Richmond, Virginia: Sometimes, people love their pets to death. Such was the case with Emma, a healthy Shih Tzu mix that was recently euthanized after its late owner left explicit instructions the dog be put down – and laid to rest – with her.
It’s a practice that’s not only cruel, but one, that in most cases here in Virginia, is illegal.
“Emma” arrived at the Chesterfield Animal Shelter on March 8. During her two-week stay, shelter personnel had several discussions with the executor of the dead woman’s estate, trying to talk him out of euthanizing the dog so it could be laid to rest with its master, but to no avail.
It’s a scenario that left shelter employees heartbroken.
“We did suggest they could sign the dog over on numerous occasions, because it’s a dog we could easily find a home for and re-home,” said Carrie Jones, manager of Chesterfield Animal Services. “Ultimately, they came back in on March 22nd and redeemed the dog.”
Emma was transported to a local vet’s office, euthanized and her remains were taken to a Richmond pet cremation center. Her ashes were then placed in an urn and returned to the authorized representative of the estate, in accordance with the dead woman’s will.
In Virginia, with few exceptions, burying animal remains with human remains in the same cemetery plot is against the law.
“It’s not legal to put a dog’s cremated remains – or any animal – in a casket and bury them,” according to Larry Spiaggi, president of the Virginia Funeral Director’s Association and owner of Morrissett Funeral home.
There are few funeral directors in the country as “pet friendly” as Spiaggi. When you enter his establishment, you’ll be greeted by Peace, a chocolate lab that has free run of the place.
And while Peace is Larry’s personal pet, he’s also a highly trained and certified therapy dog that he keeps at the funeral home to help clients through their grief. He finds the practice of putting down an animal to be buried with its master as abhorrent. And he just won’t do it.
“I am licensed by the state of Virginia, so I have a license on the line with the Health Professionals Board,” he said. “So I can NOT do it.”
And finding a vet to put down an otherwise healthy pet isn’t easy to do. Pets are personal property in the eyes of the law and by euthanizing a healthy dog or cat is by no means illegal.
Still, many vets have ethical issues with it. And just won’t do it.
Dr. Kenny Lucas with the Shady Grove Animal Clinic wouldn’t do it.
“Whenever we’re faced with a euthanasia situation, it’s a very emotional situation – and beyond everything we talk about – that we need to do ethically, and we’ve taken an oath to do,” he said. “Also it’s something we take home too. It weighs on us as professionals.”
While Virginia Cemetery code 54.1-2310 forbids pets to be buried with humans in commercial cemeteries, there are exceptions for private and family owned cemeteries.
At least one state lawmaker is considering legislation to close the loopholes and forever end this practice in Virginia.