Established in 1958, Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium has been the final resting place for nearly 40,000 people, including former U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Federal Maritime Commission Chairwoman and U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, and such Colts greats as Johnny Unitas and Artie Donovan, among other notable and lesser-known Marylanders.
In addition to humans, it’s also home for family pets.
The cemetery’s pet services have expanded since 1970, when it opened Pet Haven for the burial of pets. The cemetery has since expanded after the original 3,000 plots were sold out. In 2010, it added Pet Sanctuary, featuring a bronze statue of a golden retriever and a tabby cat as its centerpiece, and that same year, Faithful Friends opened, where owners can be buried with their pets.
On Saturday, the cemetery will dedicate its latest addition, the Dulaney Valley Pet Loss Center, a funeral home whose sole mission is dedicated to pet services and funerals.
“We have more than 4,000 pets buried here and handle about 100 burials a year, and it’s growing,” said Amy S. Shimp, who has been the cemetery’s general manager since 2007. “The Pet Loss Center is where people can come to grieve and have the ability to say goodbye to their beloved pets or witness their cremation, if that’s what they have chosen, and receive grief counseling.”
Shimp said formerly, people dropped off their pets at the veterinarian and left them there as their lives were ending.
“Over the years, and particularly since the pandemic, we have seen growth exponentially in this area as pets have become more a part of families, and now, their owners want to celebrate their lives,” she said.
Shimp said its residents are more than just cats and dogs.
“We have taken care of ferrets, lizards, chickens, potbellied pigs, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, chinchillas, squirrels, a horse and even a parrot that danced to the music whenever he heard the Four Tops,” she said. “And at its funeral, we had the Four Tops playing softly in the background.”
She added: “People love their pets unconditionally.”
She recalled a family who wanted to bury their cats together — at the time, one cat had recently died, and the other, who had died earlier, had been stuffed.
“The brother cat had died earlier and had been stuffed by a taxidermist,” she said. “It was the family’s wish that they be buried together at the same time, and it was a very moving service.”
Costs can vary, like any other funeral, she said, because of what “families want.”
“Money is not a focus when it comes to saying goodbye to your loved one, and we try and work with our families,” said Shimp, who formerly worked at Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, before coming to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.
Since 1967, Dulaney has provided free burial and memorial services to police and fire service canines.
People from as far away as Chicago have brought their pets to the Timonium cemetery, Shimp said.
“We serve a 20-mile radius for humans, but it’s more like a 50- to 60-mile radius for their pets,” Shimp explained in a 2015 interview with The Jeffersonian. “During holidays, per square foot, there are more people visiting and leaving flowers for pets than people.”
Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens is one of six pet cemeteries in the state. One of the oldest not only in the state but in the world is the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in Elkridge, which opened in 1935 but hasn’t conducted a burial since 2003.
In 1979, the cemetery, named for the 19th century French artist who was known for her realistic animal paintings, made national news when it allowed human burials with their pets. Among its celebrated residents are Mary Ann, the Baltimore Zoo’s first elephant, who died in 1942 and was buried there after falling during her sleep and injuring her spine; a celebrated World War II combat dog that was given the rank of corporal; former Washington Bullets basketball team mascot dogs; and Willie, who was Gov. Schaefer’s faithful companion.
The Blessing of the Pets and Remembrance Ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, which will accompany the dedication of the Pet Loss Center, begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. The event will also feature Coleen Ellis, a nationally recognized author and expert on the role of pets in our lives and pet loss, Shimp said.