WINFIELD -- The headstone is engraved with one simple word: Dog. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eyes of an animal lover.
Dog is one of 40,000 pets buried at the J.L. Bowling Pet Cemetery, which has been in business for 47 years.
The cemetery also is the final resting place for Bridgette Adkins, beloved “daughter” of Charles and Bobbie, born 1985, died 1997. Bridgette obviously was considered part of the family.
Misty Morn Hunt’s tombstone bears this inscription: “Our precious loving Lady Puppy.”
Baron’s gravestone is adorned with the dog’s picture etched in porcelain.
Howard Hunter manages the 24-acre cemetery off W.Va. 34 in Putnam County. He’s run the place for 24 years and has seen grieving family members bring in all types of animals to be buried or cremated.
“This is the only pet cemetery that I know of around here,” Hunter said.
With 24 acres to the property, there’s room for the cemetery to expand, and Hunter said he would like to see that happen. Currently the business does more pet burials than cremations.
People are buried in Teays Valley Memorial Gardens, which is also owned by Bowling and is adjacent to the pet cemetery.
“We have pets and people buried together here and there,” Hunter said. “Some of the owners have made arrangements to have their pets buried with them when they go.”
That’s not difficult. Hunter has worked with funeral homes over the years to have an urn or tin box with a beloved pet’s cremains placed in the casket of an owner. Hunter said there are a couple of thousand people buried with their pets in both cemeteries.
“We’ve had people who used to live here ship their pets back to us to be buried here,” Hunter said. “We’ve gone to the airport to pick up the remains and had UPS andFedEx arrive with deceased pets. We get them from Florida, Texas, all over.”
The grounds of the pet cemetery are green and lush with most of the graves placed along the hill leading up to the business office. Inside, business manager Chris Toney keeps the records and cries with the owners when they bring in their pets.
“Howard is a very kind and compassionate man,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for someone better to take care of your beloved pets.
“People who bring their pets in will always ask me if I believe they will go to heaven,” Toney said. “As a Christian I always tell them that God doesn’t do anything wrong so whatever he does it’s right. I hope that helps them in some way.”
Prices for burial range from $43.10 to $233.20, but that doesn’t include a marker. They start at $75 and go up in price depending on size and type. Tin boxes for cremains start at $5 while urns cost about $75.
“Our prices haven’t changed in a long time,” Toney said, “but if gas prices keep increasing, we just might have to increase our fees.”
When pets die at home, owners usually bring them to the cemetery. When a veterinarian calls with word of a death, Hunter goes and picks up the pet.
“We treat them just like we would our own, with respect and dignity,” he said. “I’ve got dogs at home that I love and I would want them to be treated the same way.”
The business seems to get busier on Mondays.
“Pets might have died at home and there was no place to go before Monday,” he said. “The same for the vet’s office. We pick up a lot of them on Mondays.”
If the customer wants a burial and no cremation, the cemetery uses baby caskets for some of the pets. There’s a viewing room that can be used by the owners prior to the burial.
“We’ve even had services with preachers and Catholic priests presiding at the grave,” Hunter said. “We also have people who visit regularly, whether it’s to sit by their pets’ graves or to visit with their deceased relatives.”
Through the years, the cemetery has seen its share of unusual pet burials.
“I remember the prairie dog and python this woman buried,” he said. “She wanted them buried in the same box. At the same time, she had her dead cat in another box but she wanted them all in the same plot.”
The cemetery has buried lots of horses, ponies, pigs, sheep, dogs and cats, reptiles and birds.
Goldfish, hamsters or gerbils belonging to kids are buried free of charge.
Hunter recalls a woman who paid almost $1,000 to have a blue jay buried and another woman from Indiana who paid $600 for a gravestone for her pet rat.
“This was several years ago, but I remember it well. She wanted a carved stone with the rat sitting up eating a chocolate chip cookie. You can see it over there,” he said, pointing.
The average size of a plot is 2 feet by 4 feet. The cemetery requires some kind of marker to help owners find their pets more easily.
“We have one customer who has close to 100 pets buried here,” Hunter said.
“I think people just drop animals at her home and she takes them all in and takes care of them. Then she brings them here when they die.”
The cemetery is full of artificial flowers, little angel statues, dog and cat figurines and flags marking the graves. It’s not unusual to see family names grouped together around the burial plots.
The Arthur family pets - Tee, Tony, Fonzie and Mitzie - are all buried in a row with clearly marked headstones.
The Graley family buried five pets in a row, each marked with heart-shaped headstones. There’s a St. Francis statue in the middle and each grave has a tiny heart hanging over the site.
The Davis family’s five graves of their beloved pets have flowers in front of each marker. That’s where Inky, Scoobie, Willie, Brandy and Brutis rest.
And the gravestone of Chief says simply, “The Best Dog Ever.”