By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Although he thought it was a little weird to have a cemetery just for pets, over the years Elzie Johnson has come to understand that the word pet is much different from animal.
For the past 24 years, Johnson has been the undertaker at Memory Park Pet Cemetery in the Endville community and has buried hundreds of pets and attended their funerals. Johnson has buried everything from birds to a 50-pound pet raccoon.
“Before I started doing this I would not have believed that people had a cemetery and funerals for their pets,” said Johnson. “But I learned a long time ago that these aren’t cats, dogs and birds I’m burying but friends and family members of these people and they deserve to be sent off just like you would any other person you love.”
Started and still owned by 78-year-old Harold Nunley, more than 300 animals are buried at the pet cemetery, including two of Nunley’s dogs. Due to health reasons, Nunley no longer buries pets himself.
“I just wanted to give people a place to give their pets a proper burial,” said Nunley. “In ditches and on the backs of garbage trucks is no way to dispose of someone you love. You wouldn’t do that to a person you loved, so why a pet? That’s why I started this whole thing.”
When you drive past the cemetery, it looks like any other land where people are buried. There are headstones with the dates of the animal’s life span and name of owner and pet engraved in it. There are flowers placed on the grave sites and wreaths standing next to some of the headstones.
Nunley said the first pet buried in the cemetery was a poodle named Georgie buried in 1973. After that burial, word of the cemetery spread and people from all around were coming to bury their pets. Sherman Mayor Ben Loden has two dogs buried in the cemetery – Kippy buried in 1974 and Scotty in 1985.
Each headstone brought back a different memory for Johnson and Nunley’s son, Steve Christian, who helps maintain the cemetery.
“I remember when we buried Tony,” said Johnson, pointing at one of the headstones. “His owners were really tore up about it. They cried for a long time.”
Johnson said one of the most memorable burials and pet funerals he attended happened about 10 years ago when a local factory owner’s pet died. Although Johnson couldn’t recall the man’s name, he said he’ll never forget the scene at the cemetery that day.
“There were dozens of people at the cemetery,” said Johnson, spreading his arms out wide to show the areas they were standing. “He shut down the whole factory and made everyone come to the funeral that day and he paid them. I had never seen anything like that. That was love.”
As he looked down at the headstone near the entrance of the cemetery, Christian’s walk down memory lane took a personal turn. Starring at a grave with the name “Tiny” and a picture of small dog, it was evident that the man knew this one a lot better than any other in the cemetery.
“Tiny was my dog,” said the 51-year-old Christian with a smile. “He died when I was a teenager and dad put him out here. He was one of the first pets to be buried out here. Tiny was a great dog and a real good friend of mine. That’s what this place is about. Giving a final resting place to someone you love. Who says that people are the only ones who deserve to be buried the right way? I think anything you love you should treat it like you love it, dead or alive.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For any questions about the pet cemetery, call Elzie Johnson at (662) 566-2735.