It takes Ashley Smith about two days to dig a grave for a pet. The graves are always at least four feet deep and, depending on the animal, a foot to 18 inches wide.
She has a shovel and a pick, and that’s about it, to burrow into the hardscrabble ground on top of the Adobe Pet Cemetery.
“There are days I want to sit down and cry because I’m hurting so much,” Smith said, “but I’ve never known to quit. It’s all about pushing through the pain.”
Smith, only 26, is the owner of the pet cemetery that sits at the end of Winery Road south of Amarillo along Interstate 27 near the McCormick Road exit. There are eight acres of rough ground for pet graves.
Back in 2013, Smith was at the cemetery where some rescue cats she once owned were buried. Usually, the place was fairly well kept, but now there were weeds around knee-high. Smith got a weedeater to knock them back when the owner, who had some medical issues, drove up.
He offered to sell it to Ashley and her mother, Janey. Mom didn’t think so, but Ashley didn’t hesitate.
“I said that I’ll take it,” she said. “It took everything I had saved, and then some, but I got it. I’m not letting it go.”
Smith’s mother says the cemetery is a calling for her daughter, and she’s probably right. Smith has a heart for the less fortunate — knitting winter caps to give to the Guyon Saunders Resource Center or buying a meal for a homeless man or woman. Animals of any kind especially tug at her, and always have.
Not long after she bought the cemetery, Ashley cordoned off a section of the cemetery for animals she had found. If they weren’t too badly mutilated, she will take the dog or cat to the cemetery and dig a grave. It’s known as Community.
There are an estimated 4,000 graves at Adobe. Some have nicer headstones that owners have purchased.
If not, they have a small standard stone that with names like Sky, Okie, Oliver and Drummer.
Smith estimates she’s dug around 1,000 of those graves in the four-plus years she’s been owner.
When she bought the place, it came with a small aging excavator. Smith got fairly adept with it, so much that she could dig a nice one in less than an hour.
But it was on its last legs and conked out about a year into it. Buying one was out of the question. She would rent one for the day on occasion to dig several graves. But for $650 — plus trailering it — that, too, became too expensive.
So Ashley dug graves for clients by hand, a tedious task if there ever was one. It would take right at a day to dig one properly with burial. For some customers, it needed to be done quickly.
But, now, it takes twice as long. Smith was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year. That’s complicated in that she also has peripheral neuropathy, of which more than half of those with diabetes get, according to mayoclinic.org.
Peripheral neuropathy causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually a burning sensation, in the feet. Smith believes she was misdiagnosed by doctors and wasn’t officially diagnosed with diabetes until May.
In September, she went to ICU for 3½ days with a blood sugar of 1,500. Her phone was busy during that time for calls inquiring about burials. When she was released, she was told not to do much for two weeks.
“I came home, slept that day, and the next day was out digging,” she said. “I had no choice.”
Smith gets some help from her mother and sister, but it’s basically a one-person show. She keeps a glucose monitor to periodically check on her levels as she digs. If it gets too low, she has to quit and must take glucose tabs. This is in addition to her twice-daily insulin shots.
No two pet owners are quite alike. Having a pet disposed or buried in a backyard might be sufficient for many, but 4,000 pet markers at Adobe would say otherwise. That’s why Smith keeps going. Sure, it would be nice if a machine were there, but hasn’t been for a long time, and may not ever.
Until then, Smith, despite diabetes and neuropathy, will keep on digging.
“I’ll push myself until I see some blue in my feet and my sister’s yelling at me,” she said. “But I usually don’t let anything slow me down.”
Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or 806-345-3318. Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.