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JOURNEY JOURNAL... Venice, Florida



It was a life celebration fit for a king… or, in this case, a dog.

Imagine visiting a cemetery when your companion suddenly beckons you to “look at the clown going by on the road over there.”  One might immediately assume an errant driver was speeding recklessly in this designated zone of quiescence.  

But, no, this was a literal reference to an actual clown rather than the appointment of a derogatory assignation.  For heaven’s sake!  Clowns don’t belong at a cemetery!  Or do they?  

On February 16, 2013, amid hallowed burial grounds at Venice Memorial Gardens, there was no need to admonish anyone with a directive to “quit clowning around.”  In fact, in this milieu that ordinarily invokes subdued reverence, antics and activities common to the Big Top were the order of the day.  Against a backdrop of crypts and columbaria, a circus of sorts “came to town.”

It was a sunny day when the circus theme materialized here to commemorate the life and conduct the burial of a dog named Gizmoe, who had been a cherished companion of one of the funeral directors.  Her interment served as a prelude to the grand opening of the cemetery’s new pet burial section half an hour later.

Photo Source:  Farley Funeral Home - Venice Memorial Gardens Event Announcement

The honored decedent’s pink casket was actually an urn vault utilized for this alternative purpose.
Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The fete began with the arrival of a carnival entourage. The adapted casket was on a wagon pulled by a singularly notable pallbearer of the day – Lucky Star, a miniature white horse who later showcased a series of tricks.  Her owner served as the circus ringmaster. Chucko, a former Ringling Brothers clown, played a pivotal role throughout the conjoint event as a prominent figure during the service and grand opening proceedings.  Two grief therapy dogs from the Florida Humane Society – a golden doodle and a long-haired dachshund – were at the rear of the processional.  

Photos Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

A bone-shaped arrangement of white flowers with pink ribbons and sparkles accoutered the casket.
Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The event was open to the public, including canine companions.  Eighty-four humans and sixteen dogs attended the committal service, conducted by two of the cemetery’s funeral directors under a pergola.  Public officials and local media personnel were on hand to glean material for news articles and television documentation.  

Photo Source:  Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The celebrant-led service included references to Gizmoe’s typical behaviors and characteristics.  Individuals who shared her life relayed reminiscent experiences.  A popular poem, “The Rainbow Bridge,” was read, which inspires comfort by alluding to the possibility of pet owners reuniting with their pets once they, too, have died.  Family members released ten pink balloons prior to the release of fifty multi-colored, circus-themed balloons amid a backdrop of relevant musical pieces.  

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

Pink rose petals lined the dog’s grave.  After placement of the casket in it, some were also sprinkled on top of it. 

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The distinguished dog’s personality was captured even for her burial.  Because she had been anti-social, two spaces were utilized, with her body facing backward, so no other animal’s body would be buried close to her at a later time.  The plot is located in the section of the cemetery designated for upright markers.  

An unmistakable celebration of life was the order of the day on this occasion when an esteemed pet was laid to rest.  It was accentuated by clowns, calliope background music, balloons, popcorn, snow cones, and cotton candy.

Photos Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The theme was maintained throughout the grand opening ceremony that followed Gizmoe’s affair.  Though this type of milieu ordinarily is conspicuously uncommon in a cemetery, if ever a circus would appear on burial grounds anywhere, the Sarasota environs would be a logical place.  It oozes Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey history and is still percolating with the company’s people and artifacts.  Because of its infiltration here, in the ‘40s and ‘50s this epicenter for a popular pastime became known as a circus town.  Accommodations for “The Greatest Show on Earth” included winter headquarters in Sarasota, often motivating personnel and their descendants to establish permanent, lifelong residency here.  A museum now houses an extensive art collection from their world travels as well as circus memorabilia, such as wardrobes, props, and equipment along with newspaper clippings and other documentary accounts. 

So it’s not surprising that authentic performers would be on hand for this special event.  In fact, three circus dynasties – the Espana, Anatasini, and Herriott families – were represented.  Entertainment included a classic spinning plates routine, acrobatics, and spins a la the German wheel and the “steel wheel of destiny.”

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

Antics of trained pups were especially germane, given the nature of the occasion. 

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

Of course, a festival with this motif called for edible embellishments.  A Venice caterer provided hors d’oeuvres – pizza bites, finger sandwiches, and pigs in a blanket.  A local supermarket made it possible for the canine and feline guests to enjoy treats as well.  

After the main events, people were given an opportunity to tour the grounds in golf carts, which included visits to the pet crematory.  

Photos Source:  Farley Funeral Homes -Venice Memorial Gardens Pet Cemetery Website

Needless to say, this was a distinctive and memorable way to introduce the community to the addition of pet services at this memorial park.  The blueprint that had been conceptualized in response to a current funerary trend had been transformed into a new facility.  
Photo Source:  Farley Funeral Homes -Venice Memorial Gardens Pet Cemetery Website

And in the process of publicizing its availability, the human tendency to feel remarkable affection toward pets had been colorfully accentuated.  

For now, Gizmoe’s headstone dominates the landscape of this heavenly animal kingdom. 

As time passes, the local canine celebrity will have more company within this acre of burial territory. Graves for other animals’ cremated or whole body remains will increasingly appear. 

If an owner wishes to stay close to a beloved pet, human graves adjacent to the pet section can accommodate that wish.  

Services will continue to be conducted under the pergola that serves as the central focal point for the pet burial grounds.

Meanwhile, under a headstone remindful of her memorable memorial gala, Gizmoe is resting in peace. 

Content Resources:

ICCFA Magazine: March-April 2013


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