Before 2016, pets couldn’t share burial sites with their owners in New York. Instead, people could only choose to cremate their pets or bury them in a pet cemetery. However, for many individuals, pets are like family. After all, animals provide comfort, support, security, improved mental wellbeing, and joy. So it makes sense that their owners may not like to separate from their furry friends after death. And now, New York and other states are have been allowing pets to be buried with humans.
State Legalizes Pets to be Buried With Humans
In fact, after New York State’s Pet Burial Law was passed in September 2016, Forest Lawn was one of the first cemeteries to change their policies allowing humans to be buried with their pets.
“At the Forest Lawn Group, we believe that allowing the incident interment of the cremated remains of domestic pets is an important step for us to take,” said Joseph Dispenza. He’s the President of the Forest Lawn Group of Cemeteries. “It allows us to better meet the emotional needs of the many families and individuals who have a strong bond with their pets, including service dogs and police K9 corps.“
According to Dispenza, there will be no charges for the grave itself. However, the other fees surrounding the pet burial will go into the cemetery’s maintenance fund.
“Any revenue derived from pet burials will go directly to the long-term maintenance of our cemeteries… [This] helps us to keep our sacred promise to provide the finest in perpetual care to all those who rest within our gates,” said Dispenza.
The ‘Whole Family Cemetery’
Meanwhile, Green Pet-Burial Society is an advocacy group pushing for “whole family” cemeteries. As in, allowing for humans to be buried with their pets. This includes dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, etc. The founder of the society, Eric Greene, said, “Conservation whole-family cemeteries bring together two concepts and practices, whole-family cemeteries and conservation burial grounds… What is key is that the pet remains aren’t buried as property or ‘grave goods’ but as family members, and this relationship is recognized and honored.
“Earth burials are an unexpected strategy for protecting/restoring the land as a wildlife preserve. In addition to protecting the environment and keeping families together, something else occurs. We experience ourselves as part of the earth, and our connections with all animals are strengthened.”
“Whole Family” Cemeteries All Over the World
Humans could feel very comforted knowing their pets are buried in a plot also reserved for them. After all, it’s not really the end of their companionship. “With whole family cemeteries,” Greene said to NPR, “we can convince pet owners that their pet’s remains can still be buried with them but at a later time. We also encourage people to arrange for a pet trust or other arrangement for the care of their pet.”
This concept isn’t novel to the United States. For instance, Hamburg, the German city-state, joined the movement. It now has a special part of the city cemetery for pets to be buried with their humans. Meanwhile, there are about 150 pet cemeteries in Germany. However, very few areas have humans buried with their pets. The city legislature holds that once the pet dies, its cremated ashes will go into an urn in a grave. There they will wait for their human to join them. If the owner dies first, their family members are responsible for burying the pet when it’s time.
“Many people have a very close and emotional relationship with their pets,” said Green party spokeswoman Ulrike Sparr. “The animals are like part of the family, and it’s only logical to permit a common grave.”
Additionally, Sparr explained that Hamburg cemeteries will keep a separate section for just buried pets. This accommodates humans who don’t support the idea of joint burials. Additionally, these pet and owner burial sites are intended for smaller pets like cats and dogs. Unfortunately, larger ones like horses aren’t accommodated.
Buried Pet Dog From the Stone Age
Pets being buried with their humans isn’t a new concept either. In fact, according to Live Science archaeologists have discovered the remains of a dog and a person buried together. The bones dated back to the Stone Age. “This is one of the oldest grave finds of dogs in the country,” said osteologist Ola Magnell. “The dog is well preserved and the fact that it is buried in the middle of the Stone Age settlement is unique.”
Archaeologists theorize that humans from that time have burials with their most valuable or beloved possessions. So it’s not unreasonable for pets to fit the bill. Plus, Carl Persson, the project manager of the excavation remarked that “a find like this makes you feel even closer to the people who lived here. A buried dog somehow shows how similar we are over the millennia—the same feelings of grief and loss.“
- “Pet owners can now honor their beloved furry friends with a burial…” WKBW. Bretton Keenan. January 23, 2017
- “When ‘Whole-Family’ Cemeteries Include Our Pets.” NPR. Barbara J. King. May 18, 2017
- “Six feet under. Hamburg allows humans to be buried with pets”. DW. October 25, 2019
- “Stone Age dog may have been buried with its master”. Live Science. Laura Geggel. September 29, 2020