AN East Lancashire pet cemetery is offering people the chance to be buried alongside their animal companions, it has emerged.
Dog-lover Karl Bartoni, 62, led the charge for Rossendale Pet Crematorium to be allowed to offer the service.
He is to be buried in the same grave as his dogs, Barney and Charlie.
The Crawshawbooth pet cemetery also has a plot set aside for the graves of up to 40 animal lovers.
Two people are already buried in the triangular section close to their dogs and more than 10 others have secured spots.
The pet cemetery was the first in England to offer a burial service for humans and remains one of only two where people can reserve plots.
Site manager Ryan Turner said not only was it proving popular with older people with no family, but also with the younger generation.
He said: “A man called John Daniels was the first person to be buried here, followed by a lady called Brenda Owen. Their dogs are buried here.
“We now have between 10 and 15 people booked in.
“We do get a lot of older people interested in being buried with their pets, but some who are quite young, in their 30s, have booked in.”
The crematorium has more than 2,500 animals, including dogs, cats, horses, hamsters and budgies, buried in its grounds.
The human section is designed for people whose pets are buried elsewhere in the grounds, near Co-operation Street.
But there is the option to be buried in the same grave.
Because the pet cemetery does not have the required equipment to dig graves large enough for humans, staff from Burnley Cemetery are called in to help out.
As a rule cemeteries allow people to be buried with their animal’s ashes, but animals cannot be buried in traditional graveyards.
Mr Turner said the site was the first pet cemetery in the country to offer human burials.
Mr Bartoni, a retired escapologist from Blackpool, launched his campaign when his dog Barney, a short-haired border collie, died in 1994.
He contacted various departments at Rossendale Council, and the local authority eventually granted permission for human burials at the Crawshawbooth site.
He has already taken the unorthodox step of having his headstone installed by his dogs’ plots prior to his death. The inscription describes his dogs as his ‘soulmates’.
Mr Turner said: “Karl has been a friend of ours for a while and is one of those characters who comes up for a brew about once a month or so.
“His dogs were buried in a different plot, but after the headstone was built and inscribed we exhumed the two dogs and have moved them to the new plot where Karl will be buried with them.
"We’re just waiting for the date of death. It’s a very quirky story and he sees the funny side as well.
“I have been here on and off since 2000 and I’ve seen some quirky things but I think this is definitely the quirkiest.”
Mr Bartoni said: “I know some people find it a very iffy subject to talk about but it’s never bothered me because of the nature of my escapology.
"I have done buried alive endurance tests and escaped from a real coffin.
“I am very matter of fact about it. We’re all going to end up in a coffin someday, so I wanted it to be on my terms.
“I have always been of the thinking that dogs are not just for life, they are members of the family.”
Rossendale’s bereavement officer Leigh Hargreaves said: “Although this is an unusual request it is perfectly legal as long as various conditions are followed.
“Most importantly the grave must be to a particular depth, must not pose a threat to nearby water sources and the burial should be properly recorded in the land owners burial register.
“The person responsible for the burial must also obtain a Certificate of Authority for burial from the Registrar of Births and Deaths.
“In the four cemeteries operated by the council we do not currently offer a service for pets to be buried alongside their owners.”