SACRAMENTO, Calif. —Zoya Girard treated her beloved dachshund, Poncho, like a member of the family all his life. She's giving him the same kind of attention in death.
She wanted her 11-year-old dog to be buried in his favorite blanket, a prayer read at his graveside service and a viewing before he was laid to rest.
Girard leaned over his casket last week, looking at her beloved pet one last time in a visitation room at the East Lawn Pet Loss Center in Sacramento.
"He was like a grumpy old man, always barking," Girard said, weeping. She leaned over and kissed him. "But he was always there for me. This is the least I could do for him."
Never miss a local story.
More often, man's or woman's best friends are getting final send-offs similar to those for their owners. Pet funerals with viewings or visitations, prayers, blessings and religious readings are becoming more common, say industry experts. The cost? About $800 and up.
Pet cemeteries have been around for decades, but the number of funerals — 10- to 15-minute graveside services has increased dramatically in recent years, according to the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories in Georgia.
In the past, owners may not have shown up for their pets' burial. That has changed.
"They want them just like funerals for people," said Doyle Shugart, who serves on the board of directors and runs a pet cemetery in Atlanta. "I've seen some where people show up all dressed in black because they are really grieving. These pets are their family and they want to treat them like that. They don't mind spending the money."
Despite a shaky economy, owners are expected to spend almost $51 billion on their pets in 2011, up from about $48 billion in 2010. Sixty-two percent of U.S. households, or 72.9 million homes, own a pet according to a survey by the America Pet Products Association.
Numbers are not available on how much owners spend on pet burial services, but those in the industry say they have seen a jump.
"Our phone is always ringing and the number of burials and cremations we have been doing has shot up," said Lisa West, pet loss counselor in Sacramento. The site has had a pet cemetery since 1991, and recently updated and renamed it. An official grand opening was held last week.
"We know people really connect with their pets so we decided to emphasize it more and people have responded," she said. "There's a real need to say goodbye to their pets this way."
Dogs and cats — but also birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles, and even a horse — have been buried at the Sacramento cemetery.
The cemetery is also the final resting place for 43 police dogs, the most recent buried in April. All 12 of the canine units showed up for the funeral service.
"There is a strong bond between the handler and the dog. Some of them have worked together for years," said Linda Matthews, an officer in the Sacramento Police Department's canine unit. The cemetery donates the property and funeral-related costs for the police dogs. Other costs the casket and headstones are covered by the Sacramento Police Canine Association, a nonprofit that collects donations for the animals' care.