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GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN : At Sea Breeze Pet Cemetery, Owners Find Lavish Ways to Say 'Thanks for the Memories'

December 18, 1987|RICHARD BEENE | Times Staff Writer

Hannibal lies next to Sergeant, and just across the lawn near the old cypress tree are Peppy Parker, Bootsie and Hilde, "Dad's Little Pal."

A bit farther away, buried under a simple marble marker toward the end of a long row of handsomely maintained grave sites, is Misch Spree, "Mom's Beloved Shadow." Scruffy, "Our Little Peedle Weedle," rests in peace nearby.

This is the Sea Breeze Pet Cemetery of Huntington Beach, 3.5 acres of finely manicured lawn and stately shade trees nestled in the heart of Orange County's suburban sprawl near the corner of Beach Boulevard and Yorktown Avenue.

There are about 30,000 pets buried here, most of them dogs and cats but also a sprinkling of birds, turtles, monkeys, chipmunks, squirrels, foxes and skunks, and there is room for about 30,000 more.

It is, some might say, an exercise in eccentricity or a place reserved for the pets of the rich and famous. And although there are some celebrity pets buried here, including John Wayne's German shepherd and Jose Feliciano's goat, for the most part Sea Breeze is the final resting place for everyday household pets of everyday people like Francis Hansen, 70.

"I don't give a damn what people think," said Hansen, who regularly commutes from Long Beach to visit the grave and "have a little talk" with Patches, her calico cat who died Aug. 28, 1974. "I come back every year on the anniversary of her death and every holiday. You should see this place on Christmas . . . so many people, such a good feeling."

In addition to Patches, who was buried in a satin-lined cement casket with a velour finish, Hansen plans to bury her two cats and three dogs at Sea Breeze one day.

"Nothing is too good for them," she said proudly. "Nobody knows what lies beyond. You might see them again one day."

Established in 1961, Sea Breeze stands as a testament to the special bond between man and animal, a love born out of a pet's seemingly limitless devotion to its master and its inability, with a few rare exceptions, to show anything short of unselfish dedication and fawning affection.

Moreover, Sea Breeze's booming business is representative of the dramatic increase in the number of pet owners who are choosing to bury or cremate their pets as a final tribute to their years of love and devotion.

There are about a dozen pet cemeteries in California--Sea Breeze is the only one in Orange County--and more than 500 nationwide.

Wendell C. Morse, a veterinarian and executive director of the Indiana-based International Assn. of Pet Cemeteries, said the number of animal cemeteries is growing because "of an increasing awareness and need on the part of pet owners to do right by these pets who served them well so long."

"This is no laughing matter," Morse said. "People want a nice place for their pets, a nice lawn and memorials and everything real human cemeteries have." And, Morse said, many people are repulsed by the customary way of disposing of dead pets--not burial or cremation but rendering , a process where the carcass is melted down for its fat and eventually used in animal feed.

"If they're lucky, they're thrown into a garbage dump and buried," Morse said. "Burying them in a cemetery is a more proper, deserving way of treating a pet after death."

When Ruth Ann Cornell's dog, Sammy, died at the age of 12 five years ago, she hadn't even thought of burial until her veterinarian offered to get rid of his body.

"They had Sammy in some kind of a plastic bag, and the vet asked me, 'Do you want me to dispose of him?' I said dispose of him? Can you imagine? Having my Sammy disposed of?"

So today, Sammy, or King Sammy Binaca as he was named when he was a pup, is buried in a casket especially built to house his 60-pound frame. He was buried with his head resting on his favorite pillow, which had been covered with satin and lace.

"There is something about pets," said Cornell, a Riverside housewife. "You can never give them as much love as they gave you. Just look at this place. It is much cleaner than most human cemeteries. It says something about the way people feel about their pets."

Cornell also has a cockateel, Ralph, buried here and has bought two more plots for her dog and pet rabbit.

"I just couldn't imagine doing anything else," she said.

Like Cornell, many pet owners choose to bury their pets with special tokens of affection: a favorite rubber bone, plastic toy or collar, a picture of the owner, or perhaps a single red rose.

According to Steve Stiles, manager of Sea Breeze, even the price does not deter pet lovers from providing proper burials fit for royalty. And it can get expensive.

"My experience has been that even if they don't have the money, they find it somehow," Stiles said.

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