I want to be buried with my cats. One problem: finding a cemetery that will do it. That’s because of a second problem: some people hate the idea of being buried next to a non-human animal as much as people like me love it.
Gary Bloze, owner of Illinois Pet Cemeteries, says that when one local cemetery started burying the bodies of humans and their non-human companions together, they got hit with lawsuits by the families of people already buried there who might get a pet as a new neighbor. The cemetery had to change its ways, which it did by cordoning off a section of the cemetery for companion animals.
Bloze’s own cemetery is representative of an alternative: pet cemeteries. Some of them accept human remains for burial with their pets, so the only human remains buried there are those of people who wanted to be next to animals. Illinois Pet Cemetery, founded by Bloze’s grandfather in 1926, is the oldest pet cemetery in Illinois, but now it is far from the only one.
More than half a million pet cemeteries in the United States accept human remains, and more than two million people have taken advantage of that. But even in these facilities the commingling of species is kept on the down low. “Most of the inscriptions on the tiny headstones of people and pets buried in the pet cemetery do not even mention the names of the humans,” according to CremationUrn.com. Bloze is generous in this regard, allowing humans’ initials to appear on pets’ headstones.
What if you want to be buried with family already interred at a non-pet cemetery and with your companion animals? It’s doable, but you will have to be sneaky.
Undertakers, who are usually independent of cemeteries, have the job of sealing the coffin. When that closed box arrives at the cemetery, it is placed in a concrete vault and then in the ground without anyone looking inside. Persuade the undertaker to put your pets’ remains in the coffin with you, and the cemetery — and the families of people already buried at the cemetery — will never know. Coleen Ellis, co-chair of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, says this practice is common. According to Ellis, funeral directors say that “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.”
Funeral director and lawyer Poul Lemasters told philly.com that in most states burying pets in human cemeteries is illegal, so it isn’t just the cemetery that has to be kept in the dark. But growing demand for co-species burials is spurring legislators to change the laws.
A bill pending in Virginia would do just that, with some restrictions. The bill’s sponsor, Republican delegate Israel O’Quinn, says that the bill ensures that “no animals would be buried next to anyone who does not want them.” The Washington Post reports that “his bill makes clear that any human-pet burials would be in separate but adjacent plots and that they must be segregated from traditional gravesites.”
The bill hasn’t passed yet. It may meet the same fate as a similar, rejected proposal in Washington state to allow animals to be buried in human cemeteries. In Florida, however, it is legal to bury humans and non-humans together.
If you want to keep everything above-board and you live in a state where pets’ remains aren’t accepted in human cemeteries, the easiest (and cheapest) choice is to be cremated and not have the ashes buried in a cemetery. State laws tend to allow people’s cremated remains to be buried or scattered pretty much anywhere.
One tip about cremating a pet: make sure you are getting a private or individual cremation. If you don’t specify that, you may wind up with other pets’ ashes. In mass cremations, multiple animals are cremated together, the ashes are divvied up, and you receive cremains that may contain a bit of several companion animals. If you’re going to the trouble of being buried together, you should be buried with the right precious friend.
Photo credit: Drimafilm
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