P.D. James, call your service!

Hey GetReligion readers! Is there anyone else out there that really, really likes the P.D. James novel called "The Children of Men"? No, not the movie. The real story. The book. The one with those stunning "culture of death" overtones all the way through it.

Well, one of the most haunting images in the book is when, a generation after the entire population of the world has lost the ability to conceive children, the Church of England clergy begin performing baptism services for the pets (dolls, too) that have taken the place of children in the lives of mourning couples.

Obviously, they would need formal funeral rites, as well, for these pets that substitute for children.

I thought about that when I read an interesting little feature story in USA Today about, well, the trend toward elaborate funerals and burials for pets. Here is the top of the story. Note the dateline, for starters.

COLORADO SPRINGS -- When Chiquita Isom's German shepherd, Silla, died of a fast-growing heart tumor last year with almost no warning, Isom was inconsolable.

She knew she needed to do something to honor the loving dog she always called "my girl."

Days later, the Rev. Pat Boone, in black robe and long shawl patterned with dogs and cats, arrived at Isom's home. Near an altar with pictures of Silla, her leash and toys, Boone conducted a funeral service before more than a dozen people -- many of whom had met Silla and Isom at the park they frequented. Boone quoted Scripture, read poems and spoke of the unconditional love pets provide and the importance of saying goodbye.

"It helped me with closure and with the support I needed to get through the loss," says Isom, a nurse practitioner.

The story moves on, offering one of those "more Americans are choosing to do such and such" paragraphs that define most trend stories of this kind.

But I was still stuck at paragraph No. 3.

The Rev. Pat Boone? Surely not that Pat Boone. But if not that evangelical figure, then what kind of minister are we talking about? Who, pray tell, is making the rounds in a liturgical robe and shawl -- if that's what these really are -- performing liturgical rites for pets? What denomination does this minister represent? Might he or she be a mail-order minister?

One more question: I would love to know the Bible readings for this service. How about you?

Meanwhile, the story offers plenty of rich details about other aspects of this trend, such as:

Devoted pet owners are increasingly holding ceremonies that pay tribute to pets and provide the humans with an endpoint that celebrates the good times and helps them reframe their grief. In Atlanta, pet owners pay from "$495 for a casket, viewing, burial and headstone to $2,000 or $3,000" for various additional services, fancier caskets and the like, says Keith Shugart, the second generation of pet funeral tenders at Shugart's Deceased Pet Care Funeral Home. ...

Most ceremonies tend to be low-key. When Princess the poodle died last year in Jamestown, Ohio, her owner and 20 friends gathered at the pet cemetery, spoke lovingly of the dog and covered her casket with roses. The arrangements were handled by Michael Storer of Pet Dignity.

There's a standard pet-funeral poem -- The Rainbow Bridge, which "promises pet and person will be reunited in death" -- and pet cremation services. You get the picture. But the religion element is mentioned and then it vanishes. In this context, the minister's presence sounds ordinary. But is it?

At the very least, we need to know which denominations provide such rites. For a discussion of some of the issues involved, one can, it is no surprise, turn to the Daily Episcopalian and to other sources.

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