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Washington state seeks to force cemeteries to bury pets with their humans

      
judyfaaberg's picture
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Here's one, as my friend Todd Van Beck would say.

A Washington state Senator has proposed a bill that in essence forces cemeteries to accept the remains of cats and dogs "in any state of decomposition" and bury them with their humans.

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?year=2009&bill=5063

Now we all realize there's an interest in dabbling in pet cemeteries. For example, an unrelated article in the Seattle Times earlier this week says that in Seattle there are 45 percent more dogs than there are children. Obviously, we love us some pets. There must be a heckuva marketing opportunity there.

Coincidentally, along comes state Senator Jacobsen, who last year introduced a bill that would allow bars and restaurants with liquor licenses to admit dogs, with their owners in tow.Obviously, Jacobsen loves him some pets. That one went down.

In memory of his much beloved and now-deceased cat, Jacobsen thought it was time to expand cemeteries' occupancy to include pets.

The association that employs me, the Washington Cemetery & Funeral Association, is going on record in opposition of the senate bill. The first section says that cemeteries... "must allow the burial of pet remains in  the same cemetery in which the pet's owner is buried in either: (a) An established and operating area of the cemetery; or (b) a section of the cemetery designated solely for the commingling and burial of pet remains and human remains."

Further, the bill says that "'Pet remains' means the body of a deceased cat or dog, includes the body in any stage of decomposition, and includes cremated remains."

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have a standard Poodle named Beaujolais who is my constant companion and whom I adore. It would be cool to have her remains buried with me, in whatever state of decomposition we find her when I shuffle off this mortal coil.

However. Cemeteries in this state are formed for the purpose of the burial "of the human dead." And so it states in their declarations.

Try going back to the families who in good faith bought their graves in the knowledge that it was people-only. Try telling people of various religious faiths who believe various animals are anathema. Try telling your family member who is deathly afraid of dogs that, sorry, there's a good chance you're going to be buried next to a dog.

Try changing your charter to allow dogs and cats (as included in the current proposal) or any other animal one seeks to be interred with. Horses? Turkeys? Shrews?

We have several pet cemeteries in Washington. One owner who operates both a pet cemetery AND a people cemetery, David Bielski, was "shocked" by the bill, according to the Times. He thinks, as does the WCFA, "that's opening a whole can of worms that people don't really want to get into." Nevermind the reference to worms, it's a whole subject we don't want to get into.

So off we go to Olympia on Monday January 19 to see if we can shoot down this well-intentioned but intrusive (not to mention absurd) proposal.

Wish us luck!

judyfaaberg's picture

Update on the pet-burial thingie

On Monday (1/19)ICCFA immediate past president Paul Elvig, WCFA president Greg Simard and I went to our state capital to attend the hearing regarding forcing cemeteries to bury cats or dogs with their humans in dedicated cemeteries. We were met there by our lobbyist, T.K. Bentler, and a past president of the state funeral directors association, Russ Weeks.

Can you believe at my advanced age this was my first hearing of a proposed piece of legislation? It was interesting but a little disappointing to see how sort of knee-jerk much of the process was as we listened to testimony on various issues. By the time it was "our" bill on the agenda, most of the audience had left. Senator Jacobsen emotionally gave his arguments for the bill, and tearfully read several emails he had received in support of his endeavor. The chairwoman somewhat - not quite sarcastically, maybe somewhat caustically, pointed out that he was the sole sponsor of the bill, nobody else liked it. Sen. Jacobsen admitted that his motivation behind this was to be allowed to dig up his deceased most beloved cat so it could be buried with him when he dies. His voice broke when he talked about it. Like I said, he does love him some pets.

To my surprise one of the committee's Republicans - the "get your government out of my face" party (I thought)- seemed inclined to favor the proposal which would govern the very way we do business by forcing us to embrace a practice that is specifically not allowed by our cemeteries' articles of dedication, rules and regulations, by-laws and whatever - our cemeteries are chartered "for the burial of the human dead" only. She rather heatedly stated she thinks people should be allowed to be buried with whatever they want, be it a pet or a Pontiac.

Greg, then Russ, then Paul testified against the bill, each citing specific objections. Greg spoke on behalf of the WCFA, saying he had spent most the prior Friday calling our members and polling them. Uniformly, he said, they were appalled at this intrusion into our business practices.

Next, funeral director Russ raised objections to the bill mandating that all portions of our state's cemetery and funeral law relating to human remains be extended to include cats and dogs.

Think about it: would death certificates be required for every cat or dog that dies? Would veterinarians be required to be licensed funeral directors to handle the remains of these new "humans"? One of my thoughts was this: our laws require all cremations to be performed on one (human) body at a time, while veterinarians and others routinely cremate several animals at once. Would they now be required to cremate each animal separately? There goes the price of pet cremation through the roof. I could go on and on but you get the drift.

Paul Elvig testified about the legalities involving control of remains - what if dad died and was buried, then his pet died years later. He had left instructions for the pet to be buried with him. Well, he has four kids who under Washington law equally control their father's cemetery property and its use. Two of them say, bury the dog with dad, two say NO WAY... here we go to court. I thought about my dog Beaujolais and her sister Coco, who lives with MY sister. What if Beaujolais died, and Coco objected to my burying her in my grave? As Beaujolais' nearest blood relative, her wishes would supersede mine. Technically, anyway. Standard Poodles are very intelligent dogs, but they still can't talk human.

Our goal ultimately was to shoot down the proposal as it was written and get a stay of execution, so to speak, that would allow us to submit our own version that would ALLOW cemeteries to create pet/human sections but not FORCE them to. The administrator of our two regulatory boards, the state Cemetery Board and the Funeral Directors & Embalmers Board, had already prepared a draft which we will begin dissecting, so to speak, this week.

We know there's a movement towards pet cemeteries as our generation, who feel we deserve every possible accommodation, want to treat our pets like people even after they're dead. One statistic I read says there are more dogs than children in this country. That seems a little high, but you sure do see a lot of them. So, we don't want to stand in the way of progress. We just want to make sure it's positive progress.

Your state associations are watching out for you, everyone. Be sure you are involved!

Judy Faaberg, DP, CCP

judyfaaberg's picture

Pet/human news stories

Here's some substantiation for my rantings of last week on the pet/human burial issue, which refuses to go away.

The latest proposal to make it out of committee changed the "MUST" to "MAY" and demoted pets back to pet remains (rather than human remains) status. Still pretty lame.

Here's how our regulatory staff sees it:

"The recommendation is to create a new chapter in Title 68 [Washington laws regarding all things cemetery]. As I see it, endowment care requirements already apply since you would still issue property rights to individuals. Burial of a pet in the same plot as the burial right owner would be an additional right of interment, subject to endowment care funding as defined in WAC 98-15-020. I see that as reasonable, but a cemetery could also structure the property sale as a burial right package, subject to a one-time endowment care charge. It stands to reason that anyone purchasing land in the section created for the burial of pets and humans together intends on doing just that. I would prefer to leave it up to industry as to how you handle the sale. "

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008625226_deadpet14m0.ht...
http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20090126/NEWS03/701269884

Again, it isn't that I don't love my dog. I just don't think I should be able to force a for-profit (or any other) cemetery to bury her where I tell them to.

Wouldn't you think there would be a few more pressing things for the legislature to address? Like huge deficits, cratering employment, cratering housing prices? Health care? Infrastructure? Education? Evidently not. Sheesh.

Judy Faaberg, DP, CCP