Why the Rich Are Sending Pets on a Diamond-Studded Trip to the Afterlife
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I live in Manhattan, where signs of the New Gilded Age scream from the windows of deluxe pet spas and boutiques hawking crystal-studded dog collars.
The trend of celebrity-style pet pampering is one the rise, producing ever-greater demand for freakily fancy products and services. You can fly dear Fido in high style on a specially outfitted pet airline. Whiskers can relax in gold-plated splendor at Disney's recently launched Best Friends Pet Care luxury dog and cat resort. An attentive "certified" camp counselor will care for his every whim.
But the biggest emerging trend of all? That would be giving dead pets the star treatment. Even in a sluggish economy, companies are making a fortune from the rituals and services sought by grieving pet owners. Clever marketers are finding new ways to give adored pets a glamorous send-off into the afterlife.
Egyptian royalty started their journey accompanied by mummified cats sporting gold earrings. Why not today's 1 percent?
The obsession with furry friends knows no bounds, reaching beyond the excesses of kitty wigs, haute raincoats and pet perfume right into the Great Beyond. The modest backyard burial has given way to the professional ceremony, complete with lace-trimmed casket and religious readings. If you've ever seen documentary-maker Errol Morris's indelible Gates of Heaven, you know that pet cemeteries have been around for a few decades. But the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories in Georgia reports that pet funerals are dramatically increasing.
In the U.S., costs for a pet funeral starts at around $800 -- and sky's pretty much the limit from there. The "Royal Pet Casket," boasting three layers of foam and waterproof materials, is sold on the PetHeavenExpress Web site for $458. The elegant "Gold Cherry Blossom Hour Glass Cremation Urn," available from Perfect Memorials, comes in at $499.95. Does all that seem a bit cheap for Precious? Then go Nile-style and have your dog mummified for $30,000. Freeze-dried preservation is a less expensive option, but it will still run you several hundred dollars.
Perhaps you'd prefer to wear your dead pet. You can do that by having the corpse rendered into a synthetic diamond with a company called LifeGem. For realz.
In 2004, the first stand-alone pet funeral home opened in Indianapolis. Today, there are over 750 pet funeral homes, pet crematories and pet cemeteries across the country. And the trend is global. Luxury pet resting places are popping up in China. According to a recent press release from Alibaba.com, the UK market for pet "bespoke" coffins, caskets and urns soared 467 percent last year. Brits are apparently taking pet love "to the next level" with "increasing demand for funeral and remembrance products."
The rituals of death are not limited to funerals and caskets. You can have your dead pet whisked from your house on a special " pet removal cart" designed to offer a dignified mode of transport for pet remains. Pet industry related "death-care items," as such accoutrements are called, range from garden sculptures to musical memorials -- including a special ringtone to remind you of your lost pet. Pet psychologists offer individual and group therapy for the bereaved.
In this era of late capitalism, we live in a top-heavy society where the rich are flush with far more cash than they know what to do with. That development has merged with a post-war trend in which pet owners increasingly view animal companions as surrogate children and even mates. The anthropomorphizing tendency seems to be speeding along full-tilt, with owners choosing human-sounding names for their pets and insisting on bringing furballs along to bed and even to the dinner table. Developments in medicine -- and the profitability of the health care industry -- have increased the means by which pets can be kept alive, and have, perhaps, made owners less able to accept the inevitability of death. A neighbor in my apartment building in New York once rang my bell, distraught over the liver failure of her 15-year old dachshund. She wanted to know if I thought she should put the dog on a respirator at a cost of several thousand dollars a day. Veterinarians of the less ethical variety know they can rake in big fees when distressed --and deep-pocketed --pet owners break down at the idea of saying goodbye. Such grief is real and potent. But when does it become excessive? Or even cruel?