March 26, 2008


Homer hillside a quiet resting place for pets

Country Acres Pet Cemetery on W. Scott Road has provided burial services since 1975


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
 Paul Burhans, his wife, Joyce, and granddaughter Lindsay Andersen walk down a hill after visiting their pet cemetery on West Scott Road.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — There’s a quiet meadow on Houghton Hill that overlooks a valley. It’s a tranquil place, dotted by headstones.
“Here lies the little traveler, our beloved Ben,” reads one; another is inscribed with “Susie – 1968-1982.”
The hillside plot is Cortland County’s only pet cemetery, Country Acres Pet Cemetery. It is owned and operated by Paul Burhans, Homer’s dog warden, and his wife, Joyce.
It is part of their business, Country Acres Pet Services at 5852 W. Scott Road in Homer.
For between $100 and $200, depending on the size of the animal, county residents can purchase a plot in the cemetery to have their deceased pets interred.
Joyce Burhans began providing pet burial services in 1975. At the time, only mass farm burials were done in the county, where several large animals were buried at a time in large trenches and covered with lime.
The Burhans bury about 12 pets a year.
“People were asking her (Joyce) to bury their pets individually,” said Lindsay Andersen, Paul and Joyce Burhans’ granddaughter who works at Country Acres Pet Services as an assistant animal control officer and shelter manager.
To open the pet cemetery, which is located across West Scott Road from the Burhans’ animal shelter, Joyce had to secure a state permit. The state’s rules for animal cemeteries require the owners to maintain the plot for 10 years after the last animal is buried there.
When Terri Ferris’ family pets have died, she said Andersen and the Burhans have taken care of the details. Ferris said four family pets are buried at Country Acres’ cemetery: two dairy goats, Wilomena and Gertie, and two dogs, Tucker, a German shepherd; and Buff, a yellow Labrador.
“It’s a wonderful service,” Ferris said. “Lindsay was right here, right away.”
Ferris said after her dog Tucker died, Andersen arrived with a stretcher.
“They’re really sensitive to how you’re feeling at that moment,” said Ferris, who works as a nurse practitioner in Cortland. “They’re actually better than some funeral directors.”
Joyce Burhans said specially-designed pet caskets are available from another pet cemetery in Syracuse, Pet Haven — however, they are not required.
Andersen said she and her family keep the cemetery mowed and clear of debris so people can easily find their pet’s final resting place.
“It’s just a nice, reflective place,” Ferris said. “You can go up there and you can look out over the valley; it’s beautiful.”
Joyce Burhans has occasionally performed “funeral services” for pet owners who have asked for them. She said she reads a selection from a book of reflections on pets.
“We had about 30 people here for one dog once,” she said. “They were all crying … that was one well-loved dog.”
The Burhans also have operated a pet crematorium since 1998, which some owners prefer to burial.
“We have slowed down since the crematorium opened,” said Andersen, who said some pet owners want to have their dog’s or cat’s ashes to place in some special corner in their homes.
A Cortland city ordinance prohibits burying animals within city limits, which makes the Burhans’ facility one of the only legal options for city pet owners whose pets have died.
“People want to know where their pet is,” Joyce Burhans said. “It’s a fascinating business.”
Ferris had a marker made for her family’s four pets buried at Country Acres — an engraved plaque fixed to an eye-catching piece of slate she found.
“I’m glad it’s there,” Ferris said of the cemetery. “I hope it’s open for a long time … they do such an awesome job.”