If you’d like to rest for eternity next to your beloved pets, don’t expect it to happen at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York.
The 115-year-old pet cemetery, the oldest in the nation, is no longer allowed to bury human ashes with the pets who have preceded them in death.
After the Associated Press featured Hartsdale in a story on February 8, New York’s Division of Cemeteries became aware of the unusual practice and nixed it just 3 days later. The division went on to make the order statewide in April.
An Unusual Service Offered for Generations
About 20 miles north of Manhattan, in Westchester County, Hartsdale is the last resting place of about 75,000 dogs, cats, birds and other pets, as well as about 700 humans who have been cremated and buried with them.
For generations, Hartsdale has offered this unusual service in which the pets’ graves are opened and humans’ ashes are placed with their pets’. This tradition has become so popular over the decades that Hartsdale has a long list of future “customers” who have already made arrangements to join their pets in eternal rest.
The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories estimates that about 25% of U.S. pet cemeteries offer the same type of service. According to Donna Bethune, the association’s executive secretary, pet–human burial is a quickly growing trend.
“We hear about it all the time in our membership, people asking for it,” said Bethune. “Often [the deceased] maybe don’t have extended family, and their pet pretty much was their family, like their child to them. And there’s not a family plot where everyone’s going to be.”
Cemeteries Must Be Nonprofit Organizations
The New York Division of Cemeteries stated that cemeteries providing burial plots for people can be operated only as a nonprofit, partly to qualify for the state funding that pays for ground and plot maintenance. Because Hartsdale charged $235 to open a pet’s grave and add the human ashes, the division ruled that the cemetery was a for-profit company.
“It seems ridiculous we can’t do it,” said Ed Martin Jr., director of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. “As of now, we’ve suspended the human part of it, but it’s our position that they don’t have the authority to do this.”
Don’t Miss: 11 Ways to Remember a Deceased Pet
Martin has requested that the Division of Cemeteries allow him to grandfather in clients who have already made arrangements to join their pets. A division representative agreed to open the item for discussion at its next board meeting.
Impact on Families
Several families have already been affected by the ruling, including law professor Taylor York. When York’s uncle, Thomas Ryan, died in April, the family wasn’t allowed to bury him at Hartsdale, where his wife and their 2 dogs already rest. Right now, Ryan’s ashes are in a box at his sister’s house.
“My mother is distraught over this,” York said. “She breaks down in tears again and again, every time it crosses her mind. After watching her brother die, she has to go through this insanity?”
York sent the division a legal memo detailing why its ruling has no legal grounds.
“The law is clear,” she said. “There’s no authority for this board to just arbitrarily impose nonprofit corporation law on a privately incorporated for-profit business. If I have to file a lawsuit, then I’ll file a lawsuit.”
“My uncle wants to be buried beside his wife and what he considered to be his children and I’m not letting anyone stand in the way,” she said. “His love for those dogs was just as real and just as strong as any parent’s for any child.”
Remembering Your Deceased Pet
I once knew a woman who saved the remains of every dog who had died in her 25 years of working in rescue, storing them in miniature urns on her mantel. When she died, she said she wanted to be buried with all the little urns inside her coffin. I always thought that sounded nice.
As far as my own late dogs are concerned, I bury their remains in various spots in my garden, and then plant something special on top. I remember them by keeping their collars and tags in a special box.