Profiles A Final Friend for Man’s Best Friend

You probably could count on the thumbs of one hand the number of funeral directors in the county who have buried people and pets belonging to the same family – but Dallas has one, Ver-non O’Neal.

O’Neal, now 73, operated the O’Neal Funeral Home in Oak Lawn 40 years before he sold out in 1968. The ulcer-induced retirement ended, however, when he founded Dallas Pet Cemetery in 1972.

“I’d always wanted a pet cemetery. I love pets so much. I knew I’d have one some day,” says O’Neal. “You know, you bury people because you have to. You bury pets because you want to.”

And pet lover he is. O’Neal’s pet chihuahua, called Baby, sleeps on his pillow at night. His poodle Suzette lies beside him and demands to be covered up for beddy-by.

After four years in the pet cemetery business, O’Neal says he continues to use the same dignified philosophy for handling deceased pets as he did for deceased humans. He doesn’t run Dallas Pet Cemetery as a joke or a means to get money out of rich, eccentric animal lovers. For him it’s a serious, important service he provides.

So far, O’Neal has buried almost 300 pets, all of them dogs or cats except for one mynah bird who was buried with one of his toys. But he would just as soon bury a pet cow, horse, rabbit or monkey. The occasion just hasn’t arisen yet.

He has buried as many as five pets in a day. The largest was a 250-pound St. Bernard, the smallest a six-ounce dog. Most are expensive, pedigreed pets, others not so distinguished. Some were pets of prominent families. One dog was said to be the legitimate member of a corporation board of directors. Others merely are the friends of avid pet lovers.

The arrangements O’Neal offers include pick-up of the body, redwood casket, burial plot, opening and closing of the grave and a temporary marker. Costs range from $85 for a small pet to $225 for a large dog. Fancier synthetic blue, white or pink pillow-lined caskets and permanent marble tombstones also are available. Embalming can be arranged. O’Neal purposely charges an exorbitant fee “to discourage it. It’s a waste of money, and it doesn’t do anything for the pet. I’d rather see people give the money to charity.”

In addition, O’Neal offers the option of cremation. He recently installed a new crematory at the cemetery, which is located on Cook Road near Wilmer. New, tentative fees for that service range from $50 for small pets to $90 for large pets, including a teakwood or walnut urn.

As a bonus in his service package, O’Neal offers death notice cards which pet owners can send family and friends, and even a vinyl-covered memorial book with space for pictures, birth and death dates and details of burial. It also carries this poem:

“A little cross

To tell my loss

A little bed

To rest my head

A little tear is all I crave

Under my very little grave.

With nothing more

upon it than –

’Here lies the little

friend of man’.”

One weekend recently, 150 people visited the neat but hardly elaborate cemetery to decorate graves. Some used fresh flowers, but most were the bright, plastic variety. Other graves were decorated with the squeaky toys or bones of the pets.

It was evident the owners hadn’t buried their beloved pets and forgotten them. The tears flowed again for Crick-ett, Charlie Brown, Chan and Chester. For Binky, Boy, Brandy, Beau and Butch. And for Sam, Smokie, Jacques, Peppi, Taffy, Tiger, Tiny Tot, Sesame and Snuffy McDuff. Others cried over the engraved tombstones of “a good friend” King, “our beloved pet for many happy years” Shawn, “so loyal, so devoted we’ll never forget you” King Faunes, “blessed baby, our little boy” Misty, and “she asked for nothing but gave us all her love” Sheba.

“You know,” says O’Neal, “I don’t come through the cemetery gate that I don’t say a little prayer for every animal. I even had the cemetery blessed by an Episcopal priest. It just made me feel better to make it sacred ground … I like to do this thing right. People get more than their money’s worth. I try to give the utmost consideration to these pets.”

O’Neal estimates only 35 percent of all clients attend the burial of their pets. “It hurts them too much. They’re too heartbroken to see it,” he says.

But even if nobody shows up, O’Neal says he recites his own, original prayer: “Almighty God, this little pet brought sunshine to us and was a vital part of our lives. Its passing has created a void in our hearts that cannot be filled. We do not question the will of God, but ask him to be merciful to us in our loss.”

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