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Lancaster Pet Cemetery Memorial Plaques 1951–2018: An Analysis of Inscriptions

By Carol J. Auster, Lauren J. Auster-Gussman, Emma C. Carlson

Category Journal Articles

Individuals in many cultures have a close relationship with their pets and think of them not only as companion animals but also as family. Research on the ways in which people memorialize their deceased pets has become increasingly important, and pet cemetery gravestone inscriptions have provided a way to examine the evolution of the human–animal bond. Past studies of the inscriptions on gravestones have been largely qualitative, whereas our longitudinal study of the 2,695 memorial plaques from 1951 to 2018 in the Lancaster Pet Cemetery in the United States allows for a quantitative analysis of the inscriptions and what they reveal about pets, owners, and people’s relationship with their pets over time. The results showed that nearly all plaques listed the pet’s name as well as the pet’s year of birth and year of death. Identifying the type of pet on the plaque increased over time as did the use of a bronze cast or picture to identify the type of pet, nearly all of which were dogs or cats. The use of gendered human names for pets increased over time, particularly for families and male-female couples. The types of owners remained relatively stable over time, with about two-thirds of pets belonging to families and male-female couples; however, the way in which owners listed themselves on the plaques changed over time. Words on the memorial plaques that increased over time included “love/loved,” “you,” “Mommy/Daddy,” and “missed,” and described the owner relative to the pet or feelings about it. On the other hand, the word that decreased most over time was “pet.” For the most part, there was little variation in the words by type of pet or type of owner. Many of the findings signaled an increasing tendency for people to think of their pets as family. Suggestions for future research are also included.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 33
Issue 2
Pages 261-283
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2020.1719766
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Human-animal bond
  2. Human-animal interactions
  3. Pet loss
  4. Pets and companion animals