Mike Thomas Celebrates 45 Years at the ARL

ARL’s Mike Thomas is there to guide owners through the final care process at Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery

Established in 1907, ARL’s Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery is the oldest pet cemetery in the country owned and operated by an animal welfare agency. The cemetery is situated on the beautiful grounds of the former summer home of ARL founder Anna Harris Smith. In fact, Anna’s own beloved pets were among the first to be buried here.

Final care is a sensitive and important time in the life of a family pet and perhaps no one understands the depth of the human-animal bond quite like Mike Thomas, caretaker of the Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery since 1970. Losing a pet is difficult, but Mike does his best to honor and bring closure to the departure of your beloved furry family member.

ARL Blog sat down with Mike to find out more about the unique and important work that he does at Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery.  Here’s what he had to say…

pine ridge pet cemetery

Did you know… that Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery is the oldest pet cemetery in Massachusetts?

ARL Blog: You’ve been working at ARL’s Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery since April of 1970. That’s 45 years! Congratulations!

Mike Thomas: Thank you! I started working at ARL’s Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery when I was 19. This is the only full-time job I’ve ever had! After all these years, it’s who I’ve become: the “pet cemetery guy.”  I feel very appreciative when families that I’ve helped in the past call and are surprised to find out that I’m still here. Nobody wants to have to see me, but when they do, they’re glad.

One thing that’s changed is the “oddness” of my job. When I first started working here in the 1970s, new acquaintances or former classmates who I hadn’t seen in a while couldn’t believe how I made my living. Today, however, the general public has much more understanding about why this work is important — in part because many people now consider their pets to be an equal member of the family.

ARL Blog: What made you remain in your job and with the ARL for so long?

MT: Initially, I fell in love with the Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery property. Then I just fell in love with what I do — helping people at a very difficult time for their family.

ARL Blog: Is there anything that makes Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery unique?

MT: Well, for one, we’ve been doing it the longest. Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery is the oldest in Massachusetts and the oldest in the country operated by an animal welfare organization. It’s also closest to the Boston Metro Area.

As far as the types of animals that we have buried or cremated here, the majority are cats and dogs, however, we have horses, rabbits, iguanas, snakes, and many other “pocket pets”, which are more common now. We even have a margay and an ocelot (wild cats native to South America) buried here!

ARL Blog: How has Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery evolved since you started working there in 1970?

MT: The cemetery didn’t look as is does today; the land was ours, but it wasn’t used. For the first 15 to 20 years I worked here, there was no tractor to dig the grave sites with; we did it all by hand and it was very difficult physically.

Since then, the cemetery has doubled in both size and in the number of families we help each year.  In 1970, we had about 69 total animals buried in our cemetery plots; today, we bury 100-200 animals per year. Additionally, our pet cremation business has gone up significantly.

ARL Blog: On the topic of cremation, more pet owners seem to choose it over burial plots. Why do you think that is?

MT: Cremation is much more cost-effective than burials, and it’s also easier to move your pet’s remains, should you ever need to. Many families choose to cremate their pet and bring the remains home. Or, if they have already buried a former pet in the cemetery, they will bury the most recent pet’s ashes in that same lot to keep all their pets together in one place.

Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery

Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery is situated on the beautiful grounds of the former summer home of ARL founder Anna Harris Smith. In fact, Anna’s own beloved pets were among the first to be buried here!

ARL Blog: How do you keep a positive attitude around your clients who are grieving? It must be difficult.

MT: My clients don’t need my sadness; they are already sad. I can’t bring your pet back, but if I can make you laugh or feel better, even if it’s for a minute or a second, then I’ve done my job. I also remind my clients that whatever final care they decide on for their pet is the right thing; there is no judgment. The only thing that I can do is to treat their pet the way I would want them to treat mine.

If a family has a pet that is terminally ill or in its last days, they’ll meet me to make the final care arrangements in advance. Then, when they know it’s their pet’s final moments, they’ll call me and I’ll get everything prepared for when they arrive at the cemetery to make the goodbye process as stress-free as possible.

ARL Blog: National Pet Memorial Day was this past Sunday, September 13. What are some ways that families can commemorate the loss of their pet?

MT: If your pet is buried in a cemetery, take a moment to think of a happy memory and leave flowers on the burial site.  At home, you can create a memorial flower garden or plant a tree or shrub in your yard. You can also volunteer your time at or donate to your local animal shelter, like the ARL.

ARL Blog: What’s the best part of your job?

MT: The best aspect of my job is just doing my work. If I don’t have my job, then I don’t have my work. I also love the people I do it for. I have a lot of repeat clients and some I’ve had relationships with for over 25 years! It’s very rewarding.

To learn more about ARL’s Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery, visit arlboston.org/pine-ridge-pet-cemetery.