Julie Tichota was an artist who drew cat angels — beautiful, realistic-looking cat angels with soul-piercing eyes that were based on her own Maine coons. One of them, Gracie, was especially beloved and died when a routine spay surgery went horribly wrong.
The grief-stricken artist sat up all night, fashioning a casket for her pet and a little name-bead bracelet for her paw. She then had Gracie cremated. Tichota put the ashes aside; when her own time came, she told a close friend she wanted her ashes and Gracie’s put together.
In today’s world, we’re looking more and more to our pets for companionship and connection. And that sense of connection is strong enough that many people want their pets buried with them, just as Tichota wanted Gracie buried with her.
Laws Around the Nation
“Most states have laws specifically prohibiting pets and humans [from being] buried together or are silent on the issue,” observes elderlawanswers.com. “But at least 4 states have laws allowing some form of combined burial, and the list will undoubtedly grow as demand increases.”
Since 2006, it’s been legal for cemeteries in Pennsylvania to “have three sections — one for humans, one for pets and one for both.” In Virginia, cemeteries may have “clearly marked sections where pets and humans may be buried alongside one another.” The animal must, however, be considered “a companion animal under Virginia law and must have its own casket.”
Louisiana is currently considering a similar bill. Florida has OK’d a pet’s ashes being interred with its human, but the ashes must remain separate. Oregon allows combined burial on a case-by-case basis, and Massachusetts lawmakers sent a bill in favor of it to a public health study committee in 2015 (the bill received a favorable response from the committee this past May and is still being considered).
And under New York and New Jersey laws, you and Tigger — or Snoopy — may have your cremains (cremated remains) buried together, but only in a pet cemetery.
Combined Burials in New York
Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York is the site of many combined burials and has been since 1925, when a woman asked that her ashes be scattered over her dog’s grave. The cemetery no longer allows human ashes to be scattered, but their burial has been permitted since at least 1950. Pets, however, do not have to be cremated; that is entirely up to their human.
A few years back, the state of New York made an attempt to stop the burial of Thomas Ryan, a retired policeman, at Hartsdale. The state lost the battle; Ryan’s ashes now rest where he wanted them to be — alongside his wife, Bunny, and his dogs.
“The right to be buried with your family, whether it’s 4-legged or 2-legged, seems so fundamental,” Hartsdale director Edward C. Martin, Jr. says, “yet it’s still something that upsets a lot of people.”
This year, New York went a step further: In June, the state assembly voted to allow the burial of pets’ cremains with their humans in cemeteries. Consider it a victory for the Thomas Ryans of the world and their companion animals.
Pets by Their Humans’ Sides
Your state may not be on board with a combined burial, but that doesn’t necessarily stop it from taking place. Funeral directors “will tell you 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,’” remarks Coleen Ellis of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance. “So, while it’s been going on for a long time, the trend is becoming more recognized where people are getting permission to do it.”
Animal lovers have always found a way around the rules. In his book All My Patients Are Under the Bed (1980), cat specialist Dr. Louis J. Camuti told how some of his clients did just that. The best story involves a very feisty old lady who came up with a truly creative solution when told she couldn’t bury her cat, Molly, in the family plot. “I’ve arranged to be buried in my wedding dress,” she told Camuti when he brought back the cat’s cremains. “They can’t stop that. And I’m going to have Molly’s ashes sewn into the hem of my wedding gown.”
The bottom line: Animal lovers want our beloved pets near us in death as they were in life. It’s hardly a new idea; the ancient Egyptians were putting mummified cats in their humans’ sarcophagi to accompany them into the afterlife.
Check out what Massachusetts is doing regarding pet/human burials:
My husband’s cat, Woody, outlived him by 14 years. When the old black-and-white guy died at 17, I gave some serious thought to burying his ashes near the headstone. It was the fall, and anyone seeing me would just assume that I was putting bulbs in.
In the end, I decided against it and buried Woody in my garden with some of his old cat buddies. But I did tell an old family friend how tempted I’d been.
“Oh, a lot of people have done it.” She smiled. She has plots in the same cemetery — and plans to have her dog’s ashes buried with her. “You’d be surprised how many animals are buried there.”
I’m glad. An eternity without animals would be awfully boring.
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