Te Dong Vat Nga Pagoda in Hanoi, known as the first place in Vietnam that provides burial and intercession for pets, is the resting place of more than 2,000 dogs and cats.
The pet cemetery, built on an area of 100 square meters on Truong Dinh Street in Hoang Mai District, well-known for being full of small tombs made of laterite, is replete of incense burners and surrounded by golden bamboo and both fresh and artificial flowers.
“I assume that in my previous life, I must have owned these animals or treated them cruelly, so I have to repay them or make it up to them in this life,” joked Nguyen Bao Sinh, 82-year-old owner of the cemetery, who is better known for his artistic work as a folk poet, painter, and pet dealer, rather than a grave-tender.
Nguyen Bao Sinh, owner of the pet cemetery said pets will be protected by Buddha when being worshiped in this room. Photo: Nguyen Ngan
The cemetery was built in 2010, at the same time that the pet hotel service launched. “I was described as a lunatic by lots of people,” Sinh told The Hanoi Times.
However, the cemetery currently holds the remains of thousands of pets. It is also home to a pagoda of sorts, which carries the Chinese-Vietnamese words “Te Dong Vat Nga” which means “people and animals are equal”, Sinh said.
The site looks like a small park at first glance and the enclosure houses a small lake, in which there stands a statue of Buddha, with little angels behind. Greenery surrounds the lake and in the shade of the trees lie the tiny tombs of the dead pets.
On the gravestones, names of pets gone by are carved such as Tuti, Lucky, Misa, Kin, Bac, Bull and Bill. It also bears the years of pet birth, death and photograph.
The bones in the graves are often unearthed and cremated after three or four years and then put into small pots or vases to be venerated at home.
“Taking care of a pet when it is still alive is very easy and can be done by anyone, but caring for them when they are dead is the work that only I can do as I have a deep empathy for them,” Sinh said in confidence.
“This is also a way for me to show my gratitude to the animals, which allow me to make a living today,” he added, blossoming into a warm smile.
Sausages, grapes, milk and cakes are laid at the gravestones of cats and dogs at Hanoi's pet cemetery - an earthly feast for the souls of dead animals believed to return from the afterlife for a meal.
The cemetery was built meticulously. Photo: Nguyen Ngan
Numerous pet owners turned out for a solemn ceremony at the “Te Dong Vat Nga” pagoda, where thousands of dogs and cats have been laid to rest in the burial grounds.
It is a feasting ritual performed across Vietnam rather for dead people whose souls are honored with a large meal-offering.
Cemetery owner Sinh believes that animal souls should be treated with the same dignity as human ones. “I love dogs and cats not just in this life but in the next life as well,” the charismatic dog-loving Buddhist shared with The Hanoi Times.
It's a small price to pay for those who want to make sure their beloved animals are comfortable in the afterlife.
Nevertheless, Sinh clarified that there are two methods of disposition of the dead body at the cemetery: cremation and burial. The price of a burial ranges from VND6-10 million (US$260-430) depending on the rituals selected by the owner.
Meanwhile, cremation costs only between VND2.5 and 4 million (US$110-175). Before the funeral, the same procedures for a human burial will be performed and the tombs will then be outfitted with gravestones, photos, and the common data of the pets.
The area of the death house to worship the pets before 49 and 100-dayceremony. Photo: Nguyen Ngan
Sinh said people thought he was crazy when he opened the site in a country where dog and cat meat is sometimes offered as menu items for diners.
However, the role that dogs and cats play in Vietnamese society has changed dramatically in recent years. While many people still regard cats and dogs as guard animals, there is a new generation of consumers who sees them primarily as companions. More and more families and young singles choose to raise a dog or a cat as a companion and even considering them family members.
“Bim deserves to have a decent resting place permanently so that he can be at peace,” Dinh Trong Thai told The Hanoi Times after leaving milk, yogurt and grapes for his husky who died earlier this year.
For Trinh Thi Huong Thuy, giving her dog Quoc, whom she thought of as a son, a proper burial has brought her peace of mind.
“I bought him peanuts and a mooncake because those were his favorite foods,” Thuy said.
Cemetery owner Sinh hopes that the pet graveyard will spread a message of kindness.
“Animals and humans are equal. When you love an animal, you would not be cruel to human beings,” he stressed.
The gravestones bear the years of pet birth, death and photograph. Photo: Nguyen Ngan