Dearly departed pets also remembered

First published in The Philippine Star, 02 November 2013, Saturday

Like most Filipinos, Kson Mortera went to visit a dead loved one yesterday to light a candle, offer flowers and relive happy memories when they were together.

But instead of joining the millions who flocked to cemeteries across the country, Mortera was among the handful who visited the graves of their beloved pets at the compound of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) at the boundary of Marikina and Quezon City.

“I’ve had her since I was in second year high school,” Mortera told The STAR, referring to his short-haired cat Chancey that died on Thursday at the age of 12.

“She’s actually the closest one whom I have lost,” he said, adding that he had treated Chancey like his child throughout her lifetime.

PAWS executive director Anna Cabrera recalled how devastated Mortera was when they buried the remains of Chancey the night before.

“He was inconsolable… He was really crying,” Cabrera said.

Chancey is just one of the more than 500 animals buried at a portion of the PAWS Animal Rehabilitation Center in Katipunan Valley, Loyola Heights.

Cabrera said an increasing number of pets are being buried in their compound each year since they started accepting requests in 2001.

“Sometimes we have to decline, especially those who have backyards where they can bury their pets,” she said.

Technically, the gravesite is not a “pet cemetery” as the animals are sometimes buried on top of each other. It’s a mass grave.

But this did not stop some pet owners, including Mortera, from marking the place where their beloved pets were buried. Some graves were covered in gravel, while others had plants, stuffed toys and tiles to indicate what animal was buried in the area.

Rolan Lalantacon, who came with his wife Sarah and their dogs Prince and Tochikoi, was trying to find the exact location where their dog Tootsie was buried.

“We want to make sure so we can properly offer the flowers that we brought,” he said.

Tootsie, an aspin (asong pinoy), died in October last year while giving birth to four puppies, only one of which, Tochikoi, survived.

Like last year, Lalantacon and his family spent All Saint’s Day at the rehabilitation center to remember fond memories with their “baby.”

“We are thankful to PAWS because we have some place where we can visit her,” he said.

According to Cabrera, pet owners are happy that they have some place where they can light candles and offer flowers.

“People want to put their pets to rest. They want to make sure that the animals are decently buried,” she said.

She also said that PAWS was surprised with the number of people who ask them to bury their pets.

“Believe it or not, some people say that they don’t want to bury their pets in their areas because other people dig up the graves and eat the animals…They feel safer that PAWS will not do that,” she said.

Burial at the PAWS mass grave costs P500 to P1,000, depending on the size of the animal. The facility also has a memorial wall where dedications for deceased pets may be engraved. Each tile costs P2,000.

Lalantacon is hopeful that a pet cemetery will soon be established in Metro Manila to give owners the opportunity to give their pets a decent burial.

Pet cremation

Owners may also cremate the remains of their pets and put the ashes in boxes or urns, which in turn may be kept in a columbarium or inside the house.

Angelicum Oda, owner of the Rainbow Bridge Pet After Care Services, said more and more Filipinos are availing of their services since they started operations in 2010.

He said that from 98 clients in 2011, the number jumped to 179 in 2012 and to 203 as of the October this year.

“A lot of owners want to give their pets a decent burial,” he said, noting that if owners are willing to spend money for services such as dog manicure, a lot of them are more than willing to spend on aftercare services such as cremation as a “final gesture of love.”

“People are becoming aware that there are services like this that they avail of,” he added.

The basic package offered by Rainbow Bridge costs around P3,000 (one kilo) to P16,000 (more than 50 kilos). The fee includes pick-up of the remains, cremation, delivery of ashes, a box urn and a photo box.

Additional items such as paper weights, photo frames, hand and paw stamps, pendants, flowers and prayer cards are also available.

Oda said the package for a regular-sized dog costs around P7,000 but discounts may be provided depending on the situation.

He noted that they had instances when owners from low income families request for discounts in order for them to give their pets a decent farewell.

“We are really humbled so we usually give leeway, we give installment plans,” he said.

The main office of Rainbow Bridge is in Cubao in Quezon City, but its cremating facility is located in Laguna.

Oda said the owners may get the ashes of their pets in less than 24 hours, unless they want additional items such as engraved urns or paper weights.

Aside from dogs, the remains of cats, rabbits, birds, turtles, hedgehogs and gerbils are also accepted.

Rainbow Bridge is also developing equine cremation to service horse owners in the future.

Oda said they are planning to construct a 700-vault columbarium for animals, which will also be located in Quezon City. A vault may cost from P3,000 to P10,000.

For Oda, operating an aftercare service for animals is not just a business.

“It’s also my personal advocacy,” he said, noting that he grew up in a family where dogs are treated not just as pets but also  significant parts of the family.

“A business like this will not work if it’s just a business. The compassion with animals will really make a difference,” he added.

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