THE PETS UNDERTAKER
Bury and cremate pets for a living.
There’s tears in her eyes. A woman is looking at funeral urns in a display case. At first glance, it looks like a traditional crematorium. Except maybe the funeral urns that are slightly smaller than what we would expect. Looking closer, the decorative patterns on them are cat paws or dog paws and the commemorative statues next to them represent cats. This is not your typical crematorium. We are standing in the middle of a crematorium for pets. Once you know it, everything makes sense, from the patterns on the urns to the happy dog pictures on the yellowish walls of the waiting room..
“All good Cedric, go ahead.” The owner of the shop steps out of a technical closet. He’s holding the door for another man who’s about to enter carrying a shiny metal box. He crosses the room and steps in the crematorium where the oven has been burning for few hours.
“Now I’m going to prepare the body and place it in the coffin. Afterwards, I will proceed to the cremation”. Cédric Malin is a meticulous kind of guy. 8 years ago, he was living the normal life of a thirty-something normal parisian graphic designer. That, was before he cancelled his conventional life plans to create his own startup: Animemory, short for animals and memory. No better way to tell what he does: funerals for animals.
He is one of the few pet undertakers in France. Every month, he takes care of few dozen deceased animals. He’s the families-in-grief-henchman. From the animal’s pass away location to the cremation until the funeral ceremony in the cemetery, Cédric discharges families of everything and offers them peace of mind. “I bury cats and dogs mostly, but also fish, turtles, birds, rats… I even a pig once!”
In the crematorium white room, he places the little coffin — made of biodegradable cardboard — on a big metallic cart before opening the furnace door. In France, you can bury you pet legally in your own garden under certain conditions: if the body is far enough from housing and from water sources. In a city like Paris, it’s almost impossible to tick any of these boxes. Let alone owning a private garden.
“My own cat is dead almost ten years ago. And to be fair, it was really disorienting. I didn’t have the choice between burial and cremation. I would have loved to have somebody to guide me” Animemory’s founder shares.
He spends most of his days in his tiny grey ageing car, going from the crematorium to the animals cemetery in the suburbs of Paris — where he holds the vast majority of the funerals. “At the outset, I feared that it would be oppressing to be surrounded by sadness and grief all day long. Truth is, people are thankful. Eventually, I get the feeling that I’m making a difference with my job” Cédric says, between two looks at his cellphone “in case of emergency”.
He wants to take us to the historic pets cemetery. Inaugurated in 1899 at the heart of Asnières, a quiet city in the suburbs of Paris, the cemetery is reckoned to be the first animals cemetery ever created in the world. Nowadays, in France, there’s at least 20 of them. “People usually prefer cremation, it’s much more affordable”(€200 for a cremation vs. €600 for a burial) Cédric told us.
Behind the large metal gates, alleys of graves lay endlessly. At a glance, you understand you’re not in a traditional cemetery. Nothing’s too eccentric but unlike the crematorium, everything reminds you that you’re in a different kind of cemetery. The size of the tombstones, the pets pictures respectfully displayed on them... Taking a closer look, you notice that the more or less lavish tombs honor the lives of more or less famous pets: in the likes of Barry, a spaniel that supposedly saved 40 people or Clément, the dog of the French writer Michel Houellbecq.
Next to the keeper’s house by the entrance, a former closet has been transformed into a recollection room “for owners who want to make their farewells to their beloved pets”. “Even though we know we’ll survive to our pets, they play big roles in our lives. Sometimes during decades, I think they end up being full members of families”. In the main alley “Buddy, we miss you dearly” is carved in golden letters on a grey marble gravestone.
“I realize that at the beginning of the job, many pets owners came to me and told me that people were questioning their attitude with the sentence: “why would you go through all of this? It’s only an animal” Cédric recalls. “I have the feeling that with time, people understand more and more the pain of pets death. Soon, I believe that everyone will be treating animals as our equals.”