By Dr. Becker
If you're a resident of New York and have furry (or feathered, finned, or scaly) family members, did you know that effective this month, you can rest for eternity with them if you choose?
Under new regulations recently enacted by the New York Department of State, it's now legal to bury cremated human remains ("cremains") alongside the remains of pets in licensed pet cemeteries. According to the formal notice published in the official New York State register on June 18:
"A sizable segment of the New York community articulated a desire to be able to have their cremains buried with their pet remains. No evidence suggests that permitting this practice will harm cemeteries for human remains."1
Under the new regulations, pet cemeteries in New York can accept human cremains for burial but cannot charge separately for them. They also aren't allowed to advertise burial services for humans. The rules are intended to maintain a well-defined distinction between pet cemeteries and cemeteries for human remains.
NYPD Officer Thomas Ryan Can Finally Be Laid to Rest Beside His Wife and Beloved Dogs
The effort in New York to allow humans to be buried with their pets began three years ago when the state refused NYPD officer Thomas Ryan's final wish to be buried next to his three Maltese dogs and his wife in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. Hartsdale is said to be the oldest pet cemetery in the U.S., and has been interring human cremains for over 90 years.
Officer Ryan's wife, Bunny, was already resting at Hartsdale along with the couple's three dogs, when the New York Division of Cemeteries asked the cemetery a few years ago to stop the practice until the state could take a closer look.
Fortunately, the state ultimately decided to allow people the right to rest eternally beside their pets.
Most States Have Not Addressed the Issue of Burying Owners Alongside Pets
New York is among only a handful of states that have officially addressed the subject of burying human cremains in pet cemeteries.
Poul Lemasters, consultant for the International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association and the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, said in an interview with CNN that Virginia is currently considering a regulation that would allow pet cemeteries to be added to existing human cemeteries.2
He added that a few states allow non-cremated human bodies to be buried in pet cemeteries, but most states have not even addressed the issue of burying pets and their owners in the same location.
Steps to Take If You Want to Be Buried with a Pet
So what do you do if you don't live in New York and want to be buried alongside a beloved pet? According to FindLaw, regulations vary widely, but there may be a pet cemetery relatively close by that accepts human remains.
Typically, remains must be cremated, and family members are required to sign away certain rights. In New York, customers who want their remains interred in a pet cemetery are informed that they may lose certain protections provided by human cemeteries. For example, pet cemeteries are not mandated to keep records, and removal restrictions are more lenient.3
If you discover your state or municipality won't permit you to be buried with your pet, it's probably because most states place strict limitations on who is legally allowed to handle human remains. The human burial business is heavily regulated for health and safety reasons, as well as to insure the dead are treated with respect.
FindLaw advises that if you want to be buried with your pet, it's best to start planning early.4 You'll need time to research local statutes and find a cemetery that is willing to accept both you and your animal companion. If you have specific burial plans in mind, be sure to put them in writing, and let family members or a close friend know of your desire to be laid to rest with your pet.