During the economic downturn, spending on pets remained relatively strong -- as long as they were alive.
But there are indications that people are choosing less expensive ways of saying goodbye to deceased pets.
An increasing number of pet owners are choosing the lower-cost option of cremation rather than burial. Partly, this reflected the rising trend of human cremations, but it was also because of the tight economy, said Mike Detlefsen, president of Pet Haven Cemetery & Crematory in Gardena.
"The economy is cutting them back from spending $800 on a burial compared to an $80 cremation," Detlefsen said.
His family operates the cemetery, which was founded in 1948 and covers three acres. The plots range from $400 to $1,000, depending on size, he said. The smallest buried pet is a goldfish. The largest is a horse, although Pet Haven no longer accepts them because they take up too much room, Detlefsen said.
Sea Breeze Pet Cemetery in Huntington Beach, which opened 50 years ago, has also felt the budget crunch. Even some customers who pre-purchased plots on the cemetery's 3.5 acres chose not to bury when the time came.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, August 02, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Pet cemetery: A caption that accompanied an Aug. 1 article in Section A about pet owners picking cheaper services for deceased pets said the dog Skippy, who is buried at Pet Haven Cemetery & Crematory in Gardena, played television's Lassie. In fact, Skippy was an Army K-9 Corps dog.
"We have people that have plots here now that would just rather cremate just because they can't afford burial at the moment," said Kayla Hanna, one of six employees at the family business and daughter of owner Brenda Weaver.
By choosing cremation, the customers saved on the price of caskets -- which range from $120 to $300 at Sea Breeze and include satin-covered padding -- and the cost of flat granite markers that start at $275.
Sea Breeze has its own crematory, which runs six days a week. Pet Haven runs two cremation units, and Detlefsen said he would like to add a third -- at a cost of at least $75,000 -- to handle increased demand.
The American Pet Products Assn., which tracks spending on pet products and services, does not break out numbers for post-life revenue.
But Donna Shugart Bethune of the International Assn. of Pet Cemeteries in Atlanta said that even though there has been a trend away from burial, people are not just abandoning their pets' bodies.
"What we are seeing is people are making different choices in that area, not that they are not taking care of their pet," she said.
There has been an upward trend in pet memorial items, Shugart Bethune said. These include urns, at a wide range of prices, for cremated remains. There are also $35 decorated cardboard tubes for transporting and scattering a pet's cremated remains.
And in keeping with the green movement, there's a new line of biodegradable burial urns sold under the name Let Your Love Grow Eco-Friendly Urns. These canisters, which vary in size and cost no more than $200, include a planting medium that is supposed to break down the cremated remains -- mostly phosphorous and calcium -- allowing the nutrients to be released into the soil.
The urns provide "a natural way to continue the cycle of life," according to Rolling Acres Memorial Gardens' online catalog.
Shugart Bethune's family, which owns the Shugart Family Deceased Pet Care funeral home, cemeteries and crematories in Atlanta, has added hundreds of the memorial items in the showroom of their funeral home.
"We have seen tremendous growth in that area," Shugart Bethune said.
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291: Number of pet cemeteries and pet crematories in the U.S.
$80: Typical minimum price for an individual pet cremation in Southern California, actual price depends on the weight of the pet.
$275: Cost at a local pet cemetery for its least expensive, flat granite headstone.
Source: Assn. for Pet Loss and Bereavement, Times research