Nation

New York burial plots will now allow four-legged companions

Shakeema Hutcherson with her dog, Tinka, and her cat, Sweetie, at her home in Jersey City, N.J. She hopes to be buried with her “family” of pets.
Bryan Anselm/The New York Times
Shakeema Hutcherson with her dog, Tinka, and her cat, Sweetie, at her home in Jersey City, N.J. She hopes to be buried with her “family” of pets.

NEW YORK — Whenever it is that Shakeema Hutcherson, a dog walker in New York City, dies, she plans to be buried with her family — and that includes her angelic Yorkshire terrier-Chihuahua mix, Tinka, and her frequently demonic cat, Sweetie. Now, when Hutcherson’s time comes, Tinka and Sweetie will be allowed to rest in peace in her family’s plot: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently signed a law allowing cemeteries for people to inter pets alongside their owners.

“It’s like having a kid, so it’s like having a kid buried next to you,” said Hutcherson, 35. Besides, she said, it would make things simpler in the hereafter: “I could talk to God,” she said, asking, “’What did I do to deserve this cat?’”

The new law permits only cremated remains of pets to be buried. Religious cemeteries are exempt, and cemeteries are not obligated to accept animals.

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“Four-legged friends are family for many New Yorkers,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Who are we to stand in the way if someone’s final wish includes spending eternity with them?”

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The change benefits the growing number of people who want their final plans to include their pets, said David Fleming, director of government affairs for the New York state Association of Cemeteries, which began pushing for the new law about five years ago. “Times have changed; people have a much different view of their pets in the family,” he said.

While the kinds of pets that may now be buried with their owners are limited to those designated as domestic animals in the state, the law affords wide leeway, according to officials, covering many types of creatures, including reptiles and invertebrates. “I don’t think the average person is paying to have their tarantula cremated,” Fleming said, “but maybe they are.”

The cemetery law is one in a series of steps taken lately that have made New York more friendly toward pets. A law passed last year allows dogs to join their owners at outdoor tables at restaurants; other statutes adopted in recent years stiffen penalties for stealing or mistreating pets and strengthen oversight of pet dealers.

Before the burial law was approved, those seeking to be legally buried beside their animal companions had to use pet cemeteries. At Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County, a pet burial ground dating to the 19th century, about five to seven people are buried each year, said Edward C. Martin Jr., the cemetery’s director.

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Martin — noting Hartsdale’s idyllic five acres, which are filled with mausoleums and monuments to beloved animals — said he was not worried about an increase in competition because of the new law. He said his parents and in-laws — and their family dogs — were buried among the 80,000 pets interred at the cemetery, a group that includes turtles, ferrets, and guinea pigs.

All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, plans to allow pet burials as soon as it receives state approval to do so, said Dan Austin, the cemetery’s president.

The fee for burying a pet would be $450, he said. “If somebody wants to be buried with their dog or their cat or their pet parakeet or hamster or whatever it might be,” Austin said, “I think it’s a great thing.”

Even before the new law’s passage, some animals ended up in human cemeteries. A Civil War horse named Moscow is interred near his owner in Sand Lake Union Cemetery in Averill Park, N.Y., and there are several dogs, some with their own monuments, buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Indeed, the new law codifies something that has long occurred on the sly — slipping a pet’s ashes into a coffin — said Robert Ruggiero, executive director of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association, which represents funeral directors based in New York City.

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“The family would hold on to the ashes, and when Mom passes away and she wants little Fifi to be buried with her, they were putting the ashes in with her at her death,” he said.

‘Who are we to stand in the way if [it is] someone’s final wish?’

The new burial law legalizes that impulse, and goes further: It also allows a pet’s cremated remains to be buried later in the same cemetery as the owner if the owner dies first.