In 1929, Adlai B. Wheel, Sr., realized his dream when he purchased a parcel of land bordering West Seneca Turnpike and developed it into Pet Haven Cemetery.
Wheel and his wife were so dedicated to their mission that they cashed in a life-insurance policy in order to pay the $600 downpayment. Despite several prominent naysayers and the onset of the Great Depression, the Wheels managed to immediately attract people who wished to have their beloved pets buried formally, and the business flourished.
Through the years, all varieties of animals have been buried in Pet Haven Cemetery. The largest pet is a horse whose size demanded the use of a backhoe to excavate a big enough grave, and the smallest was a mouse that was laid to rest in a bottle sealed with paraffin. One of the oldest pets, at 90 years of age, was a cockatoo that had had a theatrical career. Other plots are the final resting places for such creatures as an ocelot that belonged to a local go-go dancer, several monkeys, a 25-year-old goat, and a variety of birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, reptiles, and amphibians. Additionally, there is a mass grave that holds the remains of 25 animals that were killed when a local kennel burned down in the 1940s.
As there are many pets interred in the cemetery, interesting stories abound. One of the more famous ‘residents’ is “Miss Beal of Featherstone,” a golden retriever. Miss Beal succumbed to disease during the time her owner, General Wainwright, famous Commander of the Allied Forces in the Philippines, was a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II. While visiting her mother in Skaneateles, the general’s wife heard good things about the Wheel’s cemetery and made arrangements to bury the dog in Pet Haven. After the war, the general traveled all the way from Texas to visit his favorite hunting dog’s grave.
It should be noted that people who have buried a pet at Pet Haven also have the option of being buried alongside their pet if they agree to be cremated per New York State law. Several owners have taken advantage of this option. Edna C. Gauda was cremated and buried in 1982 with her 27 poodles. She had made arrangements long before her death to be buried in the pet cemetery. A monument now marks the spot as “Poodle Memorial: Beloved Pets of Edna C. Gauda.” Her grave is surrounded by individual markers that reveal the names of each of her dogs buried there. Tucked in another corner of the property is “The Helen Hungerford Pet Memorial for Cats.” That memorial is located in the “cats only” zone of Pet Haven since all of Hungerford’s cats despised dogs. Chiquita, a family dog, was buried in the cemetery after she died purportedly saving her family from certain death. Her owner claimed she purposely leapt from their stopped car causing the entire family to jump out of it to pursue her. Their abandoned vehicle was almost immediately totaled by a runaway truck that then unfortunately ran over Chiquita.
Pet Haven has always offered several services to bereaved owners. The cemetery’s employees pick up the pet’s remains from the owner’s veterinarian. The owners can then choose to have their pet cremated and the ashes returned to them or, if the pet owners prefer, the ashes can be buried in Pet Haven. If the owners choose a regular burial, a pet casket or burial urn can be purchased directly from Pet Haven’s extensive inventory and a memorial stone arranged. Another amenity is the viewing room, or slumber room as it is called, where the family can gather to say goodbye to their faithful companion before it is interred.
Wheel, Sr. passed away in 1997. Per his request, he now rests in Pet Haven beneath a granite stone that reads “May you who follow be equally dedicated to the great task far advanced.” His family still owns the business and continues to promote the cemetery that Wheel called “the most beautiful pet cemetery in America”.
Karen Y. Cooney is support services administrator at the Onondaga Historical Association, or OHA, in Syracuse.