For many pet lovers the loss of their animal is like losing a best friend. Lets looks at how some pet owners say farewell to their loyal companions.

The sun is slowly disappearing behind the gums as I arrive at the cemetery, but I can still make out the words inscribed on the plaques and headstones that nestle in the earth of the wide, open paddock.

The tiny graves belong to Mocca-chan, Squeaky, Pogi, Teena Topples, and Colonel Sam.

The Pet Cemetery and Crematorium at Greenbank, in outer Brisbane, is the resting place for dogs, cats, birds, mice, and sheep ... even a kangaroo. It is one of a handful of pet funeral businesses in south east Queensland.

James Jones, who manages the cemetery, says most pet owners form amazing bonds with their animals, bonds that can rival their attachment to people. And these bonds have prompted an increasing number of pet owners to investigate ways of immortalising their pets.

Down the road, at Pets Eternal Peace in North MacLean, Steve and Angie Gibbs have a five-acre property, where they offer individual pet cremation services using their purpose-built facilities.

"When the time comes, we collect the pet from the client or their vet," Steve says. "Within two to three days we return the pet in a handcrafted display urn, with an engraved plaque. Or some clients request a scatter box, which is similar to that used in the human industry for scattering or burying ashes."

Steve says 90 per cent of clients' pets are cats and dogs, but they have also handled birds, guinea pigs, rats, ducks and a goat.

"People tend to just think of cats and dogs, but people form a bond with absolutely any kind of pet," he says.

Steve says there are no rules when it comes to the type of people who wish to farewell their pets - clients include "big tough biker types to pensioners and everybody in between. Our clients include anyone who loves their animals or respects them.

"Some people just want to do the right thing, while others are a complete mess. Having been through the experience ourselves, we try to spend a lot of time talking to clients and helping them through the process."

Veterinarian Dr Fraser Galloway, a Brisbane-based vet who has worked extensively in animal critical care, believes most people are reluctant to admit the degree of their attachment to their pets.

"People will come in with their pets and say it's only a dog' or it's only a cat'... a lot of us are almost embarrassed by our relationship with our pets," Dr Galloway explains.

This attachment led Martin Hopp to establish a memorial garden as part of his pet cremation service, Pets in Peace, which he runs with his wife Bev.

"We were human funeral directors before starting Pets in Peace," Martin says. "We had always been pet lovers and wanted to offer something for pet owners that was the same sort of dignified farewell."

Martin says pets are mainly returned to their families in a choice of urn or memorial box. Each urn has a plaque with a paw print and lock of hair.

"The memorial gardens are somewhere that people can go to spend time alone thinking of their loved ones. It includes gardens that people can walk around and a little chapel.

"The gardens also offer a number of ways for people to remember their pets. They may wish to have their ashes returned to the gardens or they can have a plaque on a wall."

Martin says anyone who loves their pets will use the service. Clients vary from couples, for whom their pets are their children, to older people whose children have left home or who have lost a partner and their pet is the focus of their life.

"We talk to people months after their pet has passed away ... last Christmas we had nine phone calls," says Martin.

It is easy to see that these services have become an important form of closure for pet owners suffering real grief.

James says he deals with pet owners who can be so grief stricken that they sometimes need to be carried from the cemetery.

"You've got to be the strength in the situation; you can't just collapse in tears and go out with them. They need someone to lean on," he says.

"You can't tell a person to get over it ... that's not going to help. You've got to let people feel what they want to feel."

David Foote is a veterinarian and counsellor, who specialises in helping grieving pet owners come to terms with their loss and says most Australians do not understand the depth of grief pet owners can feel at the loss of an animal.

"The difference between grieving over pets and grieving over humans is that society doesn't validate [grieving over pets] particularly well," David says.

In situations where pets are euthanized due to terminal illness or injury, grief can be accompanied by feelings of guilt.

According to James, some people will go to great lengths to remain close to their pets, even to the extent that they have their own ashes interned with those of their pets.

Looking at all the flowers and tributes scattered around the deserted cemetery it is obvious that for many people, a dignified farewell is the least they can do for their loyal companions.