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SPCA TO BUILD CEMETERY FOR DEPARTED PETS

Albert J. Chille, executive director of the Niagara County SPCA, describes himself as a "beggar and borrower."

He intends to put these qualities to work to help raise money and acquire services and supplies for his latest project, a pet cemetery to be built on part of the 26 acres owned by the SPCA on Lockport Road.

An artist's rendering of the proposed cemetery hangs on the wall in the main room of the Rainbow Animal Shelter. It shows a parklike setting featuring five separate mausoleums or columbariums, vaults that contain niches to hold ashes from cremations. Each of the columbariums contains 80 units, each unit large enough to hold two or three containers of ashes.

"I'm leaning toward people buying one unit and that way they have the ability to put a large animal in there and a small one, or maybe two or three small animals, by virtue of the space available," he said. The plan is to start with two mausoleums, which cost $15,000 each, and work up to five.

This is a far cry from a shoe box and a shallow backyard or garden grave. "The pet cemetery idea is not new," Chille said. "There is a national association of pet cemeteries and in some areas it's a private enterprise, not connected with the SPCA."

Many people who go into the pet cemetery business don't realize a profit for up to five years. "The initial outlay is so great and this discourages many people going into the business," he said.

The only other pet cemetery in Western New York is in West Seneca, and Chille said the Niagara County SPCA wants to build the pet cemetery to fill a need. "We want to accommodate those people who are real animal lovers," he said. "For a pet owner, it's a major catastrophe to lose an animal," and having a secure nearby place to lay the animal to rest can ease the pain, he said.

As executive director of the SPCA, Chille has comforted many distraught pet lovers. "We have people come in here every day (to have an animal euthanized) but when you get a 6-foot-2, 240-pound man with tears rolling down his cheeks because he has to put his pet to sleep, it grabs your heart."

Chille said, "Unless you have owned an animal and become attached to an animal you may take the concept of a pet cemetery very lightly and think it's about another money-making scheme or gimmick. But to an animal lover it's paying an animal back for giving years and years of love and affection."

There are at least 50 local residents who feel the same way. "We have probably 50 cremations that are waiting for the cemetery to open," said Chille, as he opened the door to a storage area at the shelter where the ashes are being kept for now.

Several area veterinarians are also keeping the ashes of pets until the facility opens, he said.

The facility at the Niagara County SPCA will be different from the West Seneca cemetery, which allows in-ground burials. The water table on the property owned by the SPCA is too high to accommodate in-ground burials.

Chille does not see this as a negative. "We will have a formal setting with the columbariums," he said. "It will be a very respectable cemetery for our companion animals."

The bottom line for the project is $50,000. That's where the need for begging and borrowing comes in.

Chille has many irons in the fire to see this dream through to reality and maintain it once it is built. For example, he has talked with a representative of the city of Niagara Falls. "The Niagara Falls City Beautification Commission plants trees around Niagara Falls. They'd like a tree farm. We don't have a tree farm, but I've offered to let them plant a portion of our acreage in the back to grow trees that would be used to beautify the area.

"In exchange for the use of the land they would plant two or three rows of fir trees separating the cemetery area from the rear as kind of a buffer." The fir trees would be part of the total landscaping for the cemetery and contribute to the parklike atmosphere, he said.

Chille said there is also the possibility of selling off a few acres of the SPCA property for industrial use to help defray the cost of the cemetery.

Money may come from other venues as well. "Right now we're talking about whether we should contact the people that we know are going to use the facility and give them an opportunity to purchase a site for their animal up front and give them a price break. Then we would have some money with which to start off," said Chille.

A fund-raiser is planned for this summer and Chille has no doubt the community will come through.

"We are going to raise the money, and I say that without any ifs, ands or buts. It's something the community needs. The people living here are animal lovers, for the most part."

Chille hopes to break ground on the pet cemetery this summer.

"It's important for the community to know that we're going to be here and we want this place to be here for the next hundred years. The SPCA is going to be around to take care of people and help them."