NY Tells Pet Cemeteries To Stop Taking In Humans

HARTSDALE, N.Y. (AP) — A state agency has told New York’s animal cemeteries to stop burying the ashes of pet owners alongside their beloved cats, dogs and parakeets.

The order from New York’s Division of Cemeteries comes as a growing number of Americans are deciding to share their final resting place with their pets.

The ruling has blocked at least one burial at the 115-year-old Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, which claims to be the nation’s oldest. And it has upset a woman who had prearranged to have her ashes interred there along with five pets, four of which are already buried.

“Suddenly I’m not at peace anymore,” Rhona Levy of the Bronx said Friday. “You want to be with the people you are closest with, your true loved ones. The only loved ones I have in my life right now are my pets, which I consider my children.”

Levy, 61, said she has no backup plan and is hoping the state order will be reversed.

Taylor York, a law professor at Keuka College in Penn Yan, N.Y., said the state order compounded the grief in her family after the April death of her uncle, Thomas Ryan.

Ryan’s wife, Bunny, and their two dogs, B.J. I and B.J. II, are buried at Hartsdale. Ryan had arranged, and prepaid, to join them, York said. There’s also a space for B.J. III, who’s still alive.

But Ryan’s ashes sit in a wooden box at his sister’s home because the state’s new rule won’t allow him into Hartsdale.

“My mother is completely 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?”

Hartsdale was ordered to stop taking in human ashes, it never allowed intact human remains, on Feb. 8, three days after it was featured in an Associated Press story about human burials in pet cemeteries. The order was issued statewide in April, said Lisa MacSpadden, spokeswoman for the New York Department of State, which includes the cemetery division.

She said that remains buried in human cemeteries benefit from state protections more so than if they are buried at pet cemeteries. For instance, she said human cemeteries qualify for the state-mandated permanent maintenance fund, which ensures that lots and cemeteries are maintained.

Hartsdale has an estimated 700 humans interred with about 75,000 animals. It has added 10 or 12 in each of the past few years, compared with three to five before, Ed Martin Jr., the cemetery’s president and director, said in February. The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories has also noted a recent increase nationwide.

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FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2011, file photo, headstones marking the graves of pets are spread throughout the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, where the remains of humans and their pets have been buried together for years. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

The New York cemetery division said any cemetery providing burial space for humans must be operated as a not-for-profit corporation. And by promoting the human-interment service and charging a fee, $235 to open a grave and add ashes, Hartsdale was violating laws governing not-for-profit corporations, it said.

However, Martin says the pet cemetery is a private, for-profit business. And the Division of Cemeteries’ own website says private cemeteries do not fall under its jurisdiction.

“It seems ridiculous we can’t do it,” Martin said Friday. “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.” He said the service was an accommodation for customers and never raised significant revenue.

York, who has a law practice in addition to her teaching post, has sent the cemeteries division a legal memo detailing why she believes it cannot prevent human burials in pet cemeteries.

“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 added. “His love for those dogs was just as real and just as strong as any parent’s for any child.”
The state asked Martin to sign a pledge that Hartsdale had stopped human interments, but he has resisted.
Instead, he asked the state to at least “grandfather” the cases of people who had already arranged to have their ashes buried with their pets.

MacSpadden said that request would be discussed at the next Cemetery Board meeting.

The state position could disrupt Martin’s own plans. He said earlier this year he hoped his ashes would be added to a family plot, including a dog, at Hartsdale.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


One Comment

  1. Humphrey Bogart says:

    Any story that quotes Lisa MacSpadden has to be taken with a grain of salt. Half the information she gives out is false or misleading. She’s a total incompetent.

  2. LauraLee Baker says:

    it is all about money. No one cares about the feelings of the people. Just the money. I personally will be buried with my cats if my husband has to bury me in the cellar floor, dammit!

  3. Johanna Fredrics says:

    Seriously?? What, is it because it is CHEAPER to bury a human in a pet cemetary rather than a human one? What a blatant money grab. The people are already cremated, what is going to go wrong??!! Let the people and their pets be at eternal rest together. This is a crazy bit of legislation wastiing the time of lawmakers that have far more important things to be doing right now!!

  4. Jill Potter says:

    I have three words for the New York State Cemetery Board – HOW DARE YOU! This is a disgraceful violation of HUMAN RIGHTS. We have a right to decide where and with whom we want to be buried. How dare this agency tell us that we can’t be buried next to our beloved pets if that is our wish. Something must be done about this. Who are these people arbitrarily making decisions about where we choose to spend eternity. Shame on them!

  5. Ellen says:

    I can see why some people want to be buried alongside their beloved dog or cat. Hey, a lot of times the very ones that give you unconditional love is your pet.

  6. Beamer says:

    I have no desire to be buried with family. In general, I dislike human cemeteries. And I am not keen on the idea of cremation, either. But when my beloved Italian greyhound Beamer passed away and a dear friend offered me the use of her pet plot at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery for his burial, my own future fate was sealed. When I visit Hartsdale, I am completely at peace with the idea of having my ashes laid to rest next to Beamer (and, most recently, Binky, my cat). The owners are among the kindest folks you could ever want to meet, the grounds are magnificent and always immaculately maintained, and the caretakers are respectful and hard-working. When I learned that a pet owner’s cremated remains could also be buried at Hartsdale, I didn’t hesitate for an instant in deciding to be buried there. After all, my friend, a retired nurse, had encouraged me to get a puppy as a means of drawing me out of a near-fatal depression, and it worked. I already had a cat, but she knew that the daily walks that a dog needs would heal me and help me rejoin society. Indeed, Beamer literally saved my life and added a dimension of love and sharing that I had never known. When I first learned about Hartsdale, there was no ruling against the burial of cremated human remains there. It had been an accepted practice for over 100 years. When I recently heard that the NY State Division of Cemeteries had gotten it into their heads to try to prevent me and other like-minded pet owners from being buried with our pets by choice, I can only wonder what their motive must be. The only words I can think of to describe the individuals who made this decision are sad, pathetic, insensitive, unfeeling and inhumane. I hope they can be made to realize that they have made a serious misstep and error in judgment. And I will support Hartsdale in any way that I can to help them fight this ruling and preserve my future final resting place.

  7. amanda says:

    Dale I wish I knew I don’t think anyone should be able to say where ashes are laid to rest! Everyone should be able to mourn how they see fit as long as its not harming themselves or anyone else

  8. Dale Auburn says:

    So pets can be buried in human cemeteries, but not the other way around. What GOVERNMENTAL purpose is served by this?

  9. amanda says:

    Cos I agree another thing I don’t get is this statement! “human cemeteries qualify for the state-mandated permanent maintenance fund, which ensures that lots and cemeteries are maintained” how does this work for ashes? Here in Ohio some human cemeteries won’t let human ashes be laid to rest on plots of relatives who passed! We are still waiting to hear if my great aunts ashes can be laid to rest on her daughters(who died in a house fire) plot! So if someone wants to have their ashes laid to rest with their relative or pet who should stop them! NO ONE should have that right!!

  10. Cos says:

    I’ll admint, I’ve not done any research on this… But, I’m sure being cremated and buried in a pet cemetary is way less expensive than the alternative… Not to mention that it should be OUR choice, NOT the states. Again, they infringe on our civil libertyies – in this case, the freedom of choice – even in our death! People, let’s wake up here. I could understand if full-sized coffins were being burried, but we’re talking about ashes here. If a person wants to be burried with their pet, fine! As long as they’re cremated first I see nothing wrong with it. It should be our choice, though. Not the states!!!

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