Animals may soon rest in peace in North Beach

A grotto was recently discovered beneath the front steps of the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in North Beach, and Father Gregory Coiro knows just what to do with the extra space: build a columbarium for deceased pets.

Few things seem more appropriate than housing Fluffy’s ashes in the shrine of St. Francis, the city’s namesake and patron saint of animals. Coiro, the shrine’s rector, recently blessed appoximately 500 pets during a two-day period in the spirit of the saint.

Although work on the project has yet to begin, the church recently released a brochure featuring illustrations of what the columbarium will look like.  Pets’ ashes will be interred behind glass while a monitor plays looped images and video clips of the animals when they were still alive.

Shrine officials also hope to dedicate a corner of the columbarium to police and service dogs, like those who assisted in searching for survivors in the World Trade Center rubble.

Church volunteer and construction organizer Bill McLaughlin told NBC Bay Area:

“As somebody walks through and visits the columbarium, it’ll be like an ongoing history of people involved with the shrine; animals that have been involved in families’ lives.”

However, not everyone is wagging their tail over this new idea.

Though shrine officials haven’t applied for the required permits, church neighbors complain that no one informed them about the plan to inter dead animals near the hundreds of businesses that surround the church.

But Coiro said the columbarium would help provide money for the shrine’s upkeep, though fees for the services have yet to be determined.

The brochure states the church is looking for donations between $1,000 and $40,000.

Coiro told NBC Bay Area he understands how much pets mean to their owners, and that non-Catholic pet owners need not worry about exclusion:

“The people who bring their pets here can be Catholic or they can be non-Catholic, ’cause afterall, the animals have no religion.”