Those who celebrate Día de los Muertos honor loved ones who have passed away, whether it’s a grandparent, a sibling, a friend, or even a labrador retriever.
Those who celebrate the Day of the Dead holiday, which began centuries ago with the Aztecs, believe that departed loved ones return to the land of the living for two days. That includes their beloved pets.
Many people place photos of their pets on Day of the Dead altars and leave them “ofrendas,” or offerings, including their favorite treats and toys. Pets are also included in festivals and parades throughout Mexico and the U.S.
“When you have that pet in your life for 13 years, that becomes a family member,” TikTok creator Fernanda Cortes of Guadalajara, Mexico, told USA TODAY this week.
Cortes included her childhood dog Rocky to her family’s ofrenda this year – about a year after his death – and left him his favorite treats, a bowl of water and his collar. She lit a candle to guide his spirit toward her.
“You form a bond with them and so it’s important to honor them,” she said. “Grief is universal. Not just subject to people.”
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Cortes has used her TikTok platform to help explain Day of the Dead to her followers, telling them in one post that Oct. 27 was originally devoted to the Xoloitzcuintli breed of dog but has been adjusted to include all pets.
Some believe that it takes a dog’s soul a full year to return and for owners to accept their death, she added.
The post had more than 1.2 million views as of Tuesday, with many users commenting to share how they celebrate their own pets.
“We created an ofrenda at our store/grooming shop and so many customers have brought pics of their pups,” wrote a Texas pet supply store.
Another user wrote that her dog died two months ago and that “it is going to hurt seeing his photo on the ofrenda but my family and I can finally accept that he is OK.”
And yet another: “I’m honoring my dog Pickles who passed away in April.”
Cortes described looking at Rocky’s ofrenda as a cathartic experience and plans to honor his life every year.
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The Casa Fuerte del Indio Fernández museum in Coyoacán, Mexico will feature ofrendas dedicated to animals as part of their annual Día de los Muertos event.
At the biggest Day of the Dead celebration in the U.S., held at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles this past weekend, one altar featured a giant skeleton cat and dog. One visitor left a picture of their German shepherd, Lucky, while another posted a photo of an opossum named Lily Grace.
A digital altar created by the Los Angeles Times has gotten dozens of submissions of pets this year, including a horse named Stryder, a black cat named Jeepers Garcia and a hamster named Nugget.
The Humane Society International has displayed ofrendas this year for notable names like Frida, a famous search and rescue dog who died last year at the age of 13.
Pamela Resendiz, the organization’s nutrition manager, told USA TODAY that pet tributes on the holiday have grown more common in recent years.
“Animals are no longer pets. Animals are now our companion. Our animals are part of the family,” she said. “That’s why they’re always on your heart, and you try to keep them in your altar to make sure that they don’t miss out on coming back.”
She said honoring animals is simply “an extension of the tradition.”
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When is day of the dead?
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration honoring late loved ones that occurs annually on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.
What are ofrendas?
An ofrenda is an altar dedicated to loved ones who have died. An essential aspect of the Día de los Muertos tradition, the ofrenda is what many believe allows the dead to return from the spirit world to feast and dance with their loved ones.
The portraits of the loved ones are usually accompanied by marigold flowers, candles and other items that carry a strong connection. That can be a favorite pair of shoes, their favorite beer of choice and their favorite foods.