BYRNES MILL, Mo. (AP) -- Leo and Mary Creamer still are amazed at how far animal lovers will go to pay tribute to their beloved pets.
In 32 years of running Forest Lawn Pet Cemetery in Jefferson County, some burials stand out:
The woman who climbed into the grave that Leo Creamer dug for her dog, played church music from a tape recorder and insisted she would "sing him all the way to heaven."
The family who arrived in four limousines with a rabbi in tow to preside over the burial of a black Lab. The service concluded with champagne toasts.
The throngs of police officers who turned out for a police dog's burial.
"For some people, these pets are the companions they've lost or the child they never had," Mary Creamer said.
But the Creamers say it's time for their role in these personal stories to end. The couple, from House Springs, has put the property up for sale.
"He can't hear, and I can't see," quipped Mary Creamer, 79.
"We can't keep up with the cemetery as they expect it to be," Leo Creamer, 80, added.
They've listed the property with L.K. Wood Realty Co. Inc. -- the same company that sold the land to its original developer, Rutledge Mayo, in 1963. L.K. Wood Sr. sold the property again in 1977 to the Creamers.
This time, his grandson, L.K. "Buddy" Wood III, is the listing agent for the Creamers. The asking price for 3.5 acres and a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house is $138,000.
Wood estimates that less than an acre of the property has been used for the burials of about 2,500 pets. The Creamers believe that fewer than 400 pets were buried there when they bought it.
The couple had intended to open a kennel and a pet grooming service. But they soon found that demand for burial services outweighed the grooming business.
Other area pet cemeteries are in Twin Oaks, Florissant, High Ridge and Glen Carbon.
Mary Creamer brings understanding to her work. She had a bad experience years ago burying her beloved English sheepdog, Tuffy. A worker at another facility put her pet in a wooden casket on top of some newspaper and nailed it shut in front of her.
"It was so crude," she said.
At first, the Creamers lived in the house on the property. At times, they could hear the sobs of grieving pet owners from inside their home.
"Their hearts are really broken," Mary Creamer said. "Some of them think more of their pets than their human relations. I couldn't stand the sadness. I couldn't bear the people's pain." So they moved off the grounds.
Mary Creamer grooms the pets and places them in plastic caskets lined with blue or pink satin bedding that she sews by hand.
The Creamers make concrete grave markers with a pet's name and dates of birth and death. They also sell more elaborate granite markers. Some owners choose to bury pets in humans' caskets, and even clothe them.
"Remember Waldo?" Mary Creamer asked, prompting a smile from her husband. "He was buried in a tuxedo. He was a Chihuahua."
Their services range in price from $285 to $525.
If someone decides not to attend the burial, the Creamers snap Polaroid pictures to show owners a proper burial was carried out, Leo Creamer said.
Pictures adorn many of the grave markers in the cemetery. Some graves have elaborate granite monuments. Flower arrangements adorn others. Some markers say a lot:
"Maxwell: Born a dog, died a gentleman," reads one.
"Sugar: So loyal, so sweet, my love, my joy," reads another.
The owners can be equally interesting. Leo Creamer points to tombstones bearing the names of doctors, politicians and gangsters who buried pets there.
One woman has buried 17 cats and counting. Most of them had won ribbons at cat shows. Two dogs died after saving their families from house fires, Mary Creamer said.
The cemetery counts horses, goats, birds, hamsters and a spider monkey among the dearly departed. A stone sculpture of a bird perched in perpetuity marks the grave of a parakeet.
At Christmas time, owners decorate the graves with wreaths. Some visit on their pet's birthday. Some come weekly.
For many, though, the owners have long since passed away themselves. Graves from the 1960s haven't been visited in years.
The Creamers want to sell the property to someone who intends to continue offering pet burials.
"I hope and pray we can find somebody who cares and has compassion," Mary Creamer said. "They're dealing with people that are hurting, and if you don't have compassion, this is not the business for you."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)