It is possible in some places to have your pet with you for eternity.
Q. My elderly uncle, who is ailing, wants to be buried with his dog in his cemetery plot. Is this common with pet owners — and is it possible? I thought that animals had to go to pet cemeteries.
Usually, animals are indeed consigned to pet cemeteries, where their owners have long been permitted to be buried with them in some states. Or surviving relatives have been known to bend the rules and sneak a pet’s ashes into its owner’s cremation urn or coffin in the family plot. However, movie actor Tony Curtis, father of actress Jamie Lee Curtis, was openly buried in Las Vegas in 2010 — along with the ashes of his dog, Jack. Today there’s a growing movement to permit owners to rest in peace beside Fido or Tallulah, regardless of whether the animals are cremated.
It’s a matter of geography. New York is just one of several states to pass laws allowing such burials in cemeteries that are willing to handle them. (Church cemeteries may opt out, for example.) Similar bills are pending in Louisiana, Indiana, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. In Pennsylvania, cemeteries can offer one section for people, another for pets, and a third area for both. Virginia permits pets and owners to lie in a designated area of a cemetery, as long as they’re in separate caskets.
The issue affects over half of the households in the U.S. According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, we own an estimated 70 million to 80 million dogs and 74 million to 96 million cats. And the drive to keep pets and owners together for all eternity is actually an international phenomenon. Owner-pet cemeteries were opened a few years ago for the first time in Germany, which is topped only by Russia and Italy in European pet ownership.
The whole idea may seem strange to people who aren’t animal lovers. Yet those who are devoted to their pets consider them members of the family and grieve their deaths deeply. If a treasured pet dies before they do, some owners may even take another route and turn to taxidermy. One California woman takes comfort in sharing her home with her beloved stuffed cat, which sits in a rocking chair in the den as permanent company. Another possibility is freeze-drying, which is said to produce a more lifelike result.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes. If you have a question for Florence, send her an email.