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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where Pets Rest in Peace

For MT
Pudya was a member of the family. She had her own bed and cup. She liked to cuddle. When she died, her owner decided to give her a proper send-off.

"We wouldn't imagine taking mom or grandma and putting them in a plastic bag and tossing them down the garbage chute," said Olga, the cat's owner and a lawyer who declined to give her last name for fear that clients would recognize her.

Until recently, there weren't many options besides that. Alternative resting places included a small patch in the park or in the garden adjacent to a dacha.

But Pudya got something better: The black-gray-ginger cat was cremated; her ashes are now contained in a ceramic urn in the columbarium at Moscow's first pet cemetery.

The Center of Funeral Services for Domestic Animals -- on a 2-hectare plot near the large IKEA store on Leningradskoye Shosse and just opposite a cemetery for human beings -- opened in December after five years of negotiations with city officials. The ashes of 30 animals are already interred in the redbrick columbary, and 20 are buried, also after being cremated, as is the rule, in 1-square-meter plots. Most are cats and dogs. There's also a pair of rabbits and a rat.

Unlike the majority of pet cemeteries in the West, where owners fork over a one-time fee, Muscovites must pay a yearly internment fee at the center. If an owner doesn't pay, cemetery staff will disinter the pet, pack away the plaque and sprinkle the ashes on the Garden of Memory, a small pond bordered by ornamental rocks.

Before the 1917 Revolution, the remains of processed farm animals were dumped near Chistiye Prudy, Tsaritsyno and Ploshchad Rogozhskaya Zastava, said Stanislav Velichko, a historian. The latter was still in use 30 years ago.

A pet owner "may have felt closer to a dog than to an estranged mother," said Professor Thomas Wrobel, an expert on death issues at the University of Michigan. He said that in the United States, over 75 percent of large pets -- cats and dogs -- are buried, though less than 5 percent in cemeteries. Eighty percent of owners cry over the loss of large pets, the same percentage as over people.

"I think the sadness will stay for a long time," said Irina Kapralova, who buried her dog Kassandra, 13, in the pet cemetery. "I feel the presence of the dog the whole time." It died a year ago, and for a while Kapralova kept the ashes under her office table, its favorite spot. She didn't tell her colleagues.

Liza Azarova / For MT
You can choose between the columbarium (pictured) or burial options for your pet, but cremation first is compulsory.
A 1-square-meter plot in the cemetery's Alley of Heroes costs 10,000 rubles (about $380) per year, and a less central, less prestigious spot costs 5,000 rubles. One year's interment in the columbary starts at 3,5000 rubles. By comparison, Moscow's destitute human residents receive free burial in municipal cemeteries. City center spaces come at a price: A 2-by-1-meter grave in Vladykino cemetery costs a one-off 120,000 rubles (about $4,600).

The pet cemetery is secular, and religious symbols aren't permitted. Nelly Shulman, a rabbi in Moscow's progressive Jewish community who last year performed a much-publicized lesbian commitment ceremony, said she would not hold a burial service for a pet. Neither will the Russian Orthodox Church.

"It's never happened, and it won't happen," said Father Mikhail Prokopenko, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's press service. "A Christian burial is only possible for a person. Animals don't have an immortal soul."

The cemetery provides a corpse pick-up service, and will film a cremation to prove to owners that it has actually been done. Cremations can be individual or communal. There's a choice of grave markers and urns, and for at least 20,000 rubles, a sculptor will craft a statue.

"The pain from the loss is too strong. We'll remember you always," reads one plaque. "Forgive me that I didn't keep you safe. I love you very much," says another. Graves are decorated with dog chains and candy.

At funerals, some want to carry the urns to the graves themselves, say a few words and leave bread and sausage. Employees fill the graves. One family has brought flowers for its dog every week since it was buried.

Until 2006, St. Petersburg residents could bury pets in Gatchina cemetery, 40 kilometers from the city. It was closed, after 30 to 40 burials, when visitors complained it was too close to human graves.

Olga said she would visit Pudya on the ninth and 40th day after burial, in line with Orthodox tradition. It's still too soon to think about getting another animal. "It's so difficult, when you've gone through this, to live with the knowledge that any favorite animal can die earlier than you," she said. "And worse, that they might live on without you."

Center of Funeral Services for Domestic Animals,