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Memorial park gives comfort in loss to pet owners

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Just as in the lives of human loved ones, the time inevitably comes in relationships with animal companions when decisions must be made about their final arrangements.

A few are so unsentimental that they simply put their pets out with the trash. Calling the local animal control is another efficient option.

Those who recoil at the thought of treating their pets like food that has passed its sell-by date may see burial in the backyard as the most practical choice, keeping pets close. And when animals need the assistance of a veterinarian, the vet may sometimes make those final arrangements.

For those who wish to memorialize their animal companions in a more formal way, though, it is hard to imagine a better option than Bideawee Memorial Park, on Beltagh Avenue in Wantagh.

The surprisingly spacious park serves all the surrounding communities, including Seaford and Wantagh, and offers a range of services, from interments to cremations, as well as both annual and perpetual maintenance plans, according to memorial coordinator Helene Flor.

Just as humans are now living longer, so, too, are pets. The average life expectancy of house cats in the U.S. is about 15 years, according to the Spruce, a website dedicated to information about pets.

“People who aren’t pet owners may smile at us,” the Rev. John Derasmo, pastor of Seaford’s St. James Catholic Church, said at the parish’s annual blessing of the animals on Oct. 4. “But for those of us who are ‘pet people,’ they are such a big part of our lives.”

In addition to the Wantagh park, Bideawee also operates a memorial park in West Hampton, where the organization’s crematorium is located.

The Wantagh park was opened in 1916, and now has more than 65,000 pets resting peacefully in its shaded fields. Its most well known resident is Checkers, then Vice-President Richard Nixon’s beloved black and white cocker spaniel, which featured prominently in a famous 1952 speech widely credited with saving Nixon’s political career.

Checkers died in 1964, and is interred in Section 1.

While cats and dogs make up the vast majority of the park’s denizens, it also has a number of avian memorials — mainly parrots. A horse is buried in Section 4, and one family chose to memorialize its pet grasshopper, Flor said.

“The cost of cremation is by weight,” Flor explained. For animals weighing 4 to 24 pounds, the cost is $191.18. Plots come in two sizes, 2 feet by 3 feet or 2 by 4. Plots may contain two animals or the ashes of several. In addition, families may opt for public cremation. In that case, they do not receive any ashes, and may memorialize as many animals as they wish. One memorial stone lists 10 names.

The park also has a small columbarium, with niches for cremains.

Bideawee does not operate its own monument service, nor does it recommend any. But Flor said families could expect to pay about $400 for a plain, flat granite memorial.

Perhaps most surprising, the park offers human companions the option of interment with their pets, if they opt for the perpetual maintenance plan, Flor said. She did not know how many people had made that choice in the years since the park’s founding.

The park has a healing room, and grief counselors are available. In addition, those who wish may view their pets’ cremations.

Bideawee also offers a paw print service. An animal’s paws are gently pressed into a foam block that can then be decorated. Kits are offered for those who want to take the impressions at home.

The park is fascinating in itself, and visitors may take walking tours, guided by the brochures found outside the park’s administrative offices. Visitors should wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for soft ground.

For more information on Bideawee and Bideawee Pet Memorial Park, call (866) 262-8133, or go to https://www.bideawee.org.