A pet memorial corner at Tề Đồng Vật Ngã Pagoda. VNS Photo Bảo Ngọc
Thousands of pets have been laid to rest in the burial ground of Tề Đồng Vật Ngã Pagoda. Founded 50 years ago, it is a peaceful place in downtown Hà Nội where animal lovers can pay their last respects to their beloved pets.
Nguyễn Bảo Sinh, 84, owner of the pet cemetery, believes that pets have the right to be treated like humans. He said that it was one of the main reasons he built the pet cemetery.
“I think pets have equal rights as human beings, and they should be treated and loved just like humans,” he said.
“Buddhism teaches us to have love and kindness to all, including animals and plants. That is the compassion in Buddha’s teaching. My pagoda is built based on the principle of compassion in Buddhism."
From a small ground, Sinh has developed this place into an unusual destination, with “life-to-death” services for pets such as hotels, healthcare, funeral, and cremation.
“I used to have a hotel for cats and dogs called ‘Cat Dog resort’. By running the hotel, I took care of their bodies, and later by constructing this pagoda, I take care of their souls,” Sinh said.
Pet funerals begin with a ritual in front of the altar. The owner of the deceased pet will have to prepare offerings of fruits, votive papers and flowers, just as they would for a human burial.
Photo and offerings at a pet funeral. — Photo courtesy of Tề Đồng Vật Ngã Pagoda
Sinh and the pet owner then walk around the cemetery, burning incense and praying for their 'lost friend' to go to a better place.
The pet's body is placed in a small coffin before being cremated or buried. The whole process can take up to three to four hours, depending on the animal's size.
Sinh said the first pet buried here was Ami, his longtime companion.
"He was a German shepherd, very beautiful. In 1975, I bought him with a tael of gold, which was worth a fortune back then," he said.
"At that time, foreign dogs were very rare in Việt Nam, and I made a lot of money by breeding Ami with other dogs. He was also a very intelligent, loyal and protective dog. When he died, I buried him and gave him a decent funeral."
Sinh has buried and cremated about 5,000 dogs and cats over the past 50 years and charges a pet owner about VNĐ 9 million to 18 million (US$400 to 800) to arrange a funeral and a little gravestone for his lost friend.
Pets are buried with mini gravestones. VNS Photo Bảo Ngọc
“It's a small price to pay for those who want to make sure their beloved pets are comfortable in the afterlife,” he said.
Nguyễn Thị Nga, a pet owner, told Việt Nam News she believed her cat would go to a better place after being cremated here.
“My first cat cremated here was a male named Tăm. He died of a digestive disease many years ago, quite a long time now. I raised him since he was very small, so I had so many memories with him,” she said.
“I looked for several places before sending my pet here. I am very pleased with the service, so I am sending another one here. It’s the second cat.”
For Lê Anh Thúy, giving her cat Tam, who she thought of as a family member, a proper burial has brought her peace of mind.
"Tam passed away soon after my husband's funeral. Bảo Sinh, who held my cat's prayer ceremony, was very attentive. I hope it can now rest in peace,” Thúy said.
Thúy at her deceased cat's prayer ceremony. — Photo courtesy of Tề Đồng Vật Ngã Pagoda
Sinh and Thúy follow her cat's coffin, burning incense and praying for her lost friend to go to a better place. — Photo courtesy of Tề Đồng Vật Ngã Pagoda
Although he seems to be doing an unusual job, Sinh prides himself on being able to help pet owners say goodbye to their friends in the most sincere way.
Sinh said he hoped the pet graveyard would help people see animals in a new way and spread a message of kindness.
“We should teach children about love by loving pets. In many countries, they see loving pets as a way to educate people about love in an indirect way. I believe it is much better than just saying that we must show love and kindness to each other,” he said. VNS