“I just had the most uplifting conversation with a pet mortician.”
Words you don’t often get to say when discussing death and pets. But after my talk with Dan C. Harberts of Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park in Napa, California, “uplifting” was the word that sprang most readily to mind.
Open since 1971, Bubbling Well, a sprawling, idyllic pet burial property where more than 12,000 pets are permanently laid to rest, only reinforces this. In looking at the pictures of the lush, meticulously manicured property (unfortunately I was unable to make it to Napa from Hawai’i this time, but I took the virtual tour!), one cannot help but get a sense that this is a place that takes the care and respect of a pet, post-death, very seriously.
Taking my phone call from his office at Bubbling Well, Dan speaks about pet death and pet life with such zeal and compassion that, I’m not going to lie, I found myself tearing up. In speaking with Dan about how Bubbling Well handles the post-death care of cats, dogs, really any pet, I get a profound sense that this is a man who believes that an integral part of a pet’s death is to acknowledge just how special they were to their family in life.
Dan makes no apologies that he wears his heart on his sleeve when talking about the intensely personal nature of his job. “Everybody says, ‘My cat was the best cat ever, my dog was the best dog ever.’ That sincerity and that love from these dogs and cats — pets in general — is one of the highest forms of love. People who love their pets totally know what I’m talking about. I’m in awe of these pets.”
Bubbling Well offers what one would typically expect from a pet burial ground and memorial park — cremation, burial, post-death pick up, refrigeration/storage, as well as coffins, urns, and burial markers. But what struck me was the park, and Dan’s dedication to offering service, advice, and help to anybody suffering the loss of a pet.
“I came up with the Pet Memorial section of our website, where people can add some words in memory, and have a picture of their pet,” says Dan, the pride in comforting voice coming clearly over the line. “It serves a need. This is a way for people to pay tribute to their pet, if they can’t afford a private burial or cremation. They can still have this memory and this tribute.”
For a minimal price, each mourning pet parent receives a personalized certificate with a pet’s name and a pet memorial website entry, which includes a short tribute and a photo of the pet. Lastly, “a memorial card will be placed in the memorial pet register, which you or anyone may come and see. This register is at the base of a monument dedicated to the more than 10,000 pets laid to rest in our Pet Memorial Park, which overlooks the Napa Valley.”
“Initially, when you look at the tribute section you see pictures of pets,” Dan explains. “But when you click to see the actual tributes, there are pictures of the park. It’s like your pet is ‘virtually’ here at Bubbling Well. I take a lot of pride in that.”
Dan’s belief in the importance of being able to see your pet virtually anytime, anywhere, stems from the way he understands pet mourning. “I think there is a difference in how we mourn our pets,” he says. “In a high percentage of people, the pet owner is more in tune with their pet than their family or even spouse.”
“It’s more acute when you lose a pet because the relationship is so intense,” he goes on. “They get up in the morning with you, you feed them, day after day they are there for you — it’s consistency. It’s so important. When you lose that, when they’re gone, you have the phantom sighting.”
Dan explains how he used to see his dog Jessie out of the corner of his eye after he passed.
“The life pattern of living with that pet is so acute. You just don’t go through the stages of grief in the same way for a pet,” he says.
Dan’s commitment to ushering every pet parent through grief and mourning is particularly poignant, especially in his views on home burial.
“It’s a personal choice and we support it. We’ll provide a casket, if they want a casket. Though it does not necessarily require a casket. Heavy-duty plastic or a plastic bag works, too,” he says. “We don’t try to steer them one way or another. It’s a vulnerable time for them; we can give them options. But there’s a cost factor. What I have always recommended is, if you can do it yourself, why spend that much money? We’re very careful in how we recommend these sorts of things.”
“At the end of the day it all comes down to family. You can be the wealthiest person, you can be the most successful person, but it’s about the love for your family. The line, for me, is very blurred between the love of a pet and the love of a family member.”
Pets are family, I tell him. “Absolutely,” he agrees. “If my son’s dog Drake, who I babysit while he’s working, were to pass untimely, it would devastate me. Maybe I was meant to do this — those relationships are the reason I’m here. The relationships with our pets are as meaningful as it gets. And I honor those relationships.”
And I, for one, am so grateful that you do.
Visit the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park’s website.
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