Rex the doberman was ‘brutally shot’ and police dog Sam ‘lost his life in the line of duty’ but just what killed old English sheepdog Wigglesworth Waggles is now known only to his family.
All of them lie here, remembered among the remains of thousands of other beloved animals buried or cremated on the grounds of the largest pet cemetery in New South Wales.
The Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park in Sydney’s west is not just the last resting place for generations of Smokeys, Rovers and Princes.
Guinea pigs, turtles and goats have also been buried here over the past 50 years, while owner Shane McGraw has cremated goldfish, kangaroos and cockatoos.
And, increasingly, interred along with the remains of their departed pets are the ashes of their human owners.
Pet owners often make use of the chapel at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium for services which can include prayers, music and the lighting of incense and candles
Rex the doberman was ‘brutally shot’ aged just 15 months and was buried at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park in western Sydney 45 years ago
Wigglesworth Waggles, an old English sheepdog, is Shane McGraw’s favourite pet name of the thousands he has cremated and buried at his Berkshire Park memorial site in western Sydney
The Victorian owner of Maltese terrier Paige, who died aged 11 in 2015, spent more than $10,000 on this bronze statue and granite headstone; she visits the grave several times a year
Xanda Panda Pudding & Pie who ‘kissed our lives & made us cry’ lived to 19 and is interred at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park, in western Sydney
From providing a basic $300 cremation to a memorial featuring an imported bronze life-size statue atop a granite block costing more than $10,000, Mr McGraw has been helping pet owners farewell their animals for 17 of the cemetery’s 50 years.
And while some customers are content to take their pet’s ashes home in a box or urn, others return to their cat or dog’s grave for years – sometimes once a week.
Mr McGraw even offers a chapel where memorial services can include open caskets, music and prayers.
Some of these services, which have been attended by up to 30 mourners, leave the 46-year-old in tears.
‘One guy wrote a letter from his dog to himself, which sounds very strange,’ Mr McGraw says. ‘But it was really touching because you could imagine that’s what the dog really thought. Even I had a tear in my eye.’
‘I can’t even read the Pet’s Prayer at one of these things without it affecting me.’
The Pet’s Prayer that Mr McGraw offers to grieving owners printed on a card seems to anticipate an animal being euthanised.
It starts: ‘If it should be that I grow frail and weak, and pain should keep me from my sleep, then you must do what must be done, for this, the last battle, can’t be won.’
The Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park, in western Sydney, is the last resting place of thousands of pets who have died over the past half century
Some pet owners will bury or cremate all their animals over years; Nala, who was ‘gentle’ died in 2003, ‘persevering’ Simba died in 2009 and ‘silly’ Lucky followed four years later
Two dogs and a kangaroo called Skippy are remembered on this headstone at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park in western Sydney
A lipstick kiss left on the casket of Pup De Pooch, who died aged 12 and whose owner did not wish to take home the coffin that was used to bring the dog to Mr McGraw for cremation
A thoughtful message on the wall of the chapel within the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium: ‘When you come where I have stepped you will wonder why you wept’
Mr McGraw, who lives on the site with his wife, does not believe the cemetery is haunted but cannot explain the behaviour of one of his late dogs, a kelpie-cattle dog cross called Roger.
One day Roger was in the cool room, next to the cremator, when something distressed him so much he fled the building and never returned.
‘It’s like he saw a ghost,’ Mr McGraw says. ‘Whatever it was it spooked him out so much he never went back in there.’
A pet cemetery – the first of its type to be licensed in NSW – was established on the site in 1967 and a crematorium added two years later.
The services it offers are a long way from burying Fido in the backyard or flushing a goldfish down the toilet.
‘In most homes, the household pet, whether dog, cat, bird, horse or any other, is especially capable of giving love, devotion and security to that home far in excess of what they themselves receive or expect in return,’ a brochure explains.
‘At their death, as well as bringing sadness, grave concern can be experienced as to what happens to him/her afterwards.
‘The pet cemetery can relieve you of any of these problems by assuring your pet of an individual cremation or burial in peaceful surroundings.’
This dog served NSW with distinction: ‘To the memory of Police Dog Sam who lost his life in the line of duty 7.2.96’
‘Woodrow: Little Mr Joiner; sexy legs and wiggly hips, run about with Nike shoes, a gracious heart smiles’
‘Fan Belt: Went to sleep 22.4.2001; always in our hearts, much loved member of the Brown family’
‘Small Fat: Sept 2001 – Dec 2005; Don’t eat too much, always loved & remembered by Big Fat, Middle Fat & Mum’
Some of the simplest inscriptions are the most moving: ‘My best mate Mr Bo Jangles, mini schnauzer 4.5.92 – 16.5.05’
Mr McGraw can arrange for the collection of dead pets but most arrive in a box or blanket carried by their owner. What happens next is up to the former master.
‘You do whatever they want to do,’ he says.
Buddhists have burnt prayer money. Christians have read Bible passages. Muslims have asked for pets to be buried facing Mecca. Some bring their living pets to memorial services.
Among the most moving services Mr McGraw recalls was one staged by a large Polynesian family cremating a dog.
At dusk they released silver helium-filled balloons while the boys played football and the girls sat watching the sky, with Here Comes The Sun by the Beatles blaring from a car stereo.
Individual cremations are conducted in a diesel-powered cremator which reaches 800 degrees celsius and takes about two-and-a-half hours to reduce an average size dog to ash.
The entrance to the viewing room where pets are laid out on a trolley before being taken into the chapel; beyond that is a cool room with the cremator further out the back
Shane McGraw pictured next to his diesel-powered cremator which once heated to 800 degrees celsius can reduce an average size pet to ash in about two-and-a-half hours
Some pet owners are so distressed by saying goodbye to their cats and dogs at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium chapel they faint or cannot speak
Two pews are available for mourners inside the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium chapel; Shane McGraw says he has hosted as many as 30 people farewelling a pet
Subsequent cremations once the machine is running are quicker. If an owner wants to watch the process they can and many do.
‘They get to see it all,’ Mr McGraw says. ‘Every worry that they might have thought they had has been sorted out.’
The ashes can be returned to the owner in a $40 box or an urn which can cost up to $200 if it has been personalised with script and a photograph.
Burials cost about $660 and lacquered mahogany coffins cost about $200 more. Mr McGraw buries about 100 pets a year and cremates about 80 a month.
Mr McGraw has cremated ferrets, sheep, fish, horses, cows, lizards and snakes. He has cremated a tapir – the pig-shaped herbivore native to South America- for a zoo, and birds as small as a finch.
Some of the requests he gets are odd. ‘Most people are very normal but I do have a small percentage of my customers that you would call eccentric,’ Mr McGraw says.
Some pet owners pay for elaborate headstones while others are satisfied by simple religious markers, sometimes accompanied by photographs of their deceased pets
Many of the gravestones in the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium feature pets’ photographs and some like this one include a likeness of the departed loved one
Willem LaFebre brought his wife Johanna’s ashes to the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium along with those of the family pets in 1999; nine years later his ashes were added
A grave can take several months to settle after a cat or dog is buried; months of dry weather has slowed the process at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium in Sydney
One de-sexed dog’s owner with particular religious beliefs told Mr McGraw the animal had to be physically restored before his burial.
The owner brought along the dog’s testicles, which had been kept in formaldehyde, and apparently sewed them back on. (Mr McGraw did not wait in the room to watch).
He once buried three guinea pigs under a marble headstone.
Some owners come to Mr McGraw if they are moving house and do not want to leave their buried pets behind.
One woman in her 80s brought him the skeletons of three dogs which had been buried when she was a teenager. She asked if he could identify their breeds from the skulls. (He couldn’t).
Mr McGraw bought the cemetery after his wife Katrina had an unpleasant experience following the death of a pet dog.
‘Enigma Voss: Here lies a dog with the heart of a lion and the spirit of a warrior, aged 15 years. Love you Stiggy, from Richard and Tabatha’
The cemetery is not just for cats and dogs; ‘Kangaroo Susie Meyer: Loved, cherished, never forgotten. Died 25.5.69’
A much-loved pet: ‘Beautiful Bella – Till the day we meet again, my heart is where I’ll keep you friend. Love Sherrie’
‘Capuccino: Our dear “Cappie”, our love and our best friend, has left us too early in this life. He was our special boy’
Rest in peace: ‘Peanut – My beautiful dandelion; I love you, see you soon, 13th Sep 2014 – 25th Dec 2016, RIP’
When yorkshire terrier Tiny died a vet arrived while Mr McGraw was not home and dropped the body straight into a Glad garbage bag, upsetting his wife.
When the couple lost another Yorkshire terrier, Monty, Mr McGraw decided the animal’s remains would be treated with more dignity.
‘My wife suggested “wouldn’t it be good to do it properly?”‘ he says.
After some research Mr McGraw found the Berkshire Park cemetery and convinced the elderly owner to sell.
Since then he estimates he has buried a couple of thousand pets on the 2.2 hectare site. ‘I’ve used about a third of the property,’ he says. ‘It could go another couple of generations.’
For most customers, the process ends with them picking up their pet’s ashes but some spend thousands of dollars on elaborate graves and return regularly.
Urns are available in a variety of shapes and sizes for pet owners to take home ashes from the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park, in western Sydney
Some pet owners prefer to have their animals cremated so they can keep the ashes in an urn which can be taken with them if they move house; urns can feature script and photographs
Shane McGraw attends to a brick wall filled with the ashes of cats, dogs and a kangaroo at his Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park in western Sydney
Pet owners are prepared to spend thousands of dollars for marble headstones, stone statues and inscriptions on graves at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium in Sydney
One Victorian woman had a life-size bronze statue mounted atop a granite memorial to her Maltese terrier Paige and still visits the grave several times a year as there is no similar cemetery in her state.
‘Some people come religiously, once a week or once a fortnight,’ Mr McGraw says.
Owners often visit on their pet’s or their own birthdays, at Christmas, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Some will leave Easter eggs.
Many of his customers come back over decades.
‘If you bury someone’s pet you bury the rest. They won’t bury one and not the others.’
‘I’ve got tonnes of customers I’ve seen five times, 10 times. I’ve seen one customer come with their kids and they’ve been back recently and those kids have got kids of their own.’
People’s reactions to burying or cremating their pets can be extreme.
‘Some people in grief, they can’t even talk,’ Mr McGraw says. ‘Some people walk out of the chapel and go blind with grief. There’s so many ways people can react.
Shane McGraw does not believe his animal cemetery is haunted but cannot explain the behaviour of a previous pet which refused to go into the cool room near the cremator
Graves of departed cats and dogs buried at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium, which has been run by husband and wife Shane and Katrina McGraw for the past 17 years
Many owners will have a pet buried alongside another they have previously lost; some are prepared to spend thousands of dollars on headstones which they regularly visit
Shane McGraw attends to a plaque near the chapel of his Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium which has operated at Berkshire Park in western Sydney for 50 years
‘Everything you could imagine with a human I’ve seen it with a pet.’
There is no typical customer other than that they all loved their pet. Mr McGraw serves everyone from lonely little old ladies to outlaw bikies with face tattoos.
‘The craziest people can love animals. The baddest people can love animals. People who don’t get on with humans can still love animals.
‘Every walk of life you could imagine you see them here. Every nationality that you can think of. Every religion.
‘Most of the people who come here are very caring people. You meet some really nice people. Very nice but a little bit eccentric.’
The former cleaner, airport baggage handler and glazier says the eccentric customers are part of the appeal of the job.
‘You go to fix people’s windows, you might get one eccentric person in 100,’ he says. ‘In my business it might be one in 10.
‘It makes things interesting. You do’t want everyone to be the same.’
Some of the plaques feature simple inscriptions; ‘Faithful companion Dusty Dog: Died 29.1.82 – 4 yrs. Always miss you’
‘Pochi: Aged 23 months – loved and never be forgotten. Yumiko & Laski’; ‘In loving memory of Sindy 2002 – 2012’
Gi-Gi Fuchs: 6.5.1996 – 4.4.2013; A much loved family companion forever in our hearts, Buddy – Rambo – Herky – Mitzi – Ringo’
Some pet owners can never be too close to their lost loved ones.
Mr McGraw says he has interred or spread the ashes of about 40 people with their pets. One man arrived with his wife’s ashes in a cooler and the ashes of several dogs in another.
Johanna LaFebre’s ashes were laid to rest with those of the family’s collies and shetland sheepdogs in 1999. Nine years later her husband Willem’s ashes were added to the plot.
One woman spent thousands of dollars creating headstones for 15 dachshunds upon her retirement. Another woman has 30 cats buried in one long plot.
Mr McGraw describes himself as ‘semi-retired’ and says he does not need more business but still gets pleasure out of helping others say goodbye to a much-loved pet.
‘I’m an animal person,’ he says. ‘I’ve always had pets. I’ve never not had pets in my house.’
‘I lucked into this business. It was one of those things that just fell into my lap.
‘It’s a bit different. It’s not as if I grew up thinking I want a pet cemetery.’
The cremator at Shane McGraw’s Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium burns at 800 degrees celcius and can reduce an average size dog to ash in about two-and-a-half hours
Just like a human graveyard, visitors to plots at the Animal Memorial Cemetery and Crematorium at Berkshire Park will bring flowers to remember their dead pets