I do not know if all dogs go to Heaven, or if only some go, or, for that matter, if Heaven even exists. I do know, however, that when they leave this mortal coil their corpses remain, far too large to flush down toilets like goldfish and too precious to throw away like trash.
What, then, does one do with the deceased body of their closest, most faithful companion? If you live in Los Angeles, you cannot bury it in your backyard — to do so would be illegal. You can, however, bury it amongst over 40,000 other dogs, cats, hamsters, horses, birds, pigs, sheep and Christ knows what else at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park and Crematorium.
Founded in 1928 by a celebrity vet, the graveyard formerly known as the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery isn't technically in Los Angeles (rather, it's in Calabasas, a San Fernando Valley deep cut and home to the Kardashians, and the Cheesecake Factory corporate headquarters), but its client list reflects the proximity thereof: The lion from the MGM logo, the Little Rascals' dog, Hopalong Cassidy's horse, and Rudolph Valentino's beloved mutt Kabar (who is, naturally, rumored to haunt the cemetery) all decay within its walls.
One of the oldest animal burial grounds on the West Coast, it is filled with nearly a century's worth of dead pets. Walking amongst the graves, you are struck by the differences that emerge between decades, especially when it comes to names. In the '20s, for example, no one batted an eye at the existence of a dog named "Big Dick." Nor did they care in the '30s when pets went by "Spook," "Nig," "Tar Baby" and — I cannot believe I am typing this — "Swastika."
People no longer name their animals racist epithets. Or if they do, they're not burying them in Calabasas. Now, people give dogs names like "Gucci." A brand name today and a racial slur in the '30s are, apparently, tantamount to the same thing in that people feel comfortable yelling both in public.
The newer graves are meticulously attended to and doted over—pinwheels and chew toys and photographs surround tombstones that bear epitaphs like, "My best friend. My heart. My love. My life. My everything" and "If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever."
"You understood me more than any one person," reads the tombstone of a dog that lived a mere seven years. The more estranged we become from our fellow humans, the closer we get to our pets — we may not know the names of our neighbors, but we do know that Brownie Mama is "mommy's little baby!" This closeness makes their eventual loss that much harder to bear, and explains why modern pet graves are far more sentimental than their vintage counterparts. Pet names aren't the only things that reflect changing times.
No one puts flowers on the tombs of dogs named Sambo; their owners are all dead and buried themselves. A woman in a long black veil doesn't drop tear-soaked roses on Rudy Valentino's dog's grave once a year. You think you'll be forgotten when you're gone? Tell that to Sir William Shakespeare the kitty, who died in 1953 and realistically was last visited in 1954. Gucci the dog, however, has been dead for five years. And he's still getting treats. The treats, however, will end when his owner's life ends. I wonder if anyone will mourn her death.
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