peers in the coffin at its dead pal.
"We encourage people to bring live pets to the burials. This lets the other pet know where its friend has gone, so he doesn't pine away." She looks tenderly at each snapshot. She hands me a picture of a parrot in a purple casket. The bird looks like a stuffed toy thrown in a purple lined toy chest.
"Did you bring Jacky?" she asks as she gently places the photos back in the chests and locks it.
No, the fictitious spaniel was not hiding in the trunk.
"Well, I'm very good at judging size and weight by just looking at a pet. How much does he weigh?" She sits with folded hands, her brown eyes melting with sympathy. "A forty-five pound dog will probably need at least a three foot casket."
I follow her to the back of the building. A desk laden with cookies, nuts and mints, all sitting in their boxes, dare a guest to grab a nibble. Literature about the Park cover the desk. "We Care For Your Needs Today to Ease the Pain of Tomorrow ... " "What you Should Know About Deceased Pets."
A harsh, low drone fills the back of the building. The walls vibrate as we enter the casket room. "Don't mind the hum. It's just the crematorium working on a seventy pound boxer. It takes about five hours." Mrs. Linden caresses the satin of a small sample casket. "We cremate one at a time with an oil fire. I didn't like the idea at first. But today everyone is in such a hurry. You know, instant everything!"
Mrs. Linden explains that most people think only ashes remain after cremation. "Once a young girl brought me a tiny, velvet-lined jewelry box to put the ashes of her Doberman Pinscher in. He weighed ninety pounds and needed a human size urn!" She laughs with an understanding smile. She shows me a baggie filled with chunks of bone and carbon that make up the dearly beloved remains of a poodle.
The dusty urns, starting at $8.60 sit on three shelves. Some resemble books, some are cylindrical like oatmeal boxes. Two are custom designed for pets. One boasts a cute engraving of a pet sleeping basket, and one is a nifty copper copy of Snoopy's dog house.
"Urns are placed in concrete at the time of interment at no extra charge," Mrs. Linden smiles and wipes the dust off the dog house roof.
With free snapshots and concrete. I could surely afford the $100 to give my pet a "lovely burial." Mrs. Linden points to the pink and blue, rose-decorated caskets. These fiberglass beauties would shelter "those afraid of the earth" for only $125. (Embalming included.) "My husband makes them all," she says proudly. At times she is a wise grandmother I but later she'd be a helpful young pixie.
The redwood boxes, fully lined cost $42 plus tax for a thirty-five inch model. "This would be about the size Jacky would need." She presents me samples of the pale pastel linings. "I'm not afraid to work with the pets you know. All pets are set to rest in their favorite sleeping position. Of course, arthritic pets pose a problem. They need bigger caskets because I can't break any bones.,' Her face beams with the pride of the skilled.
I have to decide whether Jacky should rest in an urn or draped in satin. A black granite grave marker would range in size from 8x 12 inches and cost $35 plus tax. Or perhaps he would like to settle comfortably in the Pet Repose Mausoleum and Columbarium for a mere $65 plus cost of bronze plaque?
Mrs. Linden returns to the office to type a personalized price list. She calls from behind the door, "The time spent here for a pet's burial is more meaningful than most human burials." I munch a few chocolate cookies, looking across the lawn to the tiny A-frame "Chapel of God's Creatures." The free snapshots were snapped in the chapel amid ceramic deer, rabbits, and bears. A man in muddy green pants and a yellow jacket carries a shovel toward the office. He disappears behind the side of the building and reappears without the shovel behind me.
"Hello there! I hear you have an old dear friend." Mr. Linden's sun-bleached fishing hat sits casually on his graying hair. His blue eyes are moist with sympathy. I try to reply with a cookie-filled mouth, how much we would miss Jacky when we finally put him to sleep.
"They just give him a big dose of sodium pentathol and he doesn't feel a thing. We've lost many pets, and they're all here with us at the Park." He pats me gently on the shoulder. He says dogs, cats, and horses rest in separate sections of the park, "to be with kin folk."
Mr. Linden ushers me over to a collection of articles set under glass on top of the desk. He points out a resolution from the State of California Legislature proclaiming the second Sunday in June as "Pet Memorial Day!" "We founded that day, right here at the Park. Now we're trying to get it passed into a national holiday!" He asks me to write a letter to Nixon. Mr. Linden says he was the first president of the National Association of Pet Cemeteries. He smiles under his ragged gray mustache.
"A fellow pet cemetery owner, J. Alfred Nash of the Aspen Hills Park, once said, "A man buries his wife because he has to, but he buries his dog because he wants to."
Mrs. Linden calls from the office, waving a green sheet of paper. "Take this and decide on the details later. We're (In 24 hour call and any pick-up will cost $7.50 at the time of need." She looks at-me over her half-lens glasses. "Don't worry about a thing" she whispers and pats my arm.
The door bangs open and a couple led by a black wiry terrier barge in. A fat golden puppy skids around their feet.
"Tawny - Pepper, calm down!" The young woman's platinum bouffant hair glistens. She chases the puppy under the sagging Christmas tree and finally grabs it. He licks her heavily rouged cheek.
Her husband settles into the puffy red vinyl chair by the door. His short blond hair is wet and slick. He holds onto Pepper's leash, staring at the dog's wagging tail.
"Oh, hi there!" Mrs. Linden holds out her hands for the puppy. "Isn't he cute as the dickens!" she coos. She turns to me, "The Walls have their red cocker here with us. Oh, we really love live pets the most!" Mrs. Linden clucks at the puppy and tells the Walls about my poor old Jacky. Mrs. Wall's hair doesn't move as she turns her head to look at me.
"We were so happy to find a beautiful place for our Cinnamon to rest. I'm sure she loves it under those old oak trees." Her silvery-pink lipstick matches her space age hair. "The chapel here is lovely. You'll feel so much better knowing your dog is resting peacefully in the Park," her voice drips with sincerity.
"You know, we're zoned just like the human cemetery down the hill. This land can never be used for anything else." Mrs. Linden kisses the puppy's nose. Perhaps the puppy is a future customer. In fact, White-nosed Pepper would probably be the next to join Cinnamon in the Wall family plot at the Pet Memorial Park.
I never did get the courage to tell the Lindens or the Walls that "Jacky" would not be resting here as well.