Thai temple offers Buddhist funerals for pets

Reuters, July 5, 2010

BANGKOK, Thailand -- An orange-robed monk chanted as a teary-eyed, black-clad family prayed quietly in front of a crematorium. A normal Buddhist funeral service in Thailand except for one thing — the deceased was canine.

Bereaved pet lovers in Bangkok come to Klong Toey Nai temple by the Chao Phraya river to mark the passing of their animal friends with full funeral rites which begin with short prayers by monks, a two-hour cremation, and a trip down the river to spread the ashes.

“She is part of our family. In life, we took her to a grooming salon and a swimming pool. In death, we want to give her the best too,” said Jiraporn Wongwanna, 35, who just lost her 14-year-old terrier-poodle mix, Bai Toey, to liver failure.

In a crowded capital of 15 million people with few owning enough land for burial, many people are opting for cremation for their departed pets, said Sampao Yampradit, a 79-year-old animal lover and undertaker who has performed the service for pets for more than 7 years.

The temple started to cremate stray dogs and cats nearly a decade ago, before they began offering funeral services for pets.

Now they perform five to 15 funerals a day.

While most are dogs and cats, the pets have included turtles, fish, rabbits and monkeys.

“It’s a Buddhist belief that cremation sends you forward into the next life while a burial might not do that,” Sampao said, dropping chips of fragrant wood and flowers into the incinerator.

Jiraporn, her father, and two cousins attended the ceremony, watching Bai Toey’s furry body gently pushed into the pyre.

The cost of a cremation is 1,800 baht (US$ 460), including the boat service to spread the ashes. Cremation of dogs heavier than 20 kg costs 2,000 baht and those who want a gold-plated wooden coffin will have to pay another 3,000 baht.

“People are willing to pay for it. It’s a good way to say goodbye,” Sampao said. The temple in the capital, which has an estimated 800,000 or more homeless dogs, also offers free services for those who bring in strays but cannot afford to pay.

The monk chanted, asking Jiraporn and her family to repeat after him: “This life cycle is completed. We pray that Bai Toey be born in the next life blessed with prosperity and good health, in a better form, like one of a human.”