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N.Y. pet cemetery deemed historic

Published: Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Another cemetery has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, but this one's a little different. It has dogs and cats and iguanas and a lion cub.

The 116-year-old Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in the New York City suburbs is the first animal burial ground to win the honor.

The designation "is a fitting way to recognize the longstanding and significant role pets have played in our national history and culture," said Carol Shull, interim Keeper of the National Register.

Kevin Moriarty, a historian for the register, said Friday that Hartsdale is the only pet cemetery among the 2,698 cemeteries on the register. He said Hartsdale is notable because it marks a sharp change in how humans related to animals.

"It was in the early 20th century that pets began to be considered family members rather than livestock," he said. "Before then, a dead animal was likely to go out with the garbage."

The cemetery became popular with artists and celebrities – George Raft and Mariah Carey have buried pets there.

About 75,000 animals and 700 pet owners are buried at the cemetery, which is on a woodsy slope in Hartsdale about 20 miles north of Manhattan.

Its many evocative markers often draw tourists. One, written by a man about his cat, says, "Here we sleep forever, I and my beloved Bibi, my loving companion for fourteen years." Another marker has 16 pets' names engraved into granite.

In 2008, a travel guide listed the cemetery among the world's 10 best places to be entombed – along with the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids.

Hartsdale briefly ran into trouble with state regulators last year for allowing pet owners' ashes in with their animals, but the regulators eventually relented.

Ed Martin Jr., president and director of the cemetery, said he was delighted with the "honor and prestige" of the historic designation. A celebration on the grounds is scheduled for Oct. 6.

Martin said the cemetery's new status may help him win grants to help preserve the cemetery.

"Some of the old mausoleums need to be patched up and some of the old walkways," he said. "There are monuments that tip or sink. We take care of it now out of operating funds, but it does add up."

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