Pet owners who dread the idea of entering eternity without their beloved cat or dog by their side may find solace in a bill now pending in the Louisiana Legislature. The measure would let cemeteries designate a garden or special section for pets to be laid to rest with their owners, bridging the gap between pet cemetery and human graveyard.
Most states prohibit pets and their owners from being buried together. The Louisiana bill, by state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, would allow the practice either in the same cemetery plot that the owner purchased for human burial, or in a space directly adjacent to the owner’s plot.
“I’m a dog lover, as is my wife,” Appel said. “A veterinarian friend suggested I propose the law last summer, because a lot of people have strong emotional ties to their pet. I thought it’d be a nice thing to do.”
A few states allow for similar arrangements. New York and New Jersey permit cremated pet remains to be buried with their owner, but only in a pet cemetery. In Pennsylvania, a combined burial law allows cemeteries to have three sections: one for human beings, one for pets and another for the two of them together, according to the Times Herald-Record.
Hillcrest Memorial Park in Hermitage, Pa., for example, offers the rare perk of joint burials in which neither pet nor master must be cremated, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Should the owner die first, more than one pet may be laid to rest on top of them in a separate casket, an arrangement made possible by extra large plots. If the pet is the first to go, it is buried beneath the grave marker, to await to company of its master.
“For someone who, over the period of time, has had a lot of pets, we can accommodate them whether they be in the grave with the person or in a contiguous grave,” Hillcrest president Tom Flynn told the newspaper.
How big is the demand for pet-human burials in Louisiana? “I’ve gotten the request many times over the years,” said Patrick Schoen, managing partner of Jacob Schoen and Son Funeral Home in New Orleans. “People find it very disheartening when they learn it isn’t legal here.”
Schoen said some pet owners have requested that an urn holding their pet’s ashes be placed inside their own casket. Others have asked that their ashes be mixed with those of their pet, which is legal as long as the combination is not buried in a conventional human graveyard.
“They might have a place they used to go with their pet,” Schoen said, “and they want their ashes spread there.”
Choosing to be buried with one’s favorite animal is hardly a new concept. Egyptian pharaohs were often buried with mummified cats, dogs and monkeys, in the belief that animals, too, experienced an afterlife, CNN writes. The practice fell out of favor in the Christian era, as civilizations came to accept that only human beings had souls.
Despite the widespread illegality of joint burials today, some funeral directors say the phenomenon is more common than people think. Funeral directors “will tell you ‘not a day goes by when I don’t put an urn of an animal into the casket of a human being secretly for a family,'” Coleen Ellis, cochair of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, told the Inquirer. “So, while it’s been going on for a very long time, the trend is becoming more recognized where people are getting permission to do it.”
Patrick McCausland, the president of Heaven’s Pets, a pet cremation and bereavement center at Metairie Cemetery, agreed. He said Appel’s bill is a great idea.
“It wouldn’t force anyone to bury pets in a cemetery designated for humans,” he said. “It would just give cemeteries the option to change the rules within their own property. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
McCausland said many of his clients, and indeed many pet owners around the world, consider their dogs, cats, parakeets or hamsters to be part of their family. Some view their pets as children, he said, so it makes sense that they be allowed to rest beside one another eternally.
“This is something that’s gathering momentum around the country,” McCausland said. “Louisiana could be at the forefront of this issue if they decide to push this law through.”
Appel said he did not see anything immoral or unethical about permitting cemeteries to set aside areas for pet-human burials. Veterinarians he consulted have broached the subject with members of the Roman Catholic Church, he said, and as yet they have received no resistance to the idea.
Logistical questions such as whether a pet may be placed inside its owner’s coffin have yet to be ironed out. “I’m just starting to learn about this stuff myself,” Appel said with a laugh.
Senate Bill 166 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary A Committee. If approved and signed by the governor, it would take effect Jan. 1.